CIW DAY 9: Excerpts from Transcript

The instruction team decided to show up early in order to setup the installation in time. Melissa, Oakley, Zeina, and Jenny arrived and promptly began to setup the exhibit. The setup took about an hour. The model from the previous day was followed and everything took shape quickly. The roads were unrolled and the rainbow connecters were glued down. Oakley hung all the hanging pieces and the rest of the team placed shoes and rocks around the path.

 

Melissa setup a beautiful city with surrounding colored paper sheets in a circle to simulate grass or earthy tones. As well, individual flowers were circling the city to give it a special look, almost resembling an altar with offerings laid down. As the instructors were finalizing the installation, participants began to show up.  

There were over 35 hanging fairies, butterflies, dinosaurs and more.  There were 2 intricate mobiles with countless adornments.  A large "vine" decorated with tiny dark green leaves was strung up above the space where the panel would be.  This vine also had a beautiful butterfly attached that was created from folded yellow paper. The hot air balloon was gathering comments, “it looks so nice." Porshe was making the fire from the inside of the balloon look more real by tearing it in to smaller strips. Jenny was decorating the chalkboard with the installation name "CITY WITHOUT A NAME".  There were 4 stationary fairies sitting on the chalkboard too.  

 

There was a great piece donated by an anonymous participant, a cat scratch post decorated like a Tiki or island volcano. The post was almost 2 feet tall wrapped in brown yarn. The top of the post had streamers of shiny paper that resembled tinsel. This colored tinsel was the "lava" that was shooting out of the top of this volcano. There was a tiny palm tree attached to the post as well created with orange yarn as the trunk of the tree and fuzzy green strips of carpet used for the leaves or fronds. This piece would be placed within the exhibit as an anonymous donation.

 

The city was finalized with a total of three smaller buildings and one tall tower. There was a golden arch type bridge that would exit from the city. There were small trees taped to the grassy around the city.  These little trees were made from rolled brown tissue paper for the bark and green tissue for the leaves. There were 15 individual flowers and roses crafted from paper circling the city. There were almost 50 individual shoes lining the road and approximately 100 rocks to accompany the shoes on the road.  Each rock was painted and almost all had little messages on them.  The shoes also contained messages and notes inside.  This would provide a unique and interactive exhibit for the guests to participate in.  

 

Everyone was prepared for a final rehearsal. Some guests had arrived and many of the participants were now in attendance. The readers took their places inside the exhibit and Gregoria stood at the front of the installation to welcome guests. The practice went well and participants took their practice bow together.  

 

About 10 guests were now in attendance. Amber introduces her friend. She says she has known Amber for a while now, explaining that she used to have a closed attitude but now, "She liked something in this class and now I see her opening up." Debra shows up in her decorated pink dress with makeup on, carrying her magic wand. She is "Goddess Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom." Ashley and Danielle showed up with their camera equipment and began setting up their items.  Annie, Phung, Christina, and several others arrived at this time, including several people from the media. The show was about to begin.

 

Gregoria greeted everyone and welcomed them to the Community-based Art project.  She read "Walking" slowly and with emphasis. Everyone hung on each word with anticipation. After her performance, she passed the microphone and introduced Rebekkah, who introduced the "City Without a Name" and read the poem "Giving Back" beside the city. She was very comfortable and happy and her performance brought smiles and laughter as her positive attitude was contagious throughout the room. She passed the microphone to Amber who would read the "Never Ending Sentence" aside the three dimensional cell miniature. She said she wrote this poem when she was only 15 years old and in juvenile hall.  "It is how I felt at the time, to younger people, a short time feels like forever".  After her recital, the microphone was passed to Mingo.  She was reading the collaborative poem "Lily of the Valley".  She explained the process of how we created this poem with more than 15 participants adding lines to it. Throughout, Debra was inside the installation, moving and dancing while the speakers read their poetry.  Her face was serious and she took great pride in performing.  After the speakers finished, the participants were called up to the panel area where they all bow together. Six weeks of working together have culminated in this experience, it was a grand sight to take part in throughout.

 

After the performances and bowing, Annie gave many thanks to the participants, guest artists,  teachers, documentation team, the staff of the prison, the warden, and of course National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council for making the show a possibility. Phung had some words prepared to share with the group. Phung thanked everyone and said it was a pleasure to, "inhabit your dreams, hopes, and inspirations. Thank you for the magic you shared with us." She thanked the guests and media for attending.

 

The panel began answering some questions that were pre-screened by Phung.  

"How has the project helped your art or helped you in other ways?"  

Debra was quick to answer with a beautiful statement.  "Many people don't realize that this prison is a privilege, I don't mean like, yeah cool I am in prison thank you, I mean that it helps us.  A lot of us have become friends.  This prison has helped us to become better, to become women. All as one." 

 

"What inspired you all to participate in art?"  

Rebekkah answered, "We don't look at each other as men or women, we are just spirits."  

Mingo added, "My body is confined but my mind is not here, its outside."  

"This is our sanctuary, we build each other up, not tear each other down."  

"It is about unity," Porsha said, "I feel a part of this, it’s better than I…” She begins to get emotional and starts crying. Someone says "better than I expected" but Porsha can only pass the microphone to the next person on the panel.  

Gregoria responds with "We lost everything when we came here. Some people lost their families and kids. So the inspiration for walking came."  

 

Mingo describes how lilies never die, they repopulate themselves and that is why the collaborative poem represents the participants. They are recreating themselves. "We are in here but we are still alive, like the lilies we will repopulate ourselves."

 

The instructors said some thanks and shared their praises with the participants. Phung asked a few more questions. 

     "How did this class help your art?" 

      "I am going to continue art when I get out, it frees your mind."  

      "I revived myself with art, I am changing."  

      "I will not be bitter anymore, I will be better."  

      "I feel enlightened.” 

 

The participants were then asked to perform the readings again so that the warden and some late comers could hear them. The readings were all performed again and the participants took their bow. It was another flawless performance and the warden responded with a heartfelt message for them. She said she felt a special connection to the poem, "Never Ending Sentence." She wanted to thank Annie for her hard work in the past and told how she trusted her to bring the same great work to CIW.  

 

The installation was taken down as quickly as it was setup. The smaller pieces were given to the participants to take home and the larger pieces would be kept for later. All of the participants were swelling with happiness as their grins and body language showed. Everyone was glad that the installation went successful, the teachers breathed a sigh and a feeling of completion and calmness began to set in.  

This project is generously funded by a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Art Works Grant in the category of Multidisciplinary and Presenting — Additional support comes from Arts in Corrections, an initiative of the California Arts Council and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. This project would not be possible without the support of the Department of Art, the College of Arts and Letters, and Research and Sponsored Programs at CSUSB. Accounts and administrative services were provided by the University Enterprises Corporation in association with CSUSB

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The Prison Arts Collective works to expand access to the transformative power of the arts through collaboration and mutual learning that supports the development of self-expression, reflection, communication, and empathy through providing multidisciplinary arts programming in correctional institutions.

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