"Being in the art program and developing my

art skills has been the most rewarding time of my last 20 years I have spent in prison.”

—Participant, California Institution for Men (CIM)



The Prison Arts Collective is dedicated to collaborating to facilitate arts in prisons. We are committed to academic activism and supporting the development of self-expression, reflection, communication, and empathy in individuals that are incarcerated through providing integrated arts programs, individualized for each site, that include art history, art making in diverse media, and multidisciplinary projects. 


The Prison Arts Collective is based on interdependence and mutuality. For an individual that is incarcerated, the opportunities to create, express, and collaborate constitute paths to awareness, imagination, and a freedom of consciousness. For our teaching artists, teaching is an opportunity to grow, share, and support positive change.

The Prison Arts Collective is made possible because of the many people that come together to create it. It was founded on a successful partnership between two California systems, California State University, San Bernardino in the state university system and California Institution for Men in the state prison system. Since 2013, we have evolved to include partnerships with more public colleges and universities, community groups, and correctional institutions. It evolves because of the many individuals, inside and outside these systems, that believe in the mission and offer support and input. This combination of institutional, community, and individual support is vital to the continued evolution of the PAC. We believe in harnessing the powers, talents, and support of all involved to support creative transformation.

Our growth is organic by design. We grow where and how we are needed and are able. We envision continuing to grow our weekly programs in state prisons, adding more artistic disciplines as requested by participants, supporting the evolution of new multidisciplinary collaborative projects and leadership opportunities for incarcerated participants, and fostering productive community partnerships. 


We foresee expanding to support other state universities and community colleges in connecting with local prisons to create lasting partnerships in the arts. We provide a model, structural support, and opportunities for ongoing collaboration through shared resources. 

CBA offers a vibrant and effective approach to rehabilitation through visual arts and creative writing. The Prison Arts Collective (PAC) grows out of our work in the local community and responds to a specific need for immersive arts and higher education in correctional institutions.


Photo by: Peter Merts


We believe in the capacity of art to change lives for the better. We see it in the facilities when we work with our participants. We read it when they reflect on the art experience. We experience it through the interaction with one another and with our participants.

We believe that every individual is vital and every voice matters. We are dedicated to collaborating to facilitate programs that grow organically out of the needs and interests of all of those involved. We create structures to support consistency and growth.

We value the knowledge, talents, and experience of our participants. We work to support their artistic growth at whatever stage they enter the program. We teach beginning, intermediate, and advanced classes and offer opportunities for participants to co-teach based on their readiness and experience. We seek regular feedback from participants and others involved and integrate their ideas into our development and programming.

We believe that change and growth can happen and that the structure of the institution can support these processes. We are based in the California State University San Bernardino and partner with university, college, and community organizations to develop programming within institutions in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. We understand that we are invited guests of CDCR institutions and work within their guidelines and policies to facilitate successful art programs for inmates.

We envision being part of the shift away from thinking about incarceration in a strictly punitive way and work with CDCR towards the active integration of more opportunities for rehabilitation and learning. In addition to facilitating programs inside, we share art and writing created by participants with the public through exhibitions and publications.

This project is facilitated by artists, writers, faculty, and teachers at all levels of professional development, from widely exhibiting artists and published authors to undergraduate and graduate students with special training to work collaboratively to facilitate art in prisons. We value contributions from all involved and create opportunities for mentorship and mutual learning. We are guided by principles of community-based art and restorative justice and believe that the creative arts can foster better communication and be tools for individual rehabilitation and communal and societal reparation. 

About Us

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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© 2020 Prison Arts Collective