I learned to be more accepting and open to other individuals’ opinions and views, to be open-minded.
—Bryan (Participant, “Redemption”)
“The goal of the workshops will be to encourage participants to evolve their understandings of the theoretical and practical connections between the work they have been doing in distinct disciplines, such as painting and drawing or creative writing. Rather than see each class as a discrete part, participants will be encouraged to see the arts as a cohesive whole.”
This is just one sentence among many in an extensive grant application but it is the one that was continually referenced throughout the process of planning and implementing these workshops. While the goal was to provide mentorship, guidance, support, and structure, it was equally important the the final project be the collective result of the creativity, talents, ideas, and efforts of the participating artists. With that in mind, planning sessions consisted of coming together to discuss each of the contributor’s varying roles, what resources we could provide to help with this unique project, and how to best support participants through the process of working collaboratively to create a finished multidisciplinary work of art. While a majority of the team is based on the Inland Empire, the group is spread across the state of California, so planning necessarily occurred in person and via Skype and phone calls.
Initially, the roles of the contributors were identified and the discussion of how to select participants for the workshops ensued. The Community-based Art Prison Arts Collective facilitates weekly arts programming for thousands of incarcerated participants. In the two prisons identified as partners in this project - the California Institution for Men and the California Institution for Women - hundreds have taken part. Given the advanced nature of the artistic endeavor of these workshops, and the fact that we needed to collaborate with artists form multiple disciplines, we requested that those interested to participate complete a relatively simple application, stating their background with the program, reason for interest in this workshop, and what arts disciplines he or she could contribute to the whole.
From there, the team brainstormed: What would the participants need to know in order to successfully complete this project? What could the team provide them with to help encourage their creativity and collaboration? In order to gain a sense of their interest in social issues, we utilized a questionnaire from Professor Buckley’s Socially-engaged Art class. It became clear that it would be necessary to identify and share some specific art forms that could be effectively created collaboratively. The group came up with several, including one large piece made out of many smaller pieces, mobiles, and the use of a paper stage for performances. For each of these approaches, student interns researched artists that had worked in this way and created contemporary art references to help the team in sharing this information. In addition, it was decided that examples of other art projects from prisons be included, to expand awareness of the arts in other prisons and, specifically, to share and inspire that it would be possible to do something on this grand scale; others had done it.
Finally, the team created an outline to structure the six weeks which was tightly packed to allow for the sharing of art and ideas, short periods of experimentation (paper sculpting and erasure poetry), and ample time for individual and collective reflection and discussion prior to getting started on the project. A challenge was to draft a schedule that was open enough to allow for the inevitable changes that would come up during the process yet structured enough to complete and present the final work to an audience within just six short weeks.
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.