Art Lives In Community Engagement


“When educational institutions have made “CUTS” in their budget it is the arts that are the first thing to go. When availability to the arts is taken away so is our avenue to being creative. If we have no space to be creative we have no outlet for release. An individual's right to grow, heal, and work through trauma should not have to be found decades later while sitting in prison. Yet for me, that is exactly what happened. I was broken, ashamed, and defeated. But all that changed when I was afforded a safe space to be creative. I created so many different pieces. I look back now and it amazes me how creating a “piece” is what brought me “peace.” Finding healing from my past traumas could not have taken place without the arts. Now I feel a deep sense of obligation to help others find that same peace.


- Wendy Staggs, PAC Alumnus/Advisory Board Member, Creator of Project Alice


Project Alice is a multidisciplinary arts program developed by Prison Arts Collective (PAC), a university-based arts nonprofit that 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 by providing multidisciplinary arts programming in correctional institutions. 


Project Alice serves individuals who have been released and reintroduced to society alongside their families, friends, and allies. Project Alice works to reduce stressors and barriers present during the reentry process by facilitating safe spaces that help build relationships and openly engage communities through the transformative process of artmaking. 

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Photos Courtesy of Peter Merts

Stan Hunter, PAC Alumnus, Teaching Artist

Wendy Staggs, PAC Alumnus, Advisory Board member

Project Alice’s core beliefs reflect those of PAC’s by creating a community that engages in self expression through art. Art is the path to both individual and community empowerment, and we understand the need to empower marginalized communities, including those who have been previously incarcerated.Through teaching comes learning, and the artmaking process is as valuable as the product. Project Alice values art as a form of storytelling and believes everyone has a story worth telling. PAC believes that social change is not an individual pursuit: partnership and collaboration are essential to successful movements. Through Project Alice, PAC is able to communicate these values, acknowledging empathy as a center pillar of justice, and show how art lives in community engagement. 

In Loving Memory of
Alice Buckley


Project Alice is inspired by Alice Buckley, a longtime advocate for youth in the juvenile detention  system. While Alice studied art, she ultimately pursued a career in real estate. After an early  retirement, Alice was inspired to return to her love for art and wanted to share it with others. She reached out to her friend and mentor, Gregory Boyle, S.J., founder of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang prevention program in the world, to ask how she could help. Unsure of how best to be of service, but sure of the desire to give back to her community, she asked: “What can a white lady from Hancock Park have to offer?” Eager to learn and let learn, Alice recognized right away the transformative potential of sharing ideas, art, and a sense of  possibility. She brought her art, curiosity, and dedication with her, first to an alternative high school in Father Greg’s parish, and later into detention centers. Through such programming, Alice wanted to help the youth to see themselves: not only the challenges, but all that they could become. 


Project Alice was created by Wendy Staggs, an alumnus of Prison Arts Collective and a member of the Advisory Board, in honor of Alice Buckley upon her passing. Wendy is a writer and advocate who was formerly incarcerated. During that time, her daughter was in foster care; they are now reunited. Alice is the mother of Annie Buckley, founder of Prison Arts Collective. Though Wendy never met Alice, she told Annie, “I know your mom because I know you.” 


Photos Courtesy of Peter Merts

Project Alice is the community and reentry arm of PAC and it has grown and evolved with the support of a dedicated steering committee from the PAC team including: 


Annie Buckley, MFA, Founder and Director, PAC; Professor and Director, School of Art + Design, San Diego State University


Siena Buckley, MSW, PAC Volunteer


Maeve Cassidy, art therapist and PAC volunteer


Elise Moersch, Ed.D, Director of Development, College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts, San Diego State University, and PAC Advisory Board member


Jamie Pelusi, PAC Program Assistant, SDSU


Azadeh Shladovsky, Multi-disciplinary Artist & Designer, Founder & Creative Director, Azadeh Shladovsky Studio, and PAC Advisory Board member


Bella Smith, artist and PAC volunteer


Wendy Staggs, artist, writer, and PAC Alumna and Advisory Board member. UCLA project manager for the Beyond the Bars Fellowship


Sophie Vradelis, PAC Communication and Outreach Coordinator