One incident I witnessed, while attending these classes as an observer and documentary photographer stands out for me. It was early in the program—the first or second class of the series—at the women’s prison. The artists and instructors were brainstorming about concepts for their group project. This creative process—collaborative, freewheeling, and sometimes demanding—requires openness, acceptance, trust, and risk-taking; it can be unsettling to a participant who is feeling fragile.
One participant, when asked to share her ideas, expressed resistance to the process, then anger. Asked was was troubling her, she spoke of feeling unheard, unappreciated, frustrated; she began to cry. This felt like a critical juncture for the group; how would it react to this unexpected and emotional interruption? I put my camera down, sensing that something more important than documentation was unfolding.
Encouraged by one of the instructors, the woman described her fears and feelings. The group listened to her concerns, and expressed appreciation for her—for her ideas and participation. They reacted with acceptance, care, and compassion. Fifteen minutes later, the woman was freely, even joyfully participating in the group process. The storm had subsided, and the group seemed stronger for having faced it with grace. The woman flashed a radiant smile, and I picked up my camera again.
This incident was remarkable to me not only because of the skill, care, and concern with which the upset woman was treated—but also because it came to typify for me the program as a whole. Not just instructors relating to students, but students to teachers, students to students, and the class to the prison staff. There was great care and respect for each other, and it was infectious. There was a sense that everyone was important, and that everyone’s ideas and feelings mattered. And there was a sense of optimism that whatever came up, could be worked out.
—Peter Merts, photographer and mentor
What I take away is the experience of working as a team on a collaborative piece and forming bonds with people who were perfect strangers and became friends so fast.
—Miranda, participant, “City Without a Name”
I learned a lot of patience, that’s for sure! I learned to take a step back and listen to others with an open mind and to consider everyone’s perspective without judging. What I am taking away from this experience is a memorable journey with a lot of friends. This was the most fun (and stressful) artistic endeavor that I’ve ever been involved with, I’d enjoy doing more installation art in the future.
—Stan, Participant, “Redemption”
Working with participants in both CIM and CIW has been a profound experience that continues to resurface and gently reminds me of the incredible power of art. Every person has the innate ability and impulse to create whether it is drawing, painting, writing, performing, making music, or simply engaging. The collaborative art project was an ambitious artistic endeavor that demonstrated an ever truer reality, that every person has value, and every person wants to create value in society. Through the process of making art and deciding to make art together, we discovered that we can in fact manifest something greater than we could have on our own.
—Phung Huynh, Guest Artist / Co-Facilitator
As an artist I was required to work with many different ideas of what the project would be. I made a pledge to give my input when needed and follow the group wherever the project lead us. I had to follow a collaborative train of thought. This was way out of character for me, as most will agree, yet fun to do in the end.
—Robert, Participant, “Redemption”
This class was different because I got to work with everyone in class and get to know others’ dreams and learn to become friends. Friendship is important.
—Debra, participant, “City Without a Name”
I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in this Multidisciplinary Collaborative Workshop with CBA/PAC facilitated by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. In this six week workshop I was able to visit both the Men’s and Women’s facilities three times, the last time culminating in both final presentations. I was moved each time by the level of engagement I saw from both the artist participants and the CBA/PAC team.
I was especially affected by the way the program helped create deep reflection for participants. Specifically, a story one of the men wrote, “Before the Transformation,” eloquently speaks about the events and circumstances that led to his incarceration. This piece of beautiful writing made clear to me on a deep level the duality that exists in our world. It is a fact that these men and women in the past made decisions that led to their incarceration. However, it is also a fact that now a very thoughtful, sensitive, curious, engaged, polite, compassionate, intelligent and hungry for acceptance human has emerged, has…transformed.
This program and many others like it that CBA/PAC brings to this very underserved population gives people a tool to self-discovery. Through witnessing the process of this workshop, I am convinced that through art there is a door to self-discovery and redemption.
—Diane Michali, Designer and Mentor
I learned many things, such as how to work effectively and positively as a group. We were able to come together as a group and build something from scratch to something beautiful. I was able to use and improve my communication and social skills. From this experience I was able to take away a deeper appreciation for art, my peers, and the CBA art staff.
—Angel, Participant, “Redemption”
I remember the enthusiasm of the participants as being exceptional. They were really engaged and captivated by the ideas of branching out into installation and performance art. I was also impressed by the free exchange of ideas as they worked out how to collaborate and involve everybody in the final work.
—Katherine Gray, Guest Artist
Personally, I learned to be more humble and open-minded. There were definitely times that I felt my pride put in the way of my ability to contribute or collaborate. I learned to value the input of other people, to treat it as valuable as my own. As an artist I learned more about the creative process. I learned not to be discouraged by an intimidating idea/concept and instead tackle it one at a time. I learned that it is ok for the original vision to evolve and change.
—Lyle, Participant, “Redemption”
One day, about midway through the workshop, one of the men, George, said to me,
“Hey, can I tell you something? But I don’t want you to take it the wrong way.”
“Um, yea, sure!” I answered, brightly, though his intro made me a little worried.
“When you first came in here and told us about this project, I thought, ‘she’s crazy!’ But now that we have gotten this far, I can see that we are going to pull this off.”
“So do you still think I’m crazy?”
“Yea,” he smiled, “but it’s a good kind of crazy.”
I was happy to hear this affirmation of growth, on the part of George and our group as a whole, and further affirmation of the idea that we — a larger, expanded we — are capable of change, collaboration, and creativity; if we can make meaning from experience and create reality from imagination in this workshop, we can create change and nurture positivity in our communities. I think we can all be a little more “crazy” in expanding our ideas of what’s possible for our world.
—Annie Buckley, Lead Facilitator, CBA/PAC founder/director
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.