By Margaret Wright A flurry of preparations in a cavernous warehouse on N.M. 14 just south of Santa Fe resemble those for any other fine arts and craftsmanship exposition. There’s the scent of fresh paint and sawdust from workers repairingRead More
By Mary Plummer / scpr.org
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will announce Friday it plans to spend $1 million to restore arts programing for prisoners.
The funding will bring back the Arts in Corrections program, the demise of which KPCC reported on in January, along with makeshift programs that have popped up to try to fill in some of the gaps.
Despite studies showing inmates released from prison were less likely to return if they had participated in the state’s arts classes, the program was eliminated in 2010. It had been a staple in state prisons for 30 years.
“These are skills that inmate artists can take out into the community when they get out,” said Krissi Khokhobashvili, a spokesperson for the state corrections department. She said the goal is to give inmates job skills so they don’t end up back in prison.
Developed by Auburn University, the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project (APAEP) is committed to providing educational access and opportunities to prisoners in Alabama’s prisons. By helping prisoners reconnect with learning aspirations, the program believes it can help prisoners embrace education and transform their lives positively for the rest of their lives. The program delivers “educational experiences in the arts, humanities, hard sciences, and human sciences.” These courses have the potential to profoundly help prisoners redirect their perspectives about their pasts as well as their future lives.
Coursework and ‘An Air of Purpose’
The program’s website reports that one prison warden could easily tell which inmates were involved with the program by their “air of purpose.” This in itself is one of the program’s great benefits. APAEP delivers a wide array of courses that provide intellectual stimulation and, of course, provide the inmates with an Auburn University transcript of completed coursework. Although the program is not designed as a degree-track initiative, the participating prisoners are delighted to have college-level coursework under their belts. Having this college experience behind them is often the catalyst they need to continue their education post-prison.
53-year-old Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel is now a free man. Skakel was released from prison in November, 2013 after over a decade stint for allegedly murdering his 15-year old Greenwhich, Connecticut neighbor, Martha Moxley in 1975. Skakel’s freedom resulted from a judge ruling that his attorney was negligent during his murder trial.
Skakel did not let any grass grow under his feet during his incarceration. In fact, Mr. Skakel discovered a hidden talent to fill his time behind bars. He was a prolific contributor to Connecticut’s Prison Arts Program.
Mr. Skakel took advantage of his situation and turned his sentence into an artist’s dream. He had one benefit most artists would envy: Abundant time to experiment with art.
Mr. Skakel’s artistic ability evolved from stick figures on the outside world to unique expressions of his imagination on the inside world.
Jeff Greene, 45, was Mr. Skakel’s art instructor in prison and is the director of Connecticut’s Prison Arts Program. Greene boasts that Skakel produced “hundreds of artworks” during his incarceration. At least 18 of Mr. Skakel’s works have appeared in shows that Mr. Greene curates to bring inmate art to the attention of the outside world.
Beauty, as ritual and symbol, are as necessary to human beings as air and water. The recognition of beauty marks us as human, and gives us identity. And that is why the inquiry into the makeup of beauty, and its constituents, becomes influential. Is beauty an illusion; is it a mere commodity? Is it only a credit card receipt away? Or is it something more ethereal? Is it substantial or insubstantial? Is it purely and only physical; is it spiritual? In other words, are the Thomists right, or should the Manicheans take precedence? What is beauty? And how does it impact us as individuals? As members of a society? How does it impact and influence our culture? Or does our culture influence our opinion of beauty? And of course, all these interrogatives are pertinent and important; yet the most salient question is this: how, what, when and where is beauty? In other words, what is the epistemology of beauty?
Thus as part of an inquiry into beauty, PE.com will exhibit works of prison art. Although produced by prisoners or ex-prisoners, from one perspective, the designation ‘prison art’ is moot. For in the end, art is art. Whether it was created by a prisoner or a student or a farmer makes no difference. However, from another perspective, the term ‘prison art’ speaks volumes. For according to some, prisoners and/or ‘criminals’ are devoid of any sense of aesthetics. Of course, this viewpoint is wrong. The recognition and admiration of beauty is universal.
THE ART OF SHAWN JONES