“One Way to Deal With Emotion”: How Art Education Can Help Inmates | Art


The American prison has a long cultural history, portrayed in films from The Shawshank Redemption to The Green Mile. They are generally described as harsh, dehumanizing places populated by hardened criminals and vicious guards.

Who better, then, to demystify prisons and those who live there than the artists themselves? “We had this glorified TV version of what a prison in America is and of course it’s no fun, but there are humans in there too – our fellow humans,” says Brian Roettinger. , a Los Angeles-based graphic designer.

The 44-year-old man and his partner at Studio P – R, Willo Perron, 47, will present next month as guest performers courses for prisoners in California in what Roettinger calls “an opportunity to humanize them and maybe lend a hand to make it less scary. and intimidating “.

The project is a collaboration between the Collectif des Arts de la Prison (PAC), a college program that offers an arts curriculum in 12 California state prisons and the global talent agency Huxley.

Guest artists include photographer Tyler Mitchell, American artist Sterling Ruby, a British-trained artist Issy wood and designer David Ostow. Their subjects will include scriptwriting and creative storytelling, comics and illustration, collage making, and creative mindfulness.

For their part, Perron and Roettinger will teach logo design and typography from December 10th. Roettinger said: “We expect everyone to work together to rename the Prison Arts Collective: think about how this logo and color scheme could communicate, create it as a traditional branding project, and go through the process and step by step. step on how we approach this.

Photography: Peter Merts

The guest artist program consists of 15 one-to-one lessons over 15 weeks. The PAC will initially teach the new program in a prison and eventually bring it to a dozen state prisons for men and women in California. Such work is a declaration of faith in the transformative power of art and the redemptive potential of self-expression.

Perron reflects, “The arts are a way to channel and manage emotion and I think a lot of people who find themselves in these difficult bonds just reacted or didn’t have the outlets.

“We all need many different types of outlets, from therapy to the ability to talk to people. The arts are a great way to channel everything from sadness to anger to joy. [This is] give people one of the tools to turn to instead of something that could turn violent.

America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. When Huxley approached the designer duo to participate, they were quick to say yes, having previously worked with a prison reform foundation led by rapper Jay-Z.

Perron says: “The things that need the most attention in this country are probably health care and the prison system. We’re designers at work and we’re not in government or anything, but it gives us the opportunity to do something that hopefully can help and get things done a bit from our skills. .

“These are people who get involved and have contact and a sense of responsibility when it comes to what’s going on with ‘This is where we throw our garbage and we don’t know where it’s going.’ This is how we deal with the woes of our society: we just put people in boxes and throw away the keys. And obviously it didn’t work and we have to start looking at it in a real way.

He adds: “Society makes our problems, society makes our criminals.” We are all intrinsically linked to each other’s decisions. For us to think that the simple solution is to lock people up and not deal with them is medieval at best. “

PAC Lancaster Art Class 2017
Photography: Peter Merts

The non-profit PAC began in 2013 and reaches nearly 450 incarcerated participants each semester. Its founding director, Annie Buckley, a professor at San Diego State University, where it is headquartered, says the response from incarcerated participants has been overwhelmingly positive.

“People feel like it’s like an oasis for them within the prison, where they can relax a bit and feel safe and relaxed in their space and their creativity,” she explains. a telephone interview. “We can take it for granted on the outside, but for them it’s pretty deep.

“The feeling of connection is really powerful: for them to connect with a college student who is coming to teach that they might not have met otherwise. To have this interaction about the arts throughout the classroom is very meaningful. The third is the ability for them to shape a positive identity around being an artist, writer or student.

Buckley recalled that a participant told him his daughter now calls him “an artist” with her friends at school “which I thought was so powerful that I could refer to this in place of anything she used to say about her father being in jail”.

The program includes inmates ranging from those convicted of minor offenses to those serving life sentences. “We don’t ask them why they are there or what they did, because the main goal of our program is to change identities and not to make people known only through the worst thing they have ever done. . It’s about experiencing being in a collaborative and inclusive community and experiencing yourself as artists, students, collaborators and peers.

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