Art by Prisoners links inmates with the community

By / 29th of April, 2015
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A PROJECT that started in the UK showcasing the creative artwork created in prisons has taken off worldwide, and the latest exhibition is the Art by Prisoners show currently running in South Australia.

The exhibition presents a selection of artworks that are all created by prisoners in South Australian gaols. There are 70 artworks on display selected from submissions by adult prisoners in the nine facilities across the Australian state.

The idea for the annual event is based on similar art exhibitions for offenders run by the Koestler Trust in London, England. The Koestler Trust is the United Kingdom’s most well known prison arts charity. Their various programs inspire prisoners to get involved in the arts through their three annual exhibitions, mentoring program and annual awards.

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The Koestler Trust Director of Arts Fiona Curran says that sharing the artwork created by offenders with the public gives people the opportunity to see them as individuals with talent and the ability to make contributions to society.

Koestler Trust’s work helps offenders to gain a sense of positive achievement and can have enormous therapeutic value.

“Every day we hear from people who’ve turned their lives around through the arts,” Curran said. “This might be through feeling confident to go onto other forms of education and study, using art as a way to reintegrate into the community and meet new people, or as a tool to rebuild family relationships, which are key to reducing reoffending rates.”

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The Art by Prisoners event has been organised by Flinders University PhD student Jeremy Ryder, who started the project as part of his research into the role of art in prison.

Since the pilot program began in 2012, the number of participants in the exhibition has grown from 37 to 61 this year. Now in its fourth year, the growing interest has gained Art by Prisoners its own space for the first time in the Artspace Gallery at the Adelaide Festival Centre to accommodate the number of entries in the exhibition.

The project encourages prisoners to engage with the community in a positive way through the art they have created.

“Generally speaking, prisoners are a marginalised and vulnerable population and the project creates an opportunity for a degree of contact and interaction with the wider community,” Ryder says.

The works have been judged for artistic merit and the public will have the opportunity to share their thoughts on the artwork in writing. Some of the art is for sale, with the proceeds used to cover the costs of running the exhibition and to support victims of crime.

South Australia’s Commissioner for Victims’ Rights, Michael O’Connell, has been supportive of the exhibition.

“Art can play a valuable role in prisoner rehabilitation. Such programmes help alleviate some of the negative aspects of prison life; however, it seems to me that Art by Prisoners in South Australia seeks to do much more,” he said.

“The programme has educational and therapeutic elements. It also links prisoners with the community, which can be mutually beneficial.”

Art by Prisoners runs at Adelaide Festival Centre’s Artspace Gallery until May 10.

Key contacts

Tim Mason Adelaide Festival Centre
61 8 8216 8540 tim.mason@adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au