Category Archives: Art Inside

About “Art Inside”: This project and my reflection on it are possible with deepest gratitude to the artists and writers that let me and our team into their lives and worlds while in such difficult circumstances. I am equally grateful to the institutions that support programs such as ours and all the staff that work with rehabilitative programs in prisons. The state of California recently reinstated Arts-in-Corrections, a unique collaboration between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the California Arts Council. Our university-based program began in 2013 with volunteers and internal grants and received an Arts-in-Corrections Demonstration Contract in 2016 that allowed us to continue and to grow. In addition to writing about the projects and people that I know, I will be writing about arts programs that I visit. I have sought and received permission from CDCR and the California Arts Council to document these projects. Because I have changed the names of the participants to protect their privacy, I will also change the names of all teaching artists, staff, and volunteers whenever feasible. Thank you to Peter Merts for allowing the use of his photographs of Arts-in-Corrections in this series.

By Annie Buckley
Images by Peter Merts

Art Inside: Field Notes #3

By Annie Buckley, for the “Art Inside” series

“We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious.”

—Swami Satchitananda

When I entered the bright classroom, women of all ages were gathered around four rectangular tables. Most were dressed in requisite blue uniforms and some wore the optional muumuu, or as my grandmother used to call a similar garment, housedress. The energy was buzzing but each was focused on a bright square of paper in front of her, intently arranging petals in patterns. Strewn down the center of each table was a rainbow of flower petals, leaves, and seeds, both real and artificial. The women were collecting them to layer in colorful patterns on the sheets. They practiced creating their own designs while getting used to the new materials. Two teaching artists, dressed all in black to avoid any of the range of disallowed clothing — from jeans to all red or pink to khaki, anything that might resemble the garb of either inmates or guards from afar — moved around the tables like hummingbirds, shifting from one participant to another then hovering in place to assist or discuss. The atmosphere was more garden party or craft fair than prison. The women and the Community-based Art team collaborated to transform the space. Continue reading

Art Inside: Fieldnotes #2

By Annie Buckley, for the “Art Inside” series

This is my first visit to our new program at this prison. I meet up with our teaching team in the expansive parking lot and we walk through a sea of cars to a small guard booth where an officer is sitting behind a Plexiglas screen. He greets us, already familiar with the four teachers that have visited for the past four weeks. They sign in, introduce me, and we are issued a key and alarm. The process is relatively easy, calm, and methodical. Continue reading

Art Inside: Fieldnotes

By Annie Buckley, for the “Art Inside” series

“It’s crazy how art can actually make you feel something.” I smile and nod. It is crazy, isn’t it? And yet sometimes — in the flurry of making and discussing, marketing and analyzing — we forget that primal aspect of art. But not here, never here: on the inside, where art is a lifeline like nowhere else. When I hear this comment, I am sitting with a group of men at a small table, one of multiple clustered around the large gymnasium. We are in a prison, one of four where I created and now oversee what has become an expansive and collaborative art program with 20 teaching artists facilitating multiple weekly classes in four prisons. At this table, we are looking at the men’s artwork and talking about their progress. One of the men, Shaun (all names are changed), has been with our program since the beginning and has taken nearly all of our classes. He recalls that when he started, one of our teaching artists looked at his colorful psychedelic drawings and said, “You’re an artist, man, you have to own it!” Shaun beams as he recalls this and proceeds to help the newer students look at one another’s art and express what they see. Continue reading