While many people may consider occupants of our State gaols to be incapable of listening to an inner voice and giving sensitive expression to feelings, the Australian Catholic University's School of Arts and Sciences (NSW) has a very different view!
Each year for the past three years, the School has partnered with Prison Fellowship NSW which runs a program called, 'Art from the Inside'. Prison Fellowship is a volunteer organisation that supports the corrective programs run by Correctional Departments. 'Art from the Inside' provides occupants with the opportunity to participate in a series of workshops run by artists. The purpose is to give these men and women the chance to express their feelings and portray their circumstances through a visual medium. There is no screening process for participation. Each year, a theme with a spiritual focus is chosen for the workshops. Hopes and Fears was the theme for 2008. Integral to the success of the program is the two week exhibition held this year from 15 June to 27 June. Works are judged and awarded for first, second and third places as well as highly commended. The first prize goes on to be judged at a national level against winners from other State exhibitions.
ACU works closely with Prison Fellowship NSW in this important community engagement program by providing the university's gallery for the exhibition and technical support for the hanging of art works. Many of the prisoners' families and friends come to the exhibition and feel great pride in seeing the art displayed. It provides them with hope for a better future when time is served. The exhibition celebrates the creativity of these women and men and provides an opportunity for the general public to be inspired. In many cases, occupants who have developed their artistic skills while in custody continue this upon their release.
Lachlan Warner from ACU's School of Arts and Sciences finds the experience powerful. "I get a real buzz at this exhibition particularly when I meet the families of inmates. They're just so chuffed that their family member has been recognised in this way"
By working collaboratively with organisations such as Prison Fellowship, ACU strengthens its commitment to "to make a specific contribution to its local, national and international communities". Through projects such as 'Art from the Inside', staff and students are given the opportunity to collaborate with community groups in order to achieve mutual goals that build capacity and improve well-being.