What do you think of when you read the word PRISON? A choir? Artist studios? A writer’s group? Cultural festivals? A band? Isn’t prison meant to be a punishment? People on the outside often don’t get access to these things. What’s even the point in giving this stuff to inmates? Do criminals have the ability to change? And do I want my taxes spent on them singing Les Miserables?
These are just some of the points that came up during our workshop at the Critical Animals research symposium as a part of The Is Not Art in Newcastle a couple of weeks ago. Continuing on from our work at Junee Correctional Centre we focused the workshop on the issue of creative and cultural programming in prisons. It’s a divisive topic so we built the session on binaries, getting our willing participants to brainstorm the FOR’S and AGAINST’S. Simple, yes but as we delved further into the murky mess of corrections and the penal system it became clear that binaries suck and spontaneous discussion and debate emerged (like we hadn’t even planned it!)
The theme of the symposium, Possible Futures, fit perfectly with this what we aimed to do here. Following on from our multi-platform project Beauty And The Grey Beast: Surprising Tales From Prison we wanted to take this opportunity to get the audience to imagine life on the inside as well as a reality where recidivism was actually reducing rather than climbing. The idea was to get the audience to record their reactions and for us to take their scribblings in order to develop an online, interactive experience to accompany the release of the documentary arm of the project. The interactive part would act as a tool of provocation around the public’s views on inmates and serve as a repository of opinion that could maybe paint a picture of how we see those that have ended up in jail. Ideally it would ALSO serve as a means to connect the outside world to what’s going on inside jails and help humanise a diverse group of people labelled ‘inmates’.
So how did it go you ask? Pretty damn well we’d say. First of all we were we in the most perfect venue, The Lock Up, a historic jail now repurposed as a contemporary art space. Second of all we had a kick ass crowd turn up who kept us on our toes. And number three has to go to the Critical Animals team who got us up and running and even took photos for us whilst we did our thing.
Photos courtesy of the lovely Patric Kelly!