Every second spent in prison is a “measurement of punishment,” says Nicole R. Fleetwood. “You wake up, you’re being punished, you’re being punished, you make art, you’re being punished.”
Fleetwood is curator of “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” a new exhibition at New York City’s MoMa PS1.
The exhibition collects work made by artists who are either currently in prison, were formerly in prison, or had family members in prison. Considering the U.S. currently locks up more than 2 million people, that’s a substantial pool.
Fleetwood grew up in a small town in southwest Ohio, and saw up-close how our system of punishment “stigmatizes, isolates, and humiliates certain people.” She witnessed friends, neighbors and family members swept up by the system of mass incarceration.
She’d do her best to stay in touch — writing letters to her incarcerated cousins, visiting when she could, trading pictures and greeting cards back and forth. But she kept this memorabilia tucked away in drawers or cabinets, until she realized she was also taking part in the shame and stigma of prison. So she started hanging them around her home, as a way of actively bringing her cousins into her day-to-day life, “refusing to have them invisible behind prison walls,” she said.
The practice led her to start researching art in prison, resulting in this exhibition, which includes paintings, photography, sculptures and more.
Tameca Cole’s Locked in a Dark Calm opens the exhibition. It’s a collage on graphite, small enough that you might miss it if you’re not paying attention. Cole was in prison when she made it, close to the end of her sentence. Then a correctional officer said something that set her off. She didn’t specify what was said, but it was something that made her feel degraded and angry — angry enough to talk back, or as she put it, “mess up everything I had worked hard for.”
Instead, she funneled her feelings into this piece of art. “It just came out,” she said. “I just saw myself outside myself.”
For Fleetwood, the piece speaks to “wanting to be recognized as a person of value and not just someone being punished by the state as a bad person.”
Throughout the exhibit, Fleetwood mostly avoids bringing up the reasons for an artist’s incarceration. She said it was a way to get out of the rigid frameworks we often use to talk about prison — innocent versus guilty, good people versus bad people, those deserving and undeserving of freedom. Instead she wanted the exhibition to be a more holistic reflection of American society and its relationship to incarceration.
Locked in a Dark Calm has brought Cole more attention that she’d ever thought she would get. Out of prison now, she gets calls from gallerists and reporters like me. It’s all a bit overwhelming, actually — juggling her burgeoning art career while holding down a job, and adjusting to life outside of prison. Still, she makes time for her art, and appreciates how much it resonates with people.
“I like my art to speak to people, to inspire people,” she says. “But I definitely don’t want to be famous.”
If time is the measurement of punishment in prison, you can see it most clearly enumerated in Mark Loughney’s Pyrrhic Defeat. Loughney is a portrait artist currently incarcerated in Pennsylvania. The piece collects more than 600 pencil-drawn portraits he’s done throughout his years in prison. At MoMa PS1, they occupy all four walls of one room. Turning around in the room, you can see Loughney get better, more adventurous with his detailing.
Loughney says the hardest part of doing these portraits is simply finding the time and space to do it. Prison is loud and chaotic, and it’s hard for him and his sitters to stay focused. So he tries to get them done as quickly as possible, and he’s had a small advantage on that front recently: “The masks actually make it a lot easier because I don’t have to focus so much detail on a nose or mouth,” he says.
His subjects are in a ¾ view, looking just askew. At first he did this because it was uncomfortable looking in another man’s eyes for an extended period of time. “Everybody is trying to puff up their chests in here,” he says. “And it’s hard to really let your guard down.” But it has an added effect of making his subjects look like they’re in a Renaissance-era painting. Loughney says it gives his subjects a sense of dignity and hope.
“Portraiture is a type of prison currency,” writes Fleetwood in the book that accompanies the exhibition. Many of the portrait artists she’s spoken to told her that the skill was key to their survival in prison. Artists are commissioned to draw portraits of lovers or children or music/sports stars in exchange for commissary items and other necessities. For Loughney, part of the pitch he makes to get his subjects to pose for him is that they can keep the originals, and send copies home to their families.
Pictures being sent home are a core facet of prison art. In the accompanying book, Fleetwood includes pictures she took with her cousins in visiting room photo sessions — smiling and posing against painted backdrops. Fleetwood estimates that there are millions of these types of photos circulating between incarcerated people and their families and friends.
Larry Cook’s piece The Visiting Room is a play on this type of photography. Inspired by his uncles who were incarcerated, Cook stages his subjects inside recreation prison visiting rooms. But instead of facing the camera, they’re turned, looking towards painted backdrops of cityscapes, skies, and fancy cars. Counterbalancing Loughney’s hurried sketches, Cook’s photographs are more contemplative. “Having that faceless element allows us to resonate personally in any way that we can in terms of entering into the photograph,” says Cook.
Cook’s background is in club photography which, similarly, uses painted backdrops to evoke an air of fantasy and escapism. But in the context of prison, it offers a decision to break from the aesthetic coldness of a visiting room. Everything in Cook’s photographs — from the shoes to the poses to the backgrounds — are small acts of agency.
So much of prison art is about connecting people who are kept far away, both physically and emotionally. In our interview, Fleetwood brought up the writer Etheridge Knight who was known for the poems he wrote in prison. In his poem “The Idea of Ancestry,” he sits in his cell, looking at 47 pictures of family taped on to his wall and writes, “I am all of them, they are all of me.”
“Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration” is on view at New York City’s MoMa PS1 until April 4, 2021.
Pandemic blues? Online art therapy might help you work through your feelings – CBC.ca
It doesn’t matter where they are in the world. Most of Michelle Winkel’s patients are struggling with the exact same thing right now, and that’s anxiety.
“It was a significant problem before the pandemic,” says Winkel, clinical supervisor at the Virtual Art Therapy Clinic and co-founder of the Canadian Institute for Art Therapy (CIIT) in Victoria. (In fact, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health issues period, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.) But recently, says Winkel, the problem “has absolutely magnified” at the clinic, and the reason should be as plain as the three-ply reusable mask on your face.
COVID’s impact on mental health is occasionally discussed as a sort of shadowy bonus pandemic, hitting everyone differently — but affecting everyone, just the same. In May, a crowdsourced study from Statistics Canada reported that 88 per cent of respondents had experienced anxiety symptoms — things like “feeling nervous, anxious or on edge” — sometime in the two weeks before they were polled. And nearly a quarter said they had “fair or poor mental health.” (Compare that to a similar survey from two years prior: back then, a mere 8 per cent were feeling similarly meh.)
“Obviously with COVID, life is pretty stressful,” says Winkel. Since April, her online clinic has provided support to patients working through their anxiety or depression or stress. And it’s one of several virtual resources that offers a space to heal through art.
So … art therapy? What does that mean exactly?
“I believe that art-making is therapeutic,” says Winkel. But there’s a distinction between chilling at home with pack of Crayolas and engaging in art therapy. Per the textbook definition on the Canadian Art Therapy Association (CATA) website, the practice mixes psychotherapy with art-making. (“Using imagery, colour and shape as part of this creative process,” they say, “thoughts and feelings can be expressed that would otherwise be difficult to articulate.”) And it’s facilitated by a certified art therapist, someone trained in the field at a graduate level.
“Usually clients come because of a pain point,” says Winkel. “We may use some art-making to explore that.”
Absolutely no experience is required. “They do not need to be artists or feel artistic at all,” says Winkel. And during a session, the art therapist might guide a creative exercise. It’s not always about making a picture or a painting, she explains. A common prompt might be something like: “Show me what you’re struggling with.”
“Let’s say it’s a feeling of anxiety. Well, you could choose an animal that feels like that. Express it in some kind of image.”
By making art, and reflecting on the process, the patient is working to get a better handle on what they’re experiencing. “For a lot of folks these days, it’s about communicating with themselves first,” says Winkel. “How can I tolerate the anxiety of this scary, scary stuff that’s going on in a way that’s a little bit healthier for me?” Insight can change how they’re able to negotiate those feelings going forward. And the art therapist’s there to guide the process.
“Having someone there to facilitate, to develop a safe and trusting environment to be able to make art is the healing piece, we think.”
Is online therapy the right fit?
Art therapy has a variety of applications, but sticking to the example of what Winkel and her team are doing at the Virtual Art Therapy Clinic, she says most of their participants face she calls “daily challenges in living.” They aren’t arriving with a doctor’s diagnosis, but maybe they’ve been feeling anxious or low or isolated. (The website encourages folks in crisis to seek other treatment.) “It can be as simple and humble as that they’re feeling a bit stressed and they’d like a few sessions to explore stress management. And that would be a very suitable thing to deal with in art therapy.”
The clinic’s sessions are open to both adults and children, and they’re led over Zoom by senior students at CIIT. (So, special art materials aren’t required, but a working webcam is.) Before the first appointment’s booked, participants go through a free “meet and greet” assessment. They get to talk about their needs and ask any questions they might have. The sessions themselves are offered on a pay-what-you-can model, starting at $10. Continuing with further sessions is up to the participant. “We have many who just come for a handful, get what they need, and then stop,” says Winkel.
OK, so where else are people doing it?
The Virtual Art Therapy Clinic is, of course, just one option. To find an individual therapist offering virtual sessions, Winkel recommends searching directories like the one on the CATA website. Or, you could try something altogether different, like an online Art Hive.
An Art Hive?
Yep. They’re a network of community art studios that welcome folks of all ages and abilities. The concept originated at Concordia University in Montreal, which runs multiple Art Hives through its campus — and in the Before Times, these spaces would welcome anybody and everybody to gather and create (using a stash of free materials). Since March 20, the Concordia chapters have been hosting meet-ups on Zoom, and at least 21 Canadian Art Hives are currently active online. Some focus on visual art-making. At Concordia, they also run regular Art Hives for music and movement. And while these sessions aren’t necessarily presided over by a certified art therapist, Rachel Chainey, national network coordinator for Art Hives Network, says that the project’s guiding philosophy is “rooted in art therapy.”
Each session has a facilitator, she says, who’s there to make everyone feel welcome and free to create. “The Art Hive seeks to bring people together around a common idea, which is creativity and art-making,” she says. “Importantly, in terms of mental health, it creates a safety net. People often, you know — not everyone will go to therapy. And not everyone has access to individual therapy or even group therapy, whether for financial reasons, whether it’s for cultural reasons. The Art Hive forms a community around a person. […] There will be a community of people checking on them.”
What do people get out of it?
Marguerite Dorion, 76, is a recent Art Hive convert. Pre-pandemic, she was aware of the IRL locations in Montreal, but as a busy YMCA volunteer, she never really took part. Now? “My gosh, it’s nearly my whole day,” she says, and because the programming’s online, she’s been exploring Art Hives beyond the city. “It’s very casual, very welcoming,” she says, and of all the things she loves about the experience — including the joy of painting and learning new things — it’s the community aspect that’s most important to her. “In French we call it ‘en réseau,’ which means a link between many people.”
Making art with a group, albeit over Zoom, felt novel to Alexandra O. Carlsson when she joined her first Art Hive. But week over week, she says, “you start to recognize faces, and almost feel a kind of camaraderie.” A 33-year-old occupational therapist from Kingston, Ont., Carlsson takes part in a virtual session run through the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University. At first, she was there out of professional curiosity. “But I slowly realized that it was actually very therapeutic for myself,” says Carlsson. “Every time I finished Art Hive I was like, ‘Wow, that was something that I did today that I didn’t even know I needed.’ Self-care is such a trendy term, but it felt like such a wonderful creative outlet for myself. And it really helped me decompress after a busy day.”
“People there, they break their social isolation,” says Chainey of Art Hives. “They find a place of belonging. It helps them find meaning. Often creativity is connected to finding purpose, meaning, self worth, feeling proud of oneself. So these are all things that contribute to enhanced well-being.”
That last Art Hive … it’s run by a museum?
Yes, some museums host virtual Art Hives, too. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, for example, is developing its own online version, and Stephen Legari, the museum’s program officer for art therapy, says it should be live in the next few weeks. It’ll be the closest facsimile to dropping in on the MMFA’s real-life Art Hive — the only one of its kind in a museum. It is, of course, closed due to COVID-19, but pre-pandemic, people were free to make arts and crafts with support from on-site educators and art therapists. Legari says 2,500-3,000 visitors made use of the studio each year.
And beyond plans for that aforementioned virtual meet-up, there are other resources available on the MMFA’s website. In the spring, Legari produced a bunch of short videos that lead the viewer through different art-therapy exercises inspired by pieces from the museum’s collection. More are in the works, he says, and they should arrive in the New Year.
But are any of these online options a substitute for the IRL thing?
Both have their pros and cons. There are the obvious practical challenges: technology opens these services to people living anywhere, but there are still folks who get left behind. Some people struggle with computer literacy. Others can’t afford the right hardware. And beyond all that, maybe Zoom just isn’t your thing.
Since May, Winkel’s been studying the effectiveness of online art therapy, specifically as it pertains to treating anxiety. Nine therapists have been following 36 clients at the Virtual Art Therapy Clinic. At the beginning and end of each session, these patients are asked to rate their anxiety on a scale of zero to 10, and going off her findings so far, virtual sessions have merit. “What we’re noticing is about a 38 per cent improvement from the beginning of the session to the end,” she says. “So, it’s a very sizeable improvement, meaning that the clients feel a lot less anxious at the end, even if they spend one hour working with someone.” The research, however, is still ongoing.
Chainey acknowledges there are some things that are missing from the virtual experience, especially when it comes to her real-life Art Hive venues — community hubs that are crammed with craft materials and artwork. “It’s such a rich environment, so nourishing for people’s creativity,” she says. “You cannot replicate that online, however hard you try.” But the fundamental spirit is still there.
“I notice that often people attend an Art Hive because they want to feel seen by others. That’s why they choose to come instead of creating in isolation,” she says.
“I think that this sense of feeling connected, supported, seen […] that happens online.”
ARTS AROUND: Rollin Art Centre lights up for Christmas – Alberni Valley News
Christmas at the Rollin Art Centre is happening now until Dec. 23.
Come and stroll the magically lit gardens, then pop upstairs to the gallery (with COVID-19 safety protocols in place) and visit Mistletoe Market, where you will find hundreds of gift items for all your shopping needs.
The number of guests will be limited to four people. Guests must wear a mask and hand sanitize at the entrance.
All locally made, the market is a showcase of local artists, artisans and crafters. You will find something for everyone on your list: pottery, jewellery, scarves, photographs, original paintings, glass works, quilted stockings, holiday cards, ornaments and much more!
We are open late every Friday (11 a.m. to 8 p.m.). The gallery is located at the corner of Argyle Street and Eighth Avennue. We are also wheelchair accessible.
MEMBERSHIP APPRECIATION DAYS
The Community Arts Council is holding its annual members appreciation days with two days of savings! If you are a current member, join us in the gallery on Friday, Dec. 4 (open late from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.) and Saturday, Dec. 5 (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) to receive 20 percent off all items in the gift shop and gallery, excluding ticket sales.
This is also a great time to renew your 2021 membership—don’t forget!
MYSTERY BAG OF BOOKS
Surprise! For just $20 you will get 10 books in one bag, all in the same genre!
By purchasing a bag of books, you will also be helping the Rollin Art Centre during this difficult time! Choose from Christmas novels, crafts, DIY books, fiction, travel, gardening, cooking, home improvements, art, spiritual, romance, fantasy, mystery, pre-teen chapter books (e.g. Nancy Drew), children’s books and so much more.
These make great Christmas gifts! Bags are now available at the Rollin Art Centre. Get yours now because they sell out fast! Your support for the Rollin Art Centre is greatly needed and much appreciated.
ARTIST AND STUDIO GUIDE
The Community Arts Council is designing a new Alberni Valley artist and studio guide. If you are interested in being included in this brochure/guide, please call the Rollin Art Centre for more information at 250-724-3412.
The guide will include local artists and a map. Five thousand guides will be printed and distributed to the tourist information centre and local hot spots. The extended deadline is Jan. 31, 2021.
Melissa Martin is the Arts Administrator for the Community Arts Council, at the Rollin Art Centre and writes for the Alberni Valley News. Call 250-724-3412. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Expanding the arts and culture sector in Newfoundland and Labrador – TheChronicleHerald.ca
The spotlights inside Newfoundland and Labrador theatres have rarely gone this long without heating up and wrapping the province’s performers in light. Gone is the audible applause of the audience, now stuck in their homes in front of a screen.
As performers are forced to find new ways to share their work with the public, the delivery of a promised increase in provincial funding to ArtsNL is a relief to many who work in the arts.
Reg Winsor, executive director at ArtsNL, said that for a number of years ArtsNL had been communicating with the government about an increase in grant applications.
“The number of applications that we were receiving, the demand on the funds that were available … we only had the ability to fund a percentage of the projects that were being submitted,” Winsor said. “Through conversations with the community, we indicated where we were and the funding that really was needed for us to move forward, and the community rallied behind that.”
Courtney Brown, artistic associate with theatre company Mindless Theatrics, was involved in those conversations. She says ArtsNL is often an entry point for young artists.
And there is no shortage of emerging artists in the province.
“There were also new companies and new festivals springing up, which is fantastic, but there weren’t the funds there to support the growth of the community,” Brown said.
Alongside fellow theatre producer Robert Chafe, Brown and many others petitioned the provincial government to fund arts and culture, which is so often promoted in tourism ads alongside images of pastoral scenes, icebergs, puffins and houses of all colours.
The response was an increase in funding from $2 million per year to $5 million per year over a four-year period that began in 2019. All political parties in the province agreed to the increase.
“(Chafe) called it a game-changing investment and I think that’s true,” Brown said. “It’s a groundbreaking step that will have reverberating effects on the culture of this place for a generation.”
Daniel Rumbolt, interim director of Eastern Edge Gallery in downtown St. John’s, said that if it weren’t for government funding, he has no idea how his career would have progressed.
“Art projects are expensive for materials and studio space, but it’s the mentality here that art actually does equal work,” Rumbolt said. “I would have stagnated very quickly if I wasn’t able to try new things and apply for funding.”
It’s easy to see the role art plays in the community just by taking a casual stroll through downtown, looking at the painted alleyways, the murals on the sides of buildings or simply on the clothes that people wear, he said.
But it is sometimes taken for granted how that art got there in the first place.
“We’re used to seeing the final product in a gallery or in a shop somewhere,” he said. “We love to celebrate our tourism industry and our arts and culture industry, and that doesn’t come out of nowhere. It takes a lot of hard work to make it happen.”
Chafe, who is the artistic director of Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland, says he’s happy to see, despite a change in leadership, Premier Andrew Furey is honouring the commitment by announcing on Nov. 25 this year’s funding increase of $1 million.
“Everyone knows the circumstance that our province is in, so the artists of this province certainly weren’t making this ask lightly,” Chafe said. “But government’s own numbers were such that their investment in arts and culture was coming back at least ten-fold.”
Chafe says they didn’t encounter anyone who didn’t understand the value of the arts and culture sector, but an argument had to be put forward specifically about ArtsNL.
“It is one of the few arms-length government agencies that is directly putting money into the coffers of small, unaffiliated, independent artists, for the creation of artwork that eventually, if successful, goes on to make the albums, the films, the theatre shows, the dance shows that create the cultural landmark that is Newfoundland,” he said. “When we made that case very carefully, we made the case for the growth in the sector, and they heard us.”
Andrew Waterman reports on East Coast culture.
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