Last year I spent a few months working with Prison Arts Foundation in Hydebank Wood College with artist and teacher Anne Scullin. PAF manage freelance resident artists, who work part time as practicing artists and part time in prisons running classes for inmates.
PAF were supportive and helpful, Fred sorted all security clearance and put me in contact with the artist I would be working with. I was met with a warm welcome and all the staff made sure my placement fitted with my University schedule and ensured my experience was as positive and beneficial as possible.
The work of PAF brings the prisoners together, it boosts the confidence of people who have never really had a chance at being nurtured and encouraged in their talent. These ladies don’t believe they are good at anything and face persecution daily. Although they may be offenders it is important to remember they are still people, who deserve a second chance.
It was challenging due to the restrictions with the nature of the environment, with limited resources and limited time each week it was hard to come up with ideas which are feasible yet creative. The prisoners are not allowed to take work outside the arts unit therefore the time allocated must be used wisely and efficiently. It is a skill in itself learning how to navigate and work with challenging people.
It was interesting just to speak with Anne and get to understand her work and the challenges that she faces. She outlined the issues that come from others not understanding the time and preparation needed when assigned projects, with only one or two classes a week it is difficult to meet deadlines and comply to what is being asked of her. Other members of staff in the prison and those outside who are involved in the work of PAF often do not have insight into the time that a painting or project can take and also the challenge of finding resources on a limit budget.
I had a very beneficial and positive time working alongside PAF; I enjoyed the challenge of working with people in such different environment. I greatly valued the insight into seeing what goes on behind the scenes of the work being carried out, I also value seeing the passion and dedication of the staff, who must exhibit patience and tolerance constantly. It is an area of work which is under-appreciated yet essential to the well-being of inmates and the preparation for release, many of the inmates who have come through the justice system benefitted from the tutoring of a PAF artist have gone on to become self-employed artists.
I would recommend working in this environment to anyone looking to teach or work with people. It is a great test of patience and tolerance, but also makes you appreciate the support that schools and those in education have, the prisons often don’t have such a level of care. I couldn’t have asked for a more warm and welcoming team to have been a part of if even for just a short time. I learned so much from Anne and it was wonderful to work with such a dedicated and inspiring artist. I cannot express how much respect I have for all the members who work with PAF and how much I appreciate all their help. All the staff in PAF and Hydebank made every effort to make my experience as worthwhile and comfortable as possible.
Sharon Canning 2nd Year Fine Art Degree Ulster University