PAF’s Libération showcase event Crumlin Road Gáol a huge success

On 14th March 2018 the Prison Arts Foundation held an event in Crumlin Road Gáol in Belfast called ‘Libération’.  It was an exhibition of art, writing and music by serving prisoners in HMP Maghaberry, HMP Magilligan, Hydebank Wood College and Women’s Prison and Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre.  This year’s showcase also featured art works, live performances and recordings of writing by mentees taking part in our new community arts based mentoring programme.

We want our workshop participants to believe they are artists, it is important to give them a venue to make them feel that way.  The aim of ‘Libération’ was to give all of our participants a platform and a challenge to display their work as authentic artists.  When individuals see themselves as worthy to put their individual artistic expression in public for others to engage with, it’s empowering!  After a successful exhibition, participants may wonder what else they can do in the public realm. For participants lacking self-esteem, putting up work with peers can boost academic and artistic confidence.  This year we were able to include mentees in the process carrying out a successful exhibition, this gave them the opportunity to engage in the entire artistic process, from conception, to creation, to communication with an audience. We hope that this experience will have a profound influence on those mentees for years to come.
Austin Treacy, Director of Prisons, Northern Ireland Prison Service opened the event on a personal note:
“The Crum is of special significance to me as I started my career in the Northern Ireland Prison Service 41 years ago.  This Victorian Gaol of a Radial Wheel design epitomised the then thinking of how such places would punish prisoners to pay their debt, right the wrong before returning to society.  Next year the NIPS will commission Davis House a new state of the art 360 person accommodation building on the Maghaberry sit with its origins in the radial wheel style of this Gaol.”
Director Treacy praised PAF’s programmes adding
I want to pay tribute to the Prison Arts Foundation, to their Management Board, their artists and of course their students for all their hard work, resilience and of course their brilliance, talent, vision in their continuance through the Arts to make our prisons and youth centres better places.  Better places to work in, better places to live in through the transformation of buildings and spaces, and through the reaching out and changing lives, saving lives, liberating talent and skills that so many men, women and young persons have rediscovered or more commonly found within themselves.  This exhibition showcases some of the work of our artists, and I applaud their skill and talent of all we see and hear this evening.”
Director Treacy emphasised the value in continuing to support the arts through challenging times:
“With Public Sector austerity set to remain; this year like many other years has been a challenging one for those who champion, and care deeply for the role of the Arts, and in particular the custody arena in Northern Ireland.  That the Prison Arts Foundation continues to grow, and make such a difference is a real testament to their commitment to change lives.  Over many years of working in NIPS I have come across many courageous, talented and passionate artists working in our prisons.  Art has transformed some of our spaces and I am grateful for that.”
Dr Shelley Tracey launched the Prison Arts Foundation’s report ‘Building Foundations for Change through the Arts”, funded by the Arts Council of NI.    The report explores the impact and benefits of PAF’s arts programmes, through the lenses of fourteen participants in these programmes.  These include six individuals who have continued with their arts practice since release from prison, and current members of our creative writing group in HMP Magilligan.  Click here to read more about her inquiry.

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We had approximately 250 individuals attend the event; the audience included artists, family and friends of exhibiting artists and key individuals/representatives from organisations working within the criminal justice system in NI including Department for Justice NI, Northern Ireland Prison Services, Probation Service NI, Youth Justice Agency, Irish Prison Service, Arts Council NI, NIACRO and Prison Chaplaincy.
Tom Shortt, Arts Development Officer, Irish Prison Service:
 “The trip was very rewarding and well worth the effort as I really enjoyed seeing the art work in the very appropriate setting of the Crumlin Road Gaol and meeting everybody associated with PAF.  I thought of it as a pop-up exhibition, which is a popular concept at the moment, (there one minute gone the next) and in every situation I find that I learn something valuable.  At the moment I am working towards an exhibition of artwork from all 13 prisons in the South, therefore Liberation was a good experience and a good reference point for me as I face into a similar challenge. It is well worth doing these events as a lot of good things flow from the occasion. It was a really good move to have Mentees there simply to talk about their work and bring it alive for people. The musicians and singers also added some real atmosphere and it was great to see how it was a positive occasion for families and friends.”
Andrea Campbell, Librarian, HMP Magilligan:
“Many thanks for my invitation to your event last night.  Myself and my guests thoroughly enjoyed the whole event, it was very impressive. It was a truly fitting place to hold the event.  It was great to meet a few ex-prisoners telling me how the Prison Arts have turned their lives around, from art and music alike.”
John, Mentee, PAF Mentoring programme:
“As much as all the participants have worked to prepare for tonight, I know that you’ll have worked every bit as hard, if not harder, to bring the whole thing together. I’d like to thank you for all you do and to wish you and all those involved an enjoyable and successful night.”