Brian Hinson “Not My Brush”
I am a firm believer that all humans need to express themselves creatively in order to feel whole. This has nothing to do with “talent” or circumstance. The act of creation creates hope and beauty in the face of our mortality or the destruction around us. Whether you are creating a beautiful meal or writing an opera you are sharing a part of yourself with others and offering a place to pause and appreciate the moment.
As much as I encourage everyone around me to be creative, I never thought much about those who are incarcerated and their situation vis à vis Art. But about a year ago, I received a call from a friend who volunteers his time as treasurer of the Justice Arts Coalition (JAC). He asked me to check out their website and to write encouraging letters to those creating art while incarcerated. I knew that even though there has been a gradual decline in its prison population, the United States holds the dubious title of having the highest rates of incarceration in the world. I was inspired to read about JAC - initially founded in 2008 as a Prison Arts Coalition by teaching Artists, it is now a national network of over 400 artists in the carceral system.
Since my introduction to JAC, I have participated as often as I could in their ArtLinks program where a portfolio of art by people who are incarcerated is shared bi-monthly in a live or virtual setting and then again in the form of a Google photo album. You too might be interested in sending encouraging letters to these artists. This is how it works: you view all the art featured that evening, either in-person or on Zoom (or afterwards in the Google album if you miss the meeting) and then pick the artist(s) to whom you would like to write a handwritten note to share your reflections on and questions about their work. You then photograph the note and forward it to the JAC staff who in turn print and mail it to the artist.
here is the link for signing up to join ArtLinks:
JAC also offers another program, "the pARTner project" where artists can partner with an incarcerated “penpal” in a one to one correspondence. The benefit of this program is that the artists inside and outside the system can share their journey together and give each other feedback. By communicating with a person who is being punished by society, we recognize each others’ humanity despite all our flaws and missteps in life. There is currently a very long waiting list of incarcerated artists who would really enjoy partnering with an artist on the outside.
If you are interested in the pARTner project please follow this link
Another way you can help is to donate to the cause. With your financial support, JAC can provide funds to the artists in prison to purchase art materials. Their access to these materials is very limited.
If you would like to be involved with any of these programs, you can contact the JAC staff and get on their mail list at email@example.com. Additionally, if you know of any incarcerated artists who’d like to be connected with JAC, please let them know about the program. If nothing else, I encourage everyone to check out the artists’ portfolios. You can buy their art too!
There is so much talent and passion but such a shortage of supplies and encouraging words. Many of these artists have no hope of ever leaving a life behind bars and art is probably the one place where they can express themselves freely and safely. This lifeline and creative output keeps them sane and feeling more connected to the outside world. If you'd like to donate, please follow this link
I spoke to two interns, Jesse DiMeglio and Maia Pramuk, who are full-time students but make the time to help with the many programs that JAC sponsors. I was so impressed with their spirit. Along with interns, JAC relies on dozens of volunteers who keep their engine running.
I currently spend only a couple of hours every other month writing letters to incarcerated artists but I hope even a little encouragement goes a long way. If you too would like to be involved, please check out the various programs on the JAC website.
Please visit the JAC site
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