California Model, Rehabilitation

Incarcerated artists’ work brightens CDCR Headquarters

Two art teachers and two incarcerated women at a prison working on a painting.
Teaching artists work with students at CIW.

Prison Arts Collective celebrate California beauty

Employees and guests at CDCR Headquarters are now greeted with beautiful, brightly colored art celebrating the natural and architectural beauty found throughout California.

Through a partnership with the Prison Arts Collective (PAC), artists incarcerated at California Institution for Men (CIM) and California Institution for Women (CIW) worked together to create the paintings. They are hung in the lobbies of both buildings at Headquarters, in the entrance to the building, and in the Executive Suite.

(Editor’s note: Watch a video at the end of this story.)

Collaborative art challenging, rewarding

PAC teaching artist Marly Beyer shared the unique process the artists used to create the paintings. The students worked together on concepts and sketches, and when it was time to paint, they went to the palette together.

“It can be hard for artists to collaborate, I think,” Beyer said. “And it’s particularly hard to collaborate on a single painting. I just kept trying to think before we started – how it’s going to go? It’s going to be so hard to do something like that. And they just did it.

Several artists at CIM and CIW shared how the classes are about creating art as well as understanding its technical aspects. At CIM, Beyer teaches art history, art making, and critiquing.

I didn’t ever think I could do anything like this,” said CIW artist V. Cooper. “They directed me on just seeing it, focusing it in my head and then just going with it – light strokes. I think it’s really soothing.”

Benefits go beyond final product

There are also personal benefits to taking art classes, in addition to the opportunity to create something beautiful.

“I’ve never taken any real major painting class or drawing class,” said Wayne Nguyen, “but it gives me time to focus on other things. It takes me away and gets my mind focused on being creative, and gets your mind at ease.”

The artists also shared how proud they are to know their work is hanging at CDCR Headquarters.

“I’m proud of myself that I achieved something I committed myself to,” said Joe Martinez. “It shows that I have changed, that I have made a transition from the way I used to be.”

Bringing art inside prison walls

PAC works to expand arts programming to incarcerated people in California. They believe art is a human right and that art has the capacity to change people’s lives for the better. Teaching artists, university students and faculty, and peer facilitators teach weekly multidisciplinary art programs in 13 California State prisons.

Visit PAC’s website.

Video by Rob Stewart, TV Specialist
Office of Public and Employee Communications

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