Archive for February 7th, 2019


Arts Programming in Incarcerated Settings

February 7, 2019

Bowdoin student

Not long along Charlotte Borden, a senior at Bowdoin College visited the Maine Arts Commission office. In conversation I learned about her work with incarcerated men in Belfast. Below is the summary of her work. Charlotte is interested in connecting with anyone who may have experience or knowledge in this area. Feel free to email Charlotte directly at

Starting in late January, I will be conducting an independent study for my last semester at Bowdoin titled “The History and Current Practices of Arts Programming in Incarcerated Settings.” I will be doing original research and continuing to teach visual art at Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center in Belfast.

I started teaching visual art in the summer of 2017. I carried out a 10 week self-designed project, funded by Bowdoin College’s McKinley Grant. The project consisted of teaching a five week introductory drawing/painting class at Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center (MCRRC) as well as painting my students’ portraits. I brought an art class to MCRRC with the purpose of teaching skills to communicate through images. I also meant to provide exposure to the mood-stabilizing, peaceful, and constructive experience of making art. The class covered the gridding technique for representational drawing, negative space, proportions of the face, cross hatching and shading, basic volumetric and perspective drawing, and color theory. We also had the opportunity to go off-site for class time to paint from life. Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center is a minimum security facility with increased access to programming and earned freedoms like the potential for work release. It is run in partnership with Volunteers of America and Waldo County Sheriff’s Department. Residents are incarcerated men in the last 9-18 months of their sentences.

For the second half of the project, I painted two portraits of each student. The portraits are part of my own skill development, as well as an intended work of activism. In presenting the portraits at Bowdoin, I meant to bring a population with many privileges, including the potential to influence societal norms and governmental policies, my impactful experience with six individuals this summer. I meant to bring attention to the atrocity of mass incarceration and to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated peoples’ limited rights and opportunities. I also hoped to encourage accepting attitudes toward as well as actionable work for the benefit of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. Additionally, in asking the individuals how they wanted to be portrayed visually, I hoped I could work to provide a dignifying, positive experience rather than an exploitative one. My six students were able to attend the opening of their work and portraits at Bowdoin. It was a powerful mixing of my family and Bowdoin network and my students. Learn more about this program at THIS LINK

The issue of my coming in as a relatively unqualified outsider and providing what I deemed to be useful information and skills has been on my mind since the beginning brainstorm of this project. I also have been navigating the exploitative nature of portraiture, especially of incarcerated subjects. I know that this project does have aspects of my coming in as a privileged outsider, and using experiences of others in my art as well as for presentation in this project. I have worked to be aware and combat these elements. I think they will always be present as I am an outsider to the personal experience of incarceration, but I am sure I could do better! 

In the Fall of 2017, I created a collaborative video project (view below) in teaching my second class at MCRRC. My intention behind the collaborative video project was to create an opportunity for creative expression/communication through video and teach basic equipment skills. I wanted to provide opportunity for direction and content to come from the residents. Timelapse, time passing, changing seasons, and personal narratives were the ideas that surfaced. Most visual content surrounding each audio piece was created or chosen by that individual. Furthermore, the content of the audio piece was up to the individual. Filming is almost all by the students. Most editing was carried out by me with suggestions/edits/requests from the Residents after I presented drafts in person and through email.

In the Fall of 2018, I returned to Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center to teach introduction to drawing and painting again as a volunteer. This time, I had two students, whom I was able to give individualized instruction and had more opportunity to get to know each other.

%d bloggers like this: