Prisoner art contributes to earthquake fund

Steve Berry, Department of Corrections, with a cheque for the Christchurch Earthquake Mayoral Relief Fund
Artwork by a prisoner in the Christchurch exhibition and auction
More than $21,000 will be donated to the Christchurch Earthquake Mayoral Relief Fund.

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More than $21,000 will be donated to the Christchurch Earthquake Mayoral Relief Fund, thanks to last month’s auction of 140 artworks created by 75 prisoners across the three Canterbury prisons: Christchurch Men’s Prison, Christchurch Women’s Prison and Rolleston Prison.

More than $21,000 will be donated to the Christchurch Earthquake Mayoral Relief Fund, thanks to last month’s auction of 140 artworks created by 75 prisoners across the three Canterbury prisons: Christchurch Men’s Prison, Christchurch Women’s Prison and Rolleston Prison.

Entitled Ru Whenua Whakaaro: Thoughts of the Earthquake, the exhibition and auction were developed in response to a prisoner’s request to be able to give something back to Christchurch and the wider community in the wake of the September 2010 earthquake.

Great sense of achievement

Bill Moore, Residential Manager, Christchurch Men’s Prison, said the prisoners felt a great sense of achievement when they learned they had raised so much money for the community.

“When the earthquakes struck, the men felt helpless, both for themselves and for their families,” he said. “One of the prisoners told me that some of them wanted to raise some money by donating artworks, and that’s how it all started.”

The prisoner who sparked the idea of the auction, along with a prisoner who contributed a number of artworks, presented the cheque to Steve Berry, Regional Manager – Southern, Rehabilitation & Reintegration Services. This will be forwarded to the Christchurch Earthquake Mayoral Relief Fund, to which individuals or groups can apply for projects to rebuild the community.

Steve Berry says art programmes can form part of a prisoner’s rehabilitation. “I am impressed by the depth of talent that many prisoners have. This auction was a way for them to give back to their community and to help Christchurch rebuild. It was also a great opportunity for people to own an original piece of art at an affordable price.”

Ideal vehicle for community to learn about prisoner art

Corina Hazlett, art tutor at Christchurch Men’s Prison and exhibition curator, says the exhibition and auction were an ideal vehicle for the community to learn more about the role of art in supporting prisoners’ rehabilitation.

“There were more than 300 people at the auction and a great mix of prisoner families, VIP guests, older people and even some children,” she says.

The theme of the exhibition and auction was “Ka hanga rua te ao hou: mai i nga pereki tawhito” (Recreate the new world: from the bricks of the old). It spoke about the rebuild of Canterbury and also the prisoner’s own emotional journey toward rehabilitation. It emphasised regrowth, rebuilding and new beginnings.

As soon as Corina saw the artwork on display in Spreydon Baptist Church, she knew that all the hard work over the previous ten months had paid off.

Sincere, inspirational and heartfelt

“This was one of the most sincere, inspirational and heartfelt exhibitions I’ve been involved in during my 20 years as a practising artist,” she says. “All of the comments were very encouraging and positive, and there were tears of emotion from prisoners’ families and also from purchasers of the artworks.”

Among the comments were words such as “astounding”, “colourful”, “a huge surprise”, “talented”, “fabulous display”, and “When is next year’s exhibition? We want to come again”.

“As the curator, I was careful to choose a range of media,” Corina says. “There were hand sewing and printing of cushions, origami, acrylic and pastel artworks, claywork and pottery, pencil drawings; and traditional and contemporary carvings that have been carved from wood donated from Christchurch’s red zone.”

Corina says there was an amazing sense of pride among the prisoners in being able to contribute. “One prison artist said that ‘It was a great feeling to be able to contribute and it also showed that prisoners and staff are able to work together to gain positive outcomes’.”

Creating the art also helped the prisoners express their sorrow, feelings and anxieties about what had happened to them and their families during and after the earthquakes. The prisoners were each given a copy of their artwork with a letter of thanks, and a copy of the catalogue.

Big role for volunteers

Volunteers in the Canterbury region played a big role in putting together the exhibition and auction. A group of ten volunteers mentored and supported the artists to express their thoughts on canvas. There was also a volunteer photographer; volunteers helped with administration and the wrapping of the artworks once sold; and volunteers involved in setting up and dismantling the exhibition.

Tracey Smith, South Island Volunteer Co-ordinator for the Department of Corrections, says: “This was a fantastic example of the willingness in the community to support prisoners’ rehabilitation through art. I’ve had a number of enquiries since the event from people wanting to become volunteers.”

Written by

Arts Access Aotearoa

24 Apr 2012

Interests Arts Access Aotearoa