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A creative way to slow down the revolving door

Media Release

A creative way
to slow down the revolving door


Adding a touch of creativity within the prison walls is playing a huge role in slowing down the revolving door linked to reoffending, a visiting American expert says.

Bill Cleveland, Director of the Centre for the Study of Art and Community in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is in Wellington this week as a keynote speaker at the Celebrating Creative Spaces Conference.

Organised by Arts Access Aotearoa, the conference, which opens tomorrow (note: Feb 25), celebrates what has been achieved at Creative Spaces around the country and looks at ways to build on that. These aim to encourage participation in the arts to those who would not normally have access, including those with disabilities, refugees and migrants, children, and the elderly.

His address – Art and Upheaval: The Art at Work in Communities in Crisis – will include discussion on the success of the Arts in Corrections in California programme, which introduced the arts into the “world’s largest prison system”.

Research focusing on those who had been in the programme for at least six months and out of prison for two years, revealed a 40% difference in terms of reoffending compared to those who hadn’t been through the programme.

Bill Cleveland admits there was some scepticism when the programme was first introduced, however the research shows clearly that it saves money and has an effect of reducing violence and crime.

He says attempts to reduce reoffending clearly has great gains for the wider community in terms of dollars and safety.

“In the United States the incarceration of criminals is one of the most expensive things the state does. However there has been a tendency to have a revolving door in that people go into the system, then they go out and hurt more people and commit more crimes, and end back in prison. Looking at ways to reduce this is in the interest of public safety.”


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2/Bill Cleveland

He says using art is beneficial to any troubled community, not just the justice system. The programme must be consistent and the people leading it must be of a very high quality.

“For individuals, the practice of art is not just an option – it’s not a nice diversion or an enhancement to a life, it is a critical element to a healthy productive human being.

“When someone has an opportunity to be good at something, to have colleagues working around you, and also have a very good adult mentor, then you have a very supportive and disciplined family of learning. This has the potential to give the participant not only the opportunity to learn and feel better about themselves, but also to be in charge of their own development.”

It is not only those in the programme who benefit, as there are spin-offs for those working in institutions like prisons, he says.

“These can be stressful places to work, they can be dangerous and difficult. What we are seeing with programmes like this is that they are becoming healthier and safer.”

The Celebrating Creative Spaces Conference, which runs from Tuesday February 25 to Thursday February 27, has attracted more than 300 delegates. Alongside the conference there are 14 art exhibitions selling work of these self-taught artists, with venues including Christopher Moore Gallery, Wellington Convention Centre, Eva Dixon Café, and Lower Hutt’s Dowse Art Museum.

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For more information contact Arts Access Aotearoa Executive Director Penny Eames, (021) 321-048.


Note to reporters: Interviews can be arranged with artists during the conference, which is being held at the Brentwood Hotel, Kilbirnie, Wellington. Photo opportunities are also available.

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