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Award recognises leader in prison arts

Award recognises leader in prison arts

Sandra Harvey, artist and art teacher based in the Bay of Islands town of Kerikeri, never imagined that she would end up teaching art to prisoners in Northland Region Corrections Facility.

It’s a job she thrives on – and one that was acknowledged when she received the Arts Access Prison Arts Leadership Award 2014, presented in Parliament at the Arts Access Awards.

Sandra has been working at Northland Region Corrections Facility since 2010 – initially just one day a week as an art tutor. Then in 2012, she won the contract to deliver the prison’s arts programme. She now works fulltime, employing a distance education facilitator and youth art tutor.

The judging panel of the Arts Access Prison Arts Leadership Award described Sandra’s vision for the arts programme as “stunning” and said her commitment and achievements were “impressive”. As well as engaging with the local community, she provides “pathways to education and employment, and a range of artistic opportunities such as exhibitions”.

Operating under her company SLH Design, Sandra’s mission statement is “to support rehabilitation and reintegration by unlocking potential and creativity through access to visual arts and education”.

“I truly believe that art is therapeutic in its own right,” Sandra says. “For prisoners, it can give hope, and the chance to focus on a new direction. Art can help them express ideas and issues that may have been in their subconscious for a long time.

“Feeling successful with their art often motivates the prisoners to work and try harder.”

Previously a tutor on the Bachelor of Applied Arts programme at Northtec tertiary institution, Sandra’s role at Northland Region Corrections Facility includes facilitating and supporting the prisoners’ studies as they work to gain qualifications in the visual arts through long-distance learning institutions Te Aho O Te Kura Pounamu – the Correspondence School and The Learning Connexion. She also tutors a Northtec Level 4 visual arts course on site.

“Many of the prisoners have failed at school and this gives them another chance to gain qualifications,” she says. “Art education sets up possible employment options and teaches them useful skills: thinking laterally, problem solving, being disciplined and determined to finish what they started.”

This year, six prisoners will submit portfolios to Te Aho O Te Kura Pounamu for NCEA Level 1 art while ten prisoners are studying the Northtec Level 4 art course.

Alongside her teaching, Sandra has organised or participated in a number of exhibitions of prisoner art in Whangarei, Kerikeri and Auckland. This includes the prisoners’ first independent exhibition, called Time, which was held at The Old Library in Whangarei in December 2013. The project gave prisoners an insight into what’s involved in exhibiting work professionally.

Sandra has also introduced artist workshops, where professional artists from the community come into the prison and run workshops with the prisoner artists. The chance to meet a professional artist, and learn new techniques and business skills are among the benefits of these workshops.

The prisoner artists are also involved in creating artwork for numerous community projects, both inside and outside the prison: for example, a large billboard for the local butchery, artwork for a daycare centre, and posters and murals for an anti-bullying campaign.

“Exhibitions and providing artworks for the community are opportunities for the men to have a positive profile,” Sandra says. “It can also provide a pathway back into society when they’re released.”

For Sandra, receiving the Arts Access Prison Arts Leadership Award 2014 is an affirmation that she’s “on the right track”. It also highlights the achievements at Northland Region Corrections Facility and the value of its arts programme.

“I enjoy seeing the way art can unlock the creative potential in these men and help them change their thinking so they can lead productive lives.”

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