Inmates seek to enhance art programming 

The exhibitions logo, created by an inmate.
  • The exhibition's logo, created by an inmate.

Art is flourishing at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Ind., where inmates are creating as a means of self-expression and self-investigation. And if inmates and supporters have their way, it will continue to flourish. But they'll need a little help from the community to keep on keeping on.

Unchained Art, an exhibition of drawings by inmates opening July 13 at the Greenfield Creative Arts and Events Center, is one such opportunity to donate to the cause. All proceeds collected during the show will be used to buy much needed supplies for inmates and create an art class at the correctional facility.

“Our goal is to help them and other people see themselves as artists and not just criminals behind bars,” Stacey Poe, a dance teacher who helped to facilitate the exhibition.

The initiative was the brainchild of Poe’s friend, an inmate and artist who will remain nameless here at Poe's request. Mike Miller, the Wabash Facility Recreation Coordinator, was also instrumental in putting together the show.

This is art stripped to its barest essentials; there are no canvases, no paints, no fancy charcoals. Almost all of the work is on 8 by 11 inch pieces of paper, with colored pencil and pen being the only materials.

“Due to cutbacks, the inmates don’t have the opportunity to take an art class,” Poe says. “All they have is natural talent.”

This will be the second exhibition of art by Wabash Valley inmates at the Greenfield Creative Arts and Events Center. In May and June, the center's gallery featured a series of black and white landscapes. These paintings had been judged by the Artists’ Guild in Carlisle, and exceptional pieces were given ribbons accordingly. (The portraits featured in Unchained Art have yet to be evaluated.)

From 6-9 p.m. on July 13, the gallery will host a small reception with special guests Richard Brown, the superintendent of the Wabash facility, and Miller.

Beyond the practical applications of proceeds from the exhibition, Poe has higher hopes.

“We want to get as much word out as possible so as many people can see it as possible,” she says, also expressing the wish that other galleries will pick up the works.

This exhibition serves as a symbol of the community's financial and emotional support of inmates. But more than that, the artists hope to give something back.

“I believe that my imprisonment has a purpose,” says the artist who began the initiative. “Creating something meaningful and worthwhile stimulates the mind and leads to positive changes in behavior.”

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