Inside & Outside – It’s not just black and white

March 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm 11 comments

Last week provided me with a lot of food for thought. It began with the second visit of MCSO ALPHA program inmates, a new group of seven, along with the return of the MCSO SRT officers who escorted the first group from ALPHA as well.

It was good to see these officers again. We had some great conversations about the project on their first visit, and we were all eager to share with them some of the activities that had taken place in the space since their prior visit three weeks before. Their insights, respect, openness and flexibility toward our process of working with the entire collaborative team made things flow so smoothly during both visits. These folks perform a tough job on a daily basis, and with that type of role I had my preconceived stereotypes of what the officers would be like and how they would, or would not, engage this project. While their backgrounds were diverse, from a veteran and ex-pro football player to a former Olympic athlete, their willingness to participate was clear during the two visits. We talked about the concepts of the overall project, a few got into the impromptu dance choreography with Elizabeth Johnson, they all helped decide the final look of the gallery (to complete or not to complete certain sections of the stripes) and helped paint, and all signed the canvas along with the artist, ALPHA group and student collaborators. I don’t envy these officers their difficult jobs, but they have my complete respect both for the role they provide our community and as quality individuals.

It was good to see the ALPHA guys again. It had been a little over a month since we first met them at Towers Jail, so getting reacquainted and hearing more of their personal backgrounds was nice. Again, the range of personalities and experience was diverse, and I found myself having the longest conversations with the ones I felt I had most in common with. One inmate from California reminded me of so many of my friends, a good family guy who was able to get things set up for his family before he had to serve his time. I could tell he was serving his time in a respectful manner and using it as a learning process to make himself an even better person once he is out. We are looking forward to re-engaging these guys with the project in the coming months as they are released. There are plans in the works for a program with the group here in the Museum, so we will let you know when it has been confirmed.

There were small things that occurred during Saturday’s visit that made me understand better the freedoms that I take for granted and what it means to be on the inside or outside. When I needed to go to the bathroom, I just went; I didn’t have to wait until two guys need to go and then be escorted. I could also could go and get a cola when I wanted one. I know these seem like extremely small actions, but ones I was afforded because I am on the outside.

Nothing makes those freedoms clearer than the end of each working day. At that point, the members of the ALPHA group get a last bathroom break, line up against a wall in the Museum and go from being playful and talkative collaborative partners to once again being inmates. They work their way up the stairs to the loading dock in a single file line, gather against another wall, are cuffed, then loaded into the caged pods of the Sheriff’s transportation van. At the end of the day, they are still on the inside.

The week continued with tour visits from junior high school to university students to the space, meeting with Gregory and talking about the concepts of the exhibition.

Tuesday night was An Inside/Outside Prison Writing Workshop, presented in partnership with the University of Arizona Poetry Center, organized by writer Ken Lamberton, poet and UA professor Erec Toso, and poet and UA Regents Professor Richard Shelton. The workshop was built upon Richard Shelton’s 30 years as a prison volunteer with the Arizona State Prison Complex, with participants sharing their experiences as present or former convicts and prison workers. The public participants included a wide range of individuals, from ASU faculty, staff and students to local writers and artists.

Wednesday was the first scheduled public tour of MCSO Tent City Jail. The tour provided firsthand experience within the complex and offered information regarding how the jail is operated. We had a great group join us for the tour, including members of our advisory board, Arizona Supreme Court employees, healthcare workers, a docent from the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, an art professor from Paradise Valley Community College, ASU graduate and undergraduate students, and members of the State Press. The tour was an opportunity for lots of questions, to which the guard was more than happy to respond. It also provided an opportunity to see for one’s self a small sampling of the conditions, systems and structures currently in place as part of our corrections and justice system of Maricopa County. There are three more tours scheduled, so please visit the website and sign up if you are interested.

More programs in conjunction with It’s not just black and white are being scheduled as I post this, so we should have some big announcement about visiting speakers in the coming days. Please continue to view our blog and the It’s not just black and white website for all the updates and schedules, and don’t forget to visit the Museum and see the current state of the installation and talk with the artist when he is present.

We hope that this project will continue to provide you with further views and insights into what it means to be inside and outside.

– John Spiak, Curator

It’s not just black and white is supported a grant from
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

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Additional Blog Posts
Angela Davis, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Youth in Detention = Social Practice
Reconnecting – It’s not just black and white
Dream like you mean it: The Mother-Daughter Distance Dance
Another Active Week and the Schedule for April
Waiting for Release, Sentencing Reform & Welcoming Home
Invitation to Join Us for Volunteer Event – GINA’s Team
Inside & Outside – It’s not just black and white
More Similar Than Different + Tent City Jail Tour Opportunity
You can’t move forward until you know where you are
Olympic Gold Medalist, Gina’s Team and PVCC Students!
IT’S NOT JUST BLACK AND WHITE: Gregory Sale – Social Studies Project 6

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Entry filed under: Art + Performance, Art Events, Art Trips, Artists at the Museum, ASU Art Museum, ASU Art Museum Press, ASU Art Museum special events, ASU Art Museum: Behind-the-scenes, Gregory Sale, Lectures at ASU Art Museum, People at ASU Art Museum, Random Acts of Art, Social Studies collaborative projects, Studio Tours. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

February: A small package full of good things Invitation to Join Us for Volunteer Event @ ASUAM – It’s not just black and white & GINA’S Team

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