Posts tagged ‘Richard Shelton’

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

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

March 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm 11 comments

You can’t move forward until you know where you are

The Social Studies initiative is guided by open process. Whether it was the fully democratic creative process driven by artist Jarbas Lopes, the opening of the decision making process allowed by artist Josh Greene, or exposing ourselves to the new state of the economy and housing crisis through the volunteer vampire and zombie actors trained and directed by artist Jillian Mcdonald, active participation has always been key to Social Studies success.

image credit: stephen gittins

Over the past couple of months, in preparation for Social Studies Project 6 with Gregory Sale, the artist and I have been visiting correctional institutions and organizations involved with all aspects of justice. We’ve been inside the Florence and Eyman State prisons, The Towers county jail complex, and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.  I’ve had the great fortune to meet with individuals involved with the GED education, Legacy and ALPHA programs inside the system. We’ve had members of their teams here in the museum, working on logistics planning to insure positive results. We’ve met with the leadership of Gina’s Team, an independent inmates’ needs organization; University of Arizona professor Richard Shelton regarding his Creative Writing Workshops at the Arizona State Prison; dancers and choreographers working with Journey Home and Girl Scouts Beyond Bars; and members of social justice and human rights organizations. I’ve met passionate people, working both inside and outside the system, involved with these programs, and heard from both facilitators and participant of their benefits.

image credit: john spiak

Gregory has orchestrated these visits, and, without his passion, openness, dedication and hard work, these connections would not be possible. This process has allowed us to have direct conversation with those involved in the programs from a different perspective: the instructors, the supervisors and the participants. We have met with them, explained what we were up to and the overall vision for the project. We’ve asked for volunteers, giving them all the details we possible could and providing them every opportunity to opt out if they did not feel comfortable.

image credit: john spiak

Working with Gregory has provided a unique opportunity. He is an artist of our very own community, one who has been actively involved in performance and social practice since the mid-90s, when he and I first met. As an artist and educator, he has been an active participant in the Social Studies series from the beginning, engaging his students with each visiting artist during their six-week residencies. With his background as a former charter arts high school teacher, a curator of education, an employee of the Arizona Commission on the Arts and currently an Assistant Professor of Intermedia at ASU’s School of Art, his connections to the community are established and strong. He is truly someone I trust and respect.

image credit: stephen gittins

image credit: stephen gittins

The fact that Gregory is a local artist has allowed the first opportunity in the Social Studies initiative to extend the residency from six weeks to three months.

As I stated in the title of this post, you can’t move forward until you know where you are, so this is where things start within the museum gallery structure with Social Studies Project 6.

image credit: stephen gittins

It’s not just black and white begins with the current state of corrections in the U.S. and Arizona, most specifically Maricopa County. We know it’s extremely complex, and when these issues are raised in public settings the discussion often becomes heated and passionate.  It comes from all directions, and we’ve heard it so many times, comments like, “You must not be tough on crime,” “You’re acting like a victim,” “They have been victimized,” “It’s an issue of public safety,” among many others. Each of us comes to the conversation with our own backgrounds, stereotypes, perceptions and prejudices. The messages get driven home to us through media and other sources, but so rarely are our own opinions based upon direct experience. The passions needs to be there, but with respect and knowledge. The respect for differing opinions, the respect for differing situations, the respect for the individual, the respect for one another as human beings, and the knowledge that comes from firsthand experience. It’s my opinion that conversations can only move forward when everyone is welcome at the table – those with different knowledge bases and from different backgrounds, with diverse experiences and insights.

image credit: john spiak

This past week we began the in-gallery activities of It’s not just black and white. We invited inmates from the Maricopa County Jails’ ALPHA Program to join us at the Museum. They worked as artistic collaborators with Gregory and his team of current and past students as part of the residency, all volunteering to participate in the project. Background checks were run by MSCO on all participants, and MCSO officers were present to insure public safety.

image credit: john spiak

The ALPHA is a re-entry and rehabilitation treatment program, designed to reduce crime, recidivism and substance abuse.

image credit: john spiak

We started the day with a brief introduction and again, explained that if there were any components of the project anyone was not comfortable with, there was no obligation or pressure to participate. We took everyone together on a museum tour. We shared works from the Re-Thinking the Faculty Exhibition being installed, our Americas Gallery permanent collection, and the FUNd exhibition. We talked about the complex works of Jon Haddock, artists from CUBA, Deborah Butterfield and the art and society focus of our institution. We returned to the gallery and took coffee and soda orders from all present, then got to work. When the drinks arrived, we distributed them, but the work continued. We took a break for lunch, sitting together to enjoy a meal and continued getting to know one another, talking honestly and openly.

image credit: john spiak

As you can see from the images posted (and slideshow below), it was a day of activity, conversation and building relationships – group discussions, one-on-one opportunities, introducing collaborators to members of our community who are part of Gregory’s advisory committee.

image credit: john spiak

The week started at the current state of corrections, but quickly moved into the building of relationships, open dialogue and direct experiences. Through participation, continued open dialogue, performances, lectures, panels, tours and artistic gestures scheduled over the coming months, it is my hope that these conversations and experiences will continue to move forward in positive directions and with positive outcomes.

image credit: john spiak

As It’s not just black and white moves forward, you will continue to see activities taking place in the gallery and throughout the community, both scheduled and improvised, that build upon this conversation. Gregory’s official website for the project will go live this week, so I will make sure to post a link on our blog when it’s ready.  He’ll be posting schedules, tour sign-ups, images and much more, as we will continue to do as well on our own blog, website, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

image credit: john spiak

Everyone is welcome at the table, so I strongly encourage you to visit the gallery at several different times during the course of the three-month residency, to get a sense of the project as a whole. The outcome of the project depends on your involvement and your input.  A good place to start is by attending the ASU Art Museum Season Opening Reception which takes place this Friday, February 18 from 7-9pm – it’s free for everyone!

image credit: stephen gittins

I look forward to your participation, insight and knowledge moving Social Studies and issues of our community forward!

– John Spiak, Curator

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

February 15, 2011 at 4:36 am 18 comments


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