The need to be heard. It’s a core craving for all humanity. But for those behind prison bars, voices are mostly muffled, or at least, dismissed.
Because of New York artist Lauren Adelman and juvenile defender Francine Sherman, voices from prison are being heard and appreciated in the form of artistic expression. In 2001, the pair began offering art workshops to incarcerated girls at Spectrum Detainment Center in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
But that was only the beginning.
Out of these workshops, Artistic Noise was developed, a program to bring visual arts and entrepreneurial skills to youth who are incarcerated, on probation, or tied to the justice system. In a recent Huffington Post article, Adelman explained, “Whether they are physically removed from society or just don’t feel like they have a voice, through art, they are making this visual noise.”
Some of that noise was displayed at The Commons Gallery in New York. Artistic Noise’s exhibition called “Infinite Revolution” was on view June 23-26, 2016, as a celebration of artistic talent from those who refuse to be silenced. Artwork in the exhibition is described as “raw, vulnerable, powerful, and courageous,” bringing awareness to contemporary issues from police brutality and women in the media, to the daily blues of missing home.
Artistic Noise has expanded to instruct boys and girls in New York and Boston in distinct elements of programming that include studio art workshops where incarcerated young people engage in long-term artistic projects using eccentric materials and techniques, often focusing on a single, relevant theme in their lives. There are also art therapy workshops where certified art therapists work with youth on probation in individual or group settings. Under professional supervision, therapists use creative expression to tap hidden feelings and thoughts to the surface.
In a video compilation by Artistic Noise, one artist said, “Detention was horrible. You just get everything taken away. The only thing that kept me going was when Artistic Noise came in. That was the only thing I looked forward to doing.”
For older, more experienced artists, the Art, Entrepreneurship, and Curatorial Program offers a challenging curriculum for those pursuing art as a profession. The program seeks people who are released from detention centers with no resources, experience, or guidance. One artist who was hired by Artistic Noise put it this way: “It gives you that chance to turn your life around, to be a part of the community. And also give back to the community.”
Hoping that participants in Artistic Noise would eventually lead it, in 2012, Adelman started a Youth Leadership Development Program, which teaches Artistic Noise graduates how to become mentors and advocates. It also trains them to be assistant teachers to the next generation of artists.
Adelman added, “We want them to be able to say, ‘Hey, look at me, we’re human beings, we have great things to say, we have a lot to contribute to society.’”
Artistic Noise shows the power of art as a tool, a path, a means to survive—not just as a pastime. Adelman said, “So we’re creating a new space for creativity and risk taking, so everyone gets heard.”
If you’d like to explore how your voice can be heard by helping those affected by incarceration, Prison Fellowship’s reentry support includes mentorships, marriage and parenting classes, life-skills training, and programs that teach biblical ways to live so men and women are prepared to succeed in their families and communities.