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The Role of the Arts
in Prison

Report of the lecture given by Angela Findlay
on June 24th 2015

This was a very thought provoking talk by Angela Findlay.  Angela began her career by painting large wall murals then went on to do an arts course, saying she didn’t want to spend her life painting up ladders!  After this course she went to Sydney in Australia.  It was here she first went into a prison to teach the inmates painting and drawing.  Angela said she was drawn into prison work as she is half German and felt a deep down guilt of the past.

She came over as a very committed and courageous person, being locked into a room with prisoners to show them her portfolio and to teach them to draw and paint.  Gradually they began to trust her and talk to her.

Angela came back to Britain before going to Cologne in Germany where she spent six years working in prisons.  Here she achieved a great deal in helping to rehabilitate the prisoners, Germany being much better organised and forward looking than Britain in this respect.

She then came back to Britain and continued her work in prisons teaching the arts, trying to help them change so that they wouldn’t reoffend.  We were told that 90% of prisoners were illiterate, dyslexic or mental and only 10% the bad people.  Angela said British prisons are very expensive to run and don’t help the prisoners to change so they reoffend straight away.

There were many examples given that illustrated how art can reveal the innermost thoughts of the prisoners and at the same time exposed Angela’s gift of being able to interpret the painting and then use it to provoke a discussion with the prisoner and to build trust.

One example she gave was a large communal painting on paper where the prisoners were each allocated a nominal space; this particular prisoner painted a dense black line around his perceived border and then proceeded to paint a colourful picture in the centre.  The adjacent prisoner was totally engrossed in his flamboyant painting and without malice suddenly strayed across the black border.  This prompted an immediate hostile reaction from the painter with the border: “Why have you painted in my space?!”  Angela used this opportunity to question the prisoner “Do you think he has violated your space?” and  followed with a further question “Do you think you violated the space of the owners of the house you broke into?”  He was stunned into quietness and reflection.  Angela described it as “a light bulb moment” - the point of realisation of his actions.

Angela now tours the country giving lectures and talking to school children about the beneficial effects of the arts on prisoners and young offenders.  She founded the training scheme Learning to Learn through the Arts, and is a coordinator for the Koestler Trust: Arts by Offenders - whose next exhibition is in London beginning in September.

Her talk was illustrated by slides of prisoners painting and their work.  We felt she was a very inspirational person with a clear vision as to how the prisons should be reformed and operated in a way that would ultimately reverse the appalling lack of success in preventing prisoner from reoffending.  Clearly this would take a considerable time and an army of cloned Angelas but the benefits for society would be immense in many ways.  We have great admiration for all the work she is doing and wish her success in the future.

Brian & Hazel Vine

Related Links (open in new windows):

Angela Findlay's website
Learning to Learn through the Arts
The Koestler Trust

Our inspiring and challenging lecturer, Angela Findlay (left),
talks with members of the society