From a broken teddy bear to the gears of a clock, visitors to the Del Norte County courthouse will glimpse a population that's hidden from view.
In their latest Arts in Corrections exhibit, the inmates of Pelican Bay State Prison depict different versions of their lives in square and circular frames. Time is a constant theme, says Julie McNiel, who has been teaching visual arts at the prison since 2014. And although landscapes are also on display in the Art From the Inside V exhibit, McNiel's students pushed boundaries with their work this year.
Some drew inspiration from exotic locales for their art. For others it was faces of the loved ones who may be waiting for them when they leave the prison walls.
One student, Mr. Yanez, drew the metamorphosis he goes through to survive on the inside, McNiel said. Yanez has also been involved in other Arts in Corrections classes including theater arts, creative writing and guitar, she said.
"He's sort of portraying himself as a chameleon," McNiel said, noting the lizard figure that's prominent in each of the four pieces Yanez has submitted. "One is a play off a Hindu god with many hands and how all the hands have different signals and different meanings. I think he was commenting here on the 'Beast Within' he's got this little demon that's crawling out of his mouth and he expressed when he gets really dangerous, he can be combustible — he's got a radioactive symbol here, the red and green button there — he's sort of trying to avoid this."
Yanez is one of 20 artists whose work will be on display at the courthouse through June 20 as part of a partnership between the William James Association, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the California Arts Council and the Del Norte Association for Cultural Awareness.
Artists from the prison’s five facilities will have work in the show, including students from the prison's Security Housing Unit, according to a press release from DNACA.
According to McNiel, in addition to expanding into the SHU, the Arts in Corrections program is also incorporating a new audio journalism class this year, collaborating with Paul Critz, who operates KFUG radio.
Critz said he started teaching inmates in the prison's A and B yards in mid-April. His goal and his students' goal is to start a podcast similar to a popular program through San Quentin State Prison called Ear Hustle. Currently in its third season, Ear Hustle is generated by inmates and chronicles their lives, Critz said.
"It's really really popular," Critz said. "It's been on national TV and in the news."
Because of Ear Hustle's success, other California correctional facilities are exploring ways they set up inmate podcasts, Critz said. He noted that many Pelican Bay inmates are involved in some type of "program," whether its Arts in Corrections or audio journalism or pursuing their GED.
During his first few classes, Critz said he talked about motivations with his students. The goal, he said, is to make those stories public.
"One of the stipulations I had is I wanted to reserve the right to broadcast anything on KFUG," Critz said. "I think that hasn't been hammered out.... A big slice of the Del Norte population lives in Pelican Bay and I don't think a lot of people understand what their life is like. It's another angle of our local story."
Other local artists who have participated in the Arts in Corrections program include local guitar instructor Dale Morgan and Cecelia Holland, who teaches creative writing. Dell'Arte International instructors Zuzka Sabata and Janessa Johnsrude have traveled from Blue Lake to lead drama programs at Pelican Bay State Prison as well.
Art From the Inside V is an exhibit through DNACA's Art in Public Places program, which promotes local and imported artists of all ages, cultural backgrounds and media to raise awareness in the community.
The exhibit will be on display through June 20 at the courthouse, 450 H Street in Crescent City.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at email@example.com .