Sports or Arts?

by Treacy Ziegler
About the guest contributor: Treacy Ziegler is a regular contributor to the PAC blog, and has been an exhibiting artist for the past 23 years. She studied painting and printmaking for four years at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. As a student she was awarded a J. Henry Scheidt Traveling Scholarship. Before studying art at PAFA, Ziegler received a Master in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania working in the area of family therapy. Ziegler has been awarded two New York State Community Art Partnership Grants in painting and in printmaking. In 2009, Ziegler began exhibiting her work in prisons and created An Open Window, a project within the project of Prisoner Express in the Center For Transformative Action affiliated with Cornell University.  In this project she donates her artwork to prisons, develops in-prison art workshops, and creates through-the-mail-art curricula with a network of 2,300 prisoners throughout the United States, many who are in solitary confinement. Ziegler lives with her husband, Gary Weisman, a sculptor, in Newfield, New York.

Binaries are a way of being:  We can choose either “this” or “that;” or we can take this binary to the interpersonal where there is a “them against us.”   It is not surprising, therefore, that sports and arts are often pitted against each other.

Most often, sports and arts are in competition for financial support as in education with school boards asking,   “Do we drop sports or arts?”  Are sports ultimately privileged because of the much higher number of individuals attending sports events than those who attend art performances or exhibitions?  Why do we pay sports players more than artists?  How many contracts have been given to artists before a season in the studio?

In prison, arts often take a back seat to sports.  Jesse Osmun, prisoner at  Fort Dix Federal Correctional Institution recently wrote to me about his concern that the arts program was losing ground over the gym programs.

Jesse writes:
“Here at FCI Ft. Dix, we have a program for Hobbycraft/Arts that is run by inmates under the supervision of the recreation department and assigned staff. For the entire time I have been here, this program has run smoothly and had a dedicated space at the top floor of the Education building with actual classrooms and instruction by inmate instructors. These classrooms have worktables, lighting, basic supplies/tools, and good ventilation. These are all necessary for the program. No complaints about the space ever really came up. The program as it stands has strong leadership and dedicated hours and so is running better then it has in the past. Materials are purchased and arrive within a reasonable time frame. Tools and basic supplies are available, and classes fill very quickly.

However, more recently the staff decided that the best place to have the program is in the gym, competing with other recreational programs such as basketball, soccer, etc. and crammed into space that is not properly ventilated for use of materials such as oil paint, turpentine, glues, etc. Many of these areas are cramped and do not have proper lighting for programs such as drawing and painting. These areas are also subject to gym hours, meaning if the gym is closed, these programs cannot run.

 My current drawing class has 5-7 students with 10 or more active participants working on art projects in the room. It has been very active and well utilized, as are all the programs.  If these changes are made, the classes will be ultimately abandoned with the only kind of instruction being art instruction books that inmate will need to buy for themselves.  In addition, the inmates will not have ta dedicated place to work on art even on their own.”

 It’s easy to assume that money is the basis of such changes, but there are other dynamics working.

When I was a volunteer art teacher in a mid-west maximum-security men’s prison, under the direction of the programming director, the prison had a sophisticated art room where prisoners were allowed to work on their art on a regular basis.   There were some classes taught – mine being one – but each prisoner who was invited to the room (based upon behavior and ticket records) also had a dedicated space in which they could work; areas that I referred to as their “studios.”  The program director had minored in art in college developing an experience and understanding of art beyond what I typically see in prisons.

When that program director transferred to another prison, the subsequent program director, while very supportive of programming, had no experience whatsoever in art.   His background was in sports and recreation.  Unfortunately, the program and room lost its integrity as a place to create art and became more of a space for busywork.

This inability to understand art seems to be common in prison.  Well, lets be truthful, an inability to truly understand the depth of art is common in and out of prison.  Art’s existence has been challenged for a long time.  Some might argued since Plato threw out the poets from his Republics.  But an irrelevance of art seems even particularly so in the United States – how often does the average person in United States go to an art museum?

This lack of art experience is typical for most prisons in which I have volunteered. But in those prisons that did support a successful art program, there always seemed to be someone in authority who had first hand experience in art; maybe, they minored in art, had a spouse as an artist and so on.  A commitment to art in prison seems to demand that someone in authority have this first hand experience of art – call that person a lover of art.  How many lovers of art run prison, though?

A big discrepancy between someone who has first-and experience/commitment in art and someone who does not is that the former understands that art is not a recreation. This became apparent when I volunteered at a maximum-security men’s prison and each week the guards taunted me as to how was my “finger-painting” class going?  What they didn’t understand, and what I didn’t tell them (because would they really listen to me?) was that art is a means to self-discovery, self-reflection and self-challenge.

But as readers of this blog, I’m speaking to the already convinced.  If you would like to voice concern to the warden at Jesse’s prison the address is: Warden Hollingsworth,  Fort Dix Federal Correctional Institution, 5756 Hartford and Pointvile Rd. Fort Dix, NJ 08640.   Perhaps as artists involved in prison, you would like to share your positive experience with him (or us.)  Or share an experience where art and sports were integrated equally in prison (or anywhere).

A gallery selection of Jesse’s work completed in his art room at the prison:

1
Beauty Fades, Jesse Osmun
2
Detox, Jesse Osmun
3
New Growth, Jesse Osmun
4
by Jesse Osmun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My body may be imprisoned, but nothing can keep my creative vision from reaching out beyond these walls.” – the unbounded heartwork of Carole Alden

Woman Impaled - Part 1 of Bars Triptych
Prison Cell Bars Triptych, part 1: “‘Woman impaled upon bars’: I originally did this concept when I was very first incarcerated and facing a sentence of 20 – life. I had been unexpectedly ripped from my children’s lives. Out of five children I still had two that were young enough to be at home. A 14 year old son and a 9 year old daughter. The positioning of the woman represents the overwhelming pain and mental anguish at seeing my hopes and dreams disappear beyond a horizon. I felt helpless and hopeless for a long time.”  
Woan Crocheting - Part 2 of Bars Triptych
Part 2: “The woman crocheting is an act of defiance. This is a mindset developed after over a decade. My body may be imprisoned, but nothing can keep my creative vision from reaching out beyond these walls. Whether it’s beauty, or a statement…it’s going to places I may never. This piece is about finding your voice in whatever manner available to you.”
Untitled - Part 3 of Bars Triptych
Part 3: “In this cell, the fish represents the protective mental and emotional barriers we construct to keep ourselves safe. The child represents the changes we go through to nurture our new dreams.”
“The pregnant mermaid and the male with his back turned has to do with domestic violence. Being held captive by a spouse who hides their true nature. Feeling trapped, dead inside, and praying for your children.”
Baby Peeling Head Open
“Baby Peeling Head Open – This represents therapy in prison. You’re treated like a child in a steel playpen. Painful but necessary to examine the content of your head in order to grow beyond your circumstances.”

Mermaid and Fish

Mermaids
“There are four drawings that incorporate mermaids with children or fish. These are simply joyful pieces.”

Mermaid and Fish

Mermaid

 

 

Girl with Dragon
“‘Girl with Dragon’ represents the desire I had as a child to feel protected.”
Hippocampus
“The horse sea creature is a hippocampus from mythology. Just for fun.”

 

Cadillac - When I'm Free
“The Cadillac fiber sculpture (crochet) is a piece that is part of a “When I am free” series. It helps me to visualize a day when I am no longer in prison. I feel that it is crucial to develop a freedom within yourself regardless of your surroundings. It gives you that reservoir of spirit that keeps you intact mentally and emotionally no matter what you have to cope with behind bars. If you believe that they can’t take who you are away from you, then they won’t be able to ever silence you completely. Creating works of art and words are the best way to continue your connection with the larger world.”

When I Am Free

When I Am Free

When I Am Free

 

 

 

W.B. Livingston III Connects with Fellow Music Lovers through Gifts of Art

About the guest contributors:
W.B. Livingston III (Will) is a musician and visual artist who is in prison in Oklahoma. Will creates originals and prints, and donates pieces to nonprofits for fundraisers. He also does commission work. 
Since 2001, A.M. (Adrian) Brune has reported and written hundreds of freelance newspaper, magazine and website articles – from pitch to print – for publications, such as Foreign Affairs, the New Yorker, The Guardian, The Nation, Racquet and other national publications on a variety of topics, including world affairs, social justice, human rights and culture. Brune is currently a UN/International writer for OZY.com, a website magazine, as well as the U.S. correspondent for CapeTalk (South Africa) morning radio. Brune holds a BS in Journalism from Northwestern University and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University in the City of New York. 

 

From Will

My entire life, I’ve been a musician, but I’ve always wanted to be an artist. Before coming to prison, I never felt comfortable enough to pursue any sort of endeavor in art. I refused to take the high school classes, although I was interested in the things happening in those rooms. The only time I would attempt any art happened late at night, following a bout of heavy drinking.

In 2010, I was sentenced to fifty years in prison for the death of a man that I caused by drinking and driving. Since music was not an option for the first three years of my forty-year incarceration, I decided to finally pursue painting. After some experimentation, I managed to find a style inside myself and dove in completely. Just as with my music upbringing, I have been self-taught.

I have now been incarcerated for more than eight years and continue to make art in many different media. My family has helped me a great deal by selling my art “on the outside” through galleries, art festivals, various exhibits and the Internet. To our great surprise, people have really responded to the work. I have also spent countless days working on paintings and other projects for charitable causes. These items are usually sold through silent auctions to help organizations such as the Special Olympics, Employment for the Disabled, the Messages Project and the Outsiders House Renovation, to raise operating funds.

Over the last year, I decided to combine both of my passions. I started designing and hand-printing concert posters for the bands I like and follow. These posters are created and produced in the Joseph Harp Correctional Institute – where I live – and are distributed for free to patrons waiting in the ticket lines, or after the show. We normally pass out 25 full-color, signed and numbered prints at each show. It has come to the point at which many people have begun collecting them. We have created posters – and given them away – for more than 50 shows in the past year in Oklahoma, New York, Asheville, North Carolina and Dallas, Texas, with the help of family and volunteers.

I love doing this concert poster project and the charity commissions because it is a way for me to be a part of the world – and to give back to a community and society from which I feel as if I have taken so much. All of this could never replace the person I killed through my negligence, but maybe it’s a way I can do something in his memory.

 

From Adrian

It was a hot and balmy Tuesday night in Manhattan, and I had just finished my marathon training in Central Park. I had two articles past due and two impending, not to mention story ideas to pitch and regular jobs to which I needed to apply. I am naturally a music lover and when I had more disposable income, would normally be at the Phoenix concert in the East Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. That particular night, however, I was broke and not in the mood. But I had with me a ream of 25 posters shipped from the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, Oklahoma, from my friend and fellow former addict, William Livingston. So I chugged some water, threw a pack on my back, plugged in my earphones and headed out on bike across the 59th street bridge, through Queens and toward a club called Brooklyn Steel.

I had discovered Will about three years earlier, Christmas 2015, walking through the empty streets of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, my home, and peeking into the windows of local shops to discover anything kitsch I might want for my East Midtown apartment. I happened upon a painting – I believe of Nirvana – in a shop called “Okie Crow” and was struck not only by the color, but by the execution. It was clearly “Pop” influenced, reminding me a bit of Warhol’s factory, Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns – cynical, yet reverential. The owner of the shop told me the story of Will Livingston, who had been sentenced to 50 years in prison for accidentally killing a man while drunk driving. She did not know that, I, too at the time, was a recovering alcoholic who miraculously escaped Will’s fate, although I had driven drunk more times than I cared to admit. “By the grace of god go I”, which I used to utter every time I saw a homeless person on the streets of New York, took on new meaning that day.

Four months later, I was on a plane back to Tulsa to write about Will for The Guardian. At Joseph Harp, I was struck by his openness, his emotional intelligence, his kindness and his regret for his past actions, despite the austere conditions of the visiting room and the harsh condition of his affairs. Most assuredly, I left that prison yard angry at the punishment that had been meted out by the state of Oklahoma for the affliction many term as a disease, yet penalize as a heinous crime. Under Oklahoma state law, Will does not get parole for good behavior or a reduction in sentence. His offense is a violent crime, his car was his weapon. Under these stipulations, Will serves at least 85 percent of his 50 years, which at age 35, meant he would not walk free until age 70, only to have to serve another decade on probation. I had just experienced the lawlessness of the US justice system.

Will and I kept in touch. When he approached me about his prison project, of course I said yes. Even if I do not have tickets, I go and give away Will’s posters. New Yorkers like most anything for free, but these prints take on a different context: Will reaches out and touches each person with a poster. Recipients are happy to have their photos snapped, which are sent to Will via his mother, Marie, and most of the time, the managers of the various bands pick up two or three or six of the posters to give to the band. That makes me exceptionally happy.

The Phoenix concert on 10 July was no different. I pedaled the back streets to Brooklyn Steel and handed all of Will’s work out in about 20 minutes, even to a close friend of the band who Tweeted about the experience later that night. I sometimes think about the reasons I keep doing this for Will – especially while biking around New York – wondering if I feel social responsibility, a lapsed Catholic sense of penance, a desire to recreate Will for a society that instantly labels him as deviant, or just because I like the guy and believe in his work. I resign myself to all these reasons at various times. In the end, however, while I do not personally adore every piece (that’s rare of me for any artist) I have two original Will Livingston commissions in my Manhattan apartment. I consider them among my prized possessions, both for their composition and the piece of himself that Will gave me with each one.

 

Kurt Vile
“The design for this poster was taken from an early painting of mine on wood. Kurt seems like such an introvert and solitary type of person. Maybe I’m wrong – he never returns my calls.”
Jack White
“I wanted to do something different for Jack. Since the show was at Randall’s Island, I thought about an ocean theme, which I had never seen before on a Jack White poster.”
Dandy Warhols
“I wanted to capture a bit of that 1960s throwback known by Dandys fans.”
Afghan Whigs Built to Spill
“It’s tough for me to do a double bill, multiple-band poster. So I went with something that was very organic. I see both bands in that light.”
Phoenix
“Phoenix is one of my “headphone” bands. It is a band that is great for zoning out while working, walking or just blocking out everything else.”
Andrew Bird
“For some reason, I have always felt Andrew Bird was not only mysterious, but also fantastical.”

 

“Most of the time I am just trying to capture a bit of the essence of the artist/band or just the way they make me feel. Sometimes, I put things together and it just looks cool to me. I think we sometimes forget that art can be fun.” – Will Livingston

To see more of Will’s work, please visit our online gallery, and be sure to follow him on Facebook and Instagram.