Space in Prison for Arts and Creative Expression (SPACE) is a volunteer organization in which students offer a variety of weekly arts workshops at the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI). In addition, SPACE facilitates workshops in the Providence Center, a residential recovery service provider located on the campus of the ACI.
As a community, the facilitators also offer support for workshop planning as well as support for how to make sense of our presence in the ACI, its impact on us and its impact on the workshop participants. We discuss broader issues of incarceration, the structure of the ACI, and how these relate to structures of power including but not limited to race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability.
Our mission is to facilitate creative thought and self-expression within a safe space for participants. We understand that the creativity of incarcerated individuals often goes unacknowledged and unsupported within the prison environment. For this reason, facilitators aim to develop a supportive, open, participant-driven setting for personal and collaborative creation.
Additionally, SPACE volunteers compile pieces produced by workshop participants into an annual zine. This work is also displayed at an exhibition where former participants, artists’ families, and community members can celebrate and reflect on the art produced in these workshops. At the exhibition we also acknowledge the work that has not been presented publicly.
Volunteer Info + Logistics
SPACE workshops emphasize facilitation rather than teaching to allow workshops to be more collaborative and flexible to the interests of participants. SPACE has facilitated workshops using such media as: creative non-fiction & journalism, graphic novels, hip hop, memoir writing, movement & dance, poetry & spoken word, printmaking, songwriting, theater & playwriting, TV screenwriting, and visual art.
Facilitators are divided between the ACI facilities, designated as men’s and women’s. Female facilitators run workshops in either the women’s minimum or medium security prisons or in the Providence Center; male facilitators run workshops in either the men’s minimum, medium, or maximum security prisons or in the Providence Center. We acknowledge that not all facilitators or participants identify as cisgender men and women. We do not agree with the erasure of trans* identities, however we must work with the ACI in placing facilitators in men’s and women’s facilities in order to make the workshops happen.
Each semester, groups of two to three facilitators design a workshop syllabus, subject to modification based on participant input. Because of differences in sentencing and prison administration, in the men’s facilities the same participants come consistently, and thus workshops may explore one theme. In contrast, participation varies week to week in the women’s facilities, so workshop sizes and participants are less consistent and workshops can explore multiple themes.
The time commitment for SPACE is around 5 to 6 hours a week: a 1-2 hour weekly meeting, 2 hour workshops, and workshop planning. Facilitators are also involved in planning fundraising events. We fundraise each semester to compile and print a zine of participants’ artwork, organize a gala exhibiting submitted work, and purchase art supplies.