What is your experience in the arts and criminal justice field?
With a background principally in disability arts and arts development, joining Artlink Central five years ago was the first opportunity I had to work within criminal justice and in healthcare. I was fortunate to be joining an organisation with a rich history of working with women and young men both in HMP and YOI Cornton Vale and HMYOI Polmont and was able to spend a year with the previous director, Sarah Chester who had instigated and developed criminal justice work in Forth Valley for the past twenty years, with a focus on restorative justice practice. There was a wealth of activity in the final year of a Robertson Trust and LlankellyChase funded programme which was a rich learning ground, captured suitably by year two and three external evalautions written by researcher Briege Nugent and criminologist Nancy Loucks from Families Outside. With these resources and opportunities as support, I was able to immerse myself into Artlink Central’s practice and to begin to plan a future for this work under my tenure as Director.
At the same time I participated actively within third sector developments in criminal justice in Scotland, particularly through a programme initiated by the Third Sector Criminal Justice Forum, with Robertson Trust and Scottish Prison Service support, looking at developing a third Sector framework for engaging firstly with prisons and secondly with the wider criminal justice sector. This ambitious programme was a excellent fit with Artlink Central’s need to build a sustainable and strategic relationship with criminal justice partners and driven by then Partnership Development Manager, Jennifer Hill, it became the most effective way to co-design future programmes with Scottish Prison Service. Working across the creative sector with health, social care and education as a point of reference, the crossovers were apparent and connecting these agendas to the work we do in criminal justice is a key area of interest.
The final piece of the puzzle was fitted when I turned up at a panel event at the Koestler Awards for Scotland in 2011 at the Tramway in Glasgow and was welcomed into a thriving, largely Glasgow based social justice and arts community who had started coming together as SPAN. The reality of a disparate and unconnected arts sector was finally being addressed by providers such as New Lanarkshire College (then Motherwell College) through Inspiring Change and also by Creative Scotland. Until this point I felt quite isolated in designing our approach and practice. Becoming part of SPAN changed this and the growth and connection that SPAN has inspired and accelerated in Scotland’s growing criminal justice arts community has been extraordinary to see and to be a part of.
What are your aims for the Scottish Prison Arts Network SCIO?
SPAN is not the answer to everything for artists working in criminal justice in Scotland, but it is one significant opportunity for artists to connect, learn and share with each other. Working in this field requires a vast level of skills and experience, even before you begin and the learning is steep from there on in. It can be isolating, challenging and sometimes unpleasant work to do, as well as being inspiring and meaningful. There is a lot of common experience that can benefit all artists in Scotland and it is also important to build a presence and be visible as a community and informally as a professional body. SPAN has the aim of strengthening this community and its relationship to criminal justice partners. We can achieve more together than apart.
What is your role aside from being a trustee for SPAN?
As Director of Artlink Central, I am responsible in leading business and programme development for a key arts agency and charity in Central Scotland, delivering cross artform programmes across three local authority areas as well as working nationally on strategic arts and disability programmes. We deliver innovative arts and equality programmes in health, education, community and criminal justice contexts. We work effectively with public bodies, arts and third sector partners and balance a strong artistic programme with an outcome led approach to working. Our engagement with artists, musicians and other creative professionals in the region supports our strength as a leader in providing arts in a social context in Scotland.
So what does this actually mean? It means I spend a lot of time developing work that has real meaning to participants, the institutions or service providers they are accessing services from and with the artists engaged in the work. It means I am project managing work in hard to access spaces from prison blocks to Stirling Castle. It means I spend a lot of time convincing public bodies that the arts can do more for their services and buildings than occupy residents, patients or beneficiaries or fill empty timetables. It means I co-create safe spaces for artists to develop creative projects that may carry unforeseen outcomes, with people who may never have accessed the arts before. It means I put collaborative participatory art in public spaces. I talk and listen to mental health providers, education and social care providers and politicians. I talk to people who will access our work and try to listen to what they want. Sometimes I get involved in the projects themselves. I write funding applications, agree contracts and service level agreements. I manage artists, staff and relationships with all kinds of people or bodies. I am accountable to a board. I have an amazing job working creatively with people from almost any background you can imagine.
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