Artists working in prisons have long been asked the question ‘why do art in a prison? What is the function of it in there? In many ways it is a complicated question – fraught with inherited scepticism and traces of the tired stereotypes of circle games and poster paint collages on a Friday afternoon. And yet, as artists we know that answer is in fact very simple. Because, you see, art is the practice of being human.
In 2010 a group of artists that worked in Scottish prisons all met at a conference. They realized that they were all working in similar contexts and faced parallel experiences and challenges in their working lives. They recognized that while there was a lot of excellent arts practice happening in prisons across Scotland there was no one place it was possible to learn about it all and felt it would be useful if everyone doing this work could have a dialogue about how to do it better.
From their early conversations these artists created the Scottish Prisons Arts Network or SPAN. The first ever meeting was held at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in February 2011 for over 120 artists, practitioners and policy makers with key note speakers from Scotland and internationally. It was a huge success.
In January 2019 the trustees of SPAN met for two days to reflect on the journey so far and to consider what the future should and could hold. Everyone decided that it might be time to develop the organisation to reflect the fact that SPAN was no longer only about work in prisons but about the justice system more widely and also celebrated and promoted projects in early intervention, throughcare, with families, within community justice as well as in secure institutions. From here an exciting step was taken to change the name and Justice and Arts Scotland was born.
Watch this space as the story continues…