SPAN’s DAY at the Tramway

Scottish Prison Arts Network Engages with Female Creativity in the Criminal Justice System

The SPAN Skills Share day gathered together artists from Scotland and beyond with an interest in working in prisons.  The day concentrated on Female Creativity in the Criminal Justice System with speakers addressing the issue from a radical perspective.  Wendy Miller, Creative Projects Coordinator at HMP Barlinnie, read from her work and addressed the issue of working in a male prison from a female point of view.  Lorna Callery, Learning and Skills Manager for North College, Lanarkshire interspersed her talk with poetry and recognised the work Artlink Central is doing in HMPOI Cornton Vale.   Both speakers identified the positive outcomes produced from the impact of the arts in Scottish Prisons recognising the need for further development in this area.

Eve Macdougall  is a published author, self–taught artist, poet, play-writer, director, producer and tutor.  Eve is also a public speaker and curator for Together Our Space Gallery in London.  Her performance at the SPAN Skills Share day was emotive and powerful.  She talked directly to her audience about her personal experience having been sent to prison at the age of fifteen for committing a petty crime.  This had a lasting impact on her mental health and the rape and battery she suffered at the hands of her partner exacerbated her circumstances.  Eve spoke about the help and inspiration she received from Lady Martha Bruce, the first Governor at HMPOI Cornton Vale.  Lady Martha gave Eve the belief that she could break out of the patterns of abuse she found herself in.  Her influence still stretches into Eve’s life now as the strong connection has been maintained. Eve read from a short extract of a play from her book “A Wicked Fist: A True Story of Prison and Freedom.”  She had her audience in rapt attention.

The artists who attended were asked to bring examples of their work to display in a Pop-Up Exhibition.  The studio space at the Tramway was transformed into a gallery as work from HMP Kilmarnock, HMPOI Cornton Vale, HMP Shotts and HMP Barlinnie was viewed by the participants.  Colin McEwan, an artist working in HMP Edinburgh, performed a song that had been written by one of the learners there.  Conversations and dialogue continued throughout the day as artists engaged with skills sharing. One element of the discussion was the lack of a mentoring scheme in Scotland and the gaps in through care.  It was said that public buildings such as Art Galleries and Museums were often fearful places to enter.  These places “were not for the likes of us.”

SPAN’s guest in the afternoon was Leah Thorn –  She  is a spoken word poet, featured in anthologies and magazines, in England and the United States. She tackles harsh realities with warmth, passion and compassion and at the heart of her poetry is the autobiographical exploration of culture and identity.

An experienced workshop facilitator, Leah promotes poetry as a tool for self-exploration, self-expression and empowerment. Her workshops are a fusion of spoken word poetry, autobiographical writing, listening exercises and performance skills. Leah leads workshops across the UK prison estate for the organisations Women In Prison –  – and the Anne Frank Trust  –

Leah introduced her work to us through the film a Beautiful Sentence:  Suzanne Cohen’s documentary about Leah’s work and the power of poetry in a prison setting.    She also presented a clip from Girls on the Wall – – depicting scenes from the life of young women involved in musical theatre in a prison setting in the USA.   Leah finished by building a group poem which each participant contributed to entitled “Female Incarceration Is”

The day ended with discussions amongst the artists on the future of SPAN and a quick look at the new website.  Questions for debate included the role of SPAN in articulating its voice and listening as a representative body for artists, the key ingredients of a mentoring scheme, and the future of continuing professional development for artists.

Participants then ended the day with a trip to the Barlinnie Arts Festival to witness two performances devised, written and performed by prisoners.  We were welcomed to HMP Barlinnie by the Governor Derek McGill.  He impressed on his guests the importance of art, music and drama in prison to change lives.  The first production by Theatre Nemo characterised a social history of Barlinnie and the second production by Citizens Theatre was called Man Up and told the story of the seven ages of man through the eyes of the prisoners.

The Scottish Prison Arts Network is a growing organisation .  The day at the Tramway and at the Barlinnie Arts Festival consolidated its position as a voice for artists on the Scottish cultural scene.  The next step is to promote SPAN as a nationwide organization representing artists from the Shetlands to the Scottish Borders.



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