Hampton Roads museums, jails partner to exhibit inmate art

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Hampton Roads museums, jails partner to exhibit inmate art
Daryl B. Smith, Hampton Roads Regional Jail, Even Behind Bars God Still Got My Hand. Paper, jail-safe pen, deodorant and ink from a magazine. On view at the Chrysler Museum of Art.

NORFOLK, VA.- The Chrysler Museum of Art, Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and Peninsula Fine Arts Center have partnered with local jails to present the original artwork of inmates in Beyond the Block. The exhibition opened at each venue on Nov. 16. It will close at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center on Jan. 5, 2020. Works will be on view at the Chrysler Museum of Art and Virginia MOCA through Feb. 9, 2020. Each venue features works that were created using jail-safe pens, food, deodorant and other materials that are permissible in correctional facilities. The Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Hampton Roads Regional and Western Tidewater Regional jails invited inmates to participate in the exhibition.

“Finding opportunities for inmates to be creative with their time is important,” said Norfolk Sheriff Joe Baron. “When they are given those opportunities with art programs, it can be very meaningful. There is some pretty amazing talent discovered, and then it’s rewarded with positive feedback. The lesson is to lead a productive and creative life and steer away from destructive behaviors which tend to lead them to incarceration.”

Beyond the Block is named for inmate housing units – called blocks – and the notion that the exhibition focuses on life outside of jail. The exhibition debuted at the Chrysler Museum in 2017 with work from inmates at the Virginia Beach Correctional Center. Michael Berlucchi, the Chrysler’s Community & Government Relations Manager, pursued the idea after learning that many inmates are gifted artists.

After tremendous success during the first year with the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office, the Chrysler invited the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office and Hampton Roads Regional Jail to participate in the second exhibition in 2018. This year, the Chesapeake, Hampton and Newport News sheriff’s offices and Western Tidewater Regional Jail are new to the exhibition. The show also includes two new venues—Virginia MOCA and Peninsula Fine Arts Center. Visitors can enjoy different artworks at each museum.

“Not only does this exhibition allow the inmates to express themselves beyond the confinement of their detention, but it also allows the general public to connect with the experiences of people are who incarcerated. We are glad to partner with local law enforcement agencies and museums to provide this rare opportunity.” Berlucchi said.

Art is among the many forms of therapy offered at correctional facilities across the region. It allows them to discover their creativity and put their energy into an activity that is both productive and rehabilitative.

“This exhibition gives the artists something positive to do with their time while they’re incarcerated,” said Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle. “It allows them to use their immense talent and creativity for something good and gives them a sense of value to see their work displayed in a professional museum. For many of them, this is the first time they have been publicly recognized for doing something positive, which shows them they can be more than just their criminal record.”

Despite security measures that prohibit the use of most art supplies, inmates create impressive artworks to tell their stories and help with their rehabilitation using only materials readily available to them, such as jail-safe pens, soap, magazines, powdered drink mixes and deodorant.

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