Music workshop at California Correctional Institution in 2018. Photo by Peter Merts, courtesy of the California Arts Council.

Arts in Corrections

Bridging culture and community behind prison walls

With the support of the California Arts Council and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, ACTA facilitates traditional arts residencies at 18 prisons throughout the state of California. ACTA’s artist residents lead long-term, participatory classes inside prisons for incarcerated students. Their workshops connect students with their cultural inheritance through art forms like Mexican son jarocho, Afro-Colombian percussion, storytelling, Native American beadwork, and Danza Azteca.


Photo by Peter Merts, courtesy of the California Arts Council.

ACTA recognizes the participants in Arts in Corrections programming as a marginalized population who are in need of healing, affirmation, and new inspiration. The art forms and artists that ACTA has been bringing inside prisons since 2013 do not emerge exclusively from the academy or the concert stage, but from the communities from which the incarcerated participants may originate. The artists who lead our workshops come from many of the same neighborhoods as their students. They understand that the threat of incarceration is not far removed from their realities, their families, and their friends. At the same time, ACTA’s artist residents are invested in art forms that have transformed them and recognize the possibilities of transformation for those currently impacted by the system of incarceration.

 

I feel like this is going to be my redemption in a way, when I get out. Not to prove anybody wrong, but just to show myself there was more to my life than the gang lifestyle. It gives you a tremendous sense of hope.”
—Jose Salazar, Mexican folk guitar student, Avenal State Prison

Through two decades of traditional arts work, ACTA has recorded an affirmation of cultural identity, a sense of belonging, and a purposeful manner of communal engagement that occurs through the practice of traditional arts, all of which contribute to the holistic well-being of individuals. Participants engage in the Arts in Corrections program to find a sense of relief, safety, belonging, and healing. Traditional practices offer a venue through which people can practice, perform, and most importantly, gather in these actions. The capability to interact with people in a participatory manner—whether it be singing, dancing, acting, painting, weaving, sewing, or cooking—is a way to lift the spirit and reaffirm one’s identity and value.

Program Contact: Antonio Delfino, Arts in Corrections Program Manager
Fresno Central Office | adelfino@actaonline.org | (559) 237-9812

African Drumming workshop at Valley State Prison, featuring Djembe drumming taught by Abdullatif Bell Touncara in 2015. Photo by Peter Merts.

Beadwork workshop at Valley State Prison led by Dale and Julie Tex (Western Mono) in 2016. Photo by Peter Merts.

Drawing workshop at California Correctional Institution, led by Wenceslao Quiroz and Fabian Debora in 2018. Photo by Peter Merts, courtesy of the California Arts Council.

Storytelling workshop at California City Correctional Facility, led by instructor Michael McCarty in 2018. Photo by Peter Merts.

Music and Drawing class at Pleasant Valley State Prison, led by Quetzal Flores and Cesar Castro (guitar) and Omar Ramirez (drawing) in 2015. Photo by Peter Merts.

Danza Aztec (Aztec dance) workshop at Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and California State Prison led by Marty Natividad in 2019. Photo by Peter Merts, courtesy of the California Arts Council.

Theater workshop at Salinas Valley State Prison led by Alfredo Avila in 2018. Photo by Peter Merts, courtesy of the California Arts Council.

Afro-Columbian Drumming workshop at Chuckawalla State Prison, led by Alberto Lopez and Eduardo Martinez in 2018. Photo by Peter Merts, courtesy of the California Arts Council.

Music workshop at California Correctional Institution, led by Juan Perez and Matt Amper in 2018. Photo by Peter Merts, courtesy of the California Arts Council.

Mexican Guitar workshop at Avenal State Prison, led by musician Carmencristina Moreno. Photo by Peter Merts, courtesy of the California Arts Council.

African Drumming workshop at Avenal State Prison, led by Abdullatif Bell Touncara in 2018. Photo by Peter Merts, courtesy of the California Arts Council.

Storytelling workshop by Michael McCarty at California City Correctional Facility in 2018. Photo by Peter Merts, courtesy of the California Arts Council.

Beadwork workshop at Valley State Prison, led by Dale and Julie Tex (Western Mono) in 2018. Photo by Peter Merts, courtesy of the California Arts Council.

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The Artists

Danza Azteca instructor Marty Natividad (L) with a student. Photo by Peter Merts, courtesy of the California Arts Council.

 In 2013 ACTA launched it’s Arts in Corrections program at a single institution: California State Prison in Corcoran. Since then, the program has expanded to 18 institutions offering Folk and Traditional arts residencies to incarcerated men and women. The program spans various inmate populations and custody levels including maximum security institutions.

A team of ACTA staff members curates the roster of teaching artists and courses based on the opportunities and needs of different institutions. The artists who participate in our Arts in Corrections program are highly experienced experts in their forms, and many of them are well-versed in navigating the carceral system. We are privileged to be able to support their work inside the prisons.

Go inside the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco and witness ACTA’s Arts in Corrections program in action in this video produced by Eric Coleman. As part of their 13-week program, artist residents specializing in Afro-Colombian percussion and son jarocho music traveled to the state prison every week to teach the techniques and histories of their art forms. More importantly, these artists brought with them the opportunity for inmates to gather together, participate in a culture-affirming practice, and contribute their music and skill toward a communal experience. Watch the video to learn how the shared space of art-making in the context of incarceration has affected the students and the teachers, reminding us all of our connections to one another in the face of isolation.

2019 – 2020 Artist Residents and Workshops

  • Mary Alfaro | Mexican Music on the Guitar
    Ironwood State Prison, Blythe
  • Matt Amper| Choir & Ensemble/Collective Songwriting
    Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, Blythe
  • Eduardo Arvilla Martinez | Afro-Colombian Percussion
    California Rehabilitation Center, Norco
    California Institution for Men, Chino
    Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, Blythe
  • Alfredo Avila | Social Justice Theater
    Salinas Valley State Prison, Soledad
  • Vaneza Calderon | Collective Songwriting
    Ironwood State Prison, Blythe
  • Nakeiltha Campbell | West African and Latin Drumming
    California Institute for Women, Corona
  • Marsha Carter | Traditional Quilt Making
    California Health Care Facility, Stockton
  • Cesar Castro | Son Jarocho Music, Dance, and Verse
    California Rehabilitation Center, Norco
    California Institution for Men, Chino
  • Carlos Cortes | Music and Songwriting
    Correctional Training Facility, Soledad
  • Mario Cortes | Music and Songwriting
    Correctional Training Facility, Soledad
  • Fabian Debora | Transformative Drawing
    California Correctional Institution, Tehachapi
  • Glen Delpit  | Music and Songwriting
    Central California Women’s Facility, Chowchilla
    Valley State Prison, Chowchilla
  • Jose Hernandez | Mariachi Vocals
    Salinas Valley State Prison, Soledad
  • Ofelia Esparza | Nichos and Shrines
    California Institution for Women, Corona
  • Rosanna Esparza Ahrens  | Nichos and Shrines
    California Institution for Women, Corona
  • Grace Fleming | Storytelling
    California Training Facility, Soledad
  • Kassandra Kocoshis | West African and Latin Drumming
    California Institution for Women, Corona
  • Alberto Lopez | Afro-Colombian Percussion
    California Rehabilitation Center, Norco
    California Institute for Men, Chino
    Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, Blythe
  • Lorenzo Martinez | Americana Guitar/Songwriting and Mexican Music on the Guitar
    California State Prison, Corcoran
    Pleasant Valley State Prison, Coalinga
    Ironwood State Prison, Blythe
  • Michael McCarty | African American Storytelling
    Valley State Prison, Chowchilla
    California City Correctional Facility, California City
  • Carmen Moreno  | Traditional Mexican Folk Guitar
    Central California Women’s Facility, Chowchilla
    Avenal State Prison, Avenal
  • Marty Natividad | Danza Azteca
    Substance Abuse Treatment Facility, Corcoran
    California Health Care Facility, Stockton
  • Juan Perez | Americana Guitar/Songwriting
    Pleasant Valley State Prison, Coalinga
    California Correctional Institution, Tehachapi
  • Wenceslaos Quiroz | Art Builds Us: Understanding and Making Murals
    California City Correctional Facility, California City
  • Omar Ramirez | Transformative Drawing
    California Correctional Institution, Tehachapi
  • Wanda Ravernell | African Traditional Spiritual Song
    Deuel Vocational Institute, Tracy
  • Luis Rodriguez | Creative Writing
    California State Prison, Los Angeles County, Lancaster
  • Dennis Stewart | African Traditional Spiritual Song
    Deuel Vocational Institute, Tracy
  • Dale Tex | Native American Beadwork
    Valley State Prison, Chowchilla
  • Julie Tex | Native American Beadwork
    Valley State Prison, Chowchilla
  • Gabriel Tenorio | Choir and Ensemble/ Americana Songwriting
    California State Prison, Corcoran
    Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, Blythe
  • Abdullatif Touncara | African Djembe Drumming
    Valley State Prison, Chowchilla
    Substance Abuse Treatment Facility, Corcoran
    Pleasant Valley State Prison, Coalinga
    Avenal State Prison, Avenal
    California State Prison, Corcoran
  • Eduardo Valencia | Afro-Colombian Drumming
    California Institution for Men, Chino

ACTA developed this rehabilitative arts program at CCI to support inmates transitioning out of long-term solitary confinement to general population housing. In this short film, go behind-the-scenes at CCI’s Arts in Corrections pilot program, and learn how art and music provide a pathway towards positive transformation and mental health.


Resources

  • Listen to stories from inside the prison from Radio Bilingüe’s series on Arts in Corrections, available in English and Spanish here.
  • Watch more videos from ACTA’s Arts in Corrections program on our YouTube page.

Funders

ACTA’s Arts in Corrections program is funded by the California Arts Council and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

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