Denver University’s Prison Arts Initiative

I ran across Denver University’s Prison Arts Initiative not long ago and immediately saw a strong connection between their vision and scope of work and our own at Awaken Creative. And, I’ll openly admit, I had to choke back the tears through all of their videos. If you want to be inspired to use your art for community action, check out DU PAI.

“Since the beginning of time, humans have used the arts in our darkest moments to help us find our way through. To find our way through heartache, through pain, and grief. The arts have always allowed us to make meaning when all has felt meaningless. They have reminded us of our unending connection to each other, of our shared humanity.” – Dr. Ashley Hamilton, Executive Director of DU PAI

Dr. Ashley Hamilton is the Executive Director of DU PAI. Her energy, compassion, and expertise has enabled incarcerated participants to put on full main stage productions of well-known classics, such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, collaborate to devise original works, create podcasts, publications, hold workshops and more in correctional facilities across the state of Colorado.

Through this creative work, according to Dr. Hamilton, incarcerated participants build stronger interpersonal communication, conflict resolution skills, the ability to work more positively and improve, have more self-perception and perception of others, develop empathy and a strong work ethic, and the ability to dedicate themselves to a product and a project. According to a participant, the lines that previously divided them are erased as they work and play together. “We became open to allow each other to see a part of ourselves we wouldn’t normally let other people see.” – DU PAI Participant

Not only have the incarcerated participants and their families benefited, but also DU students contribute to the work and gain not only invaluable experience, but a perspective from that hands-on experience that you just can’t get in the classroom.

“Arts throughout all of the history of humanity have given us the human experience in a way that can be felt. We can feel each other’s emotions that way. And I think through bringing that into prison it’s allowing other people to heal who have never had an opportunity to.” – DU PAI Incarcerated Participant

Who: Denver University’s Prison Arts Initiative

Where: Colorado Correctional Facilities through Denver University

What they do: Performances and events, virtual showcases of artists and stories, leadership development, family workshops, college courses, newspapers and digital newsletter, podcasts

Mission Statement: DUP PAI generates creative and collaborative learning experiences that enrich the lives of people who are incarcerated and shift the conversation about prison.

Goals: DU PAI’s goals include opening dialogue between incarcerated people and their communities and empowering individuals to see themselves as leaders capable of creating meaningful change, both inside prison systems and well beyond.

Website: Their easy to use website is full of inspiring videos, photos, and more!

Tags: Performing arts, drama, theatre, music, visual art, spoken word, dance, literary arts

Author: Lesa Brown

December 2, 2020