ACKNOWLEDGEMENT BY PASTOR ISAAC SCOTT, FOUNDER AND LEAD-ARTIST
During my incarceration, art was the means by which I was able to financially provide for myself as well as psychologically withstand the day-to-day torture of imprisonment. Hearts, flowers, and foliage gave me peace during uncertainty. My art forced me to reconsider what I viewed as purposeful in life, and I found that what I valued was not the status quo. Nevertheless I managed to stay within the lines of my creativity while illustrating outside of the popular narrative. My process of creating beauty under the harshest of circumstances helped me to reconcile a more sensitive and resilient side to myself.
In 2014, one year after my release, I launched The Confined Arts as an exhibition featuring the artistry of individuals who are currently and formerly incarcerated. Seven years later, with the help of the Justice in Education Initiative at Columbia University, The Confined Art has developed into an interdisciplinary public art and advocacy program that is housed (since 2015) at the Center for Justice at Columbia University, (since 2020) at the Center for Institutional and Social Change at Columbia Law School, and (in 2022) at Mount Zion A.M.E. Church on 116 street and Madison Ave. In 2020 The Confined Arts partnered with the Center for Court Innovation and Conspiring for Good to MAP, GALVANIZE AND SUPPORT artists, arts organizations, projects, and programs focused on racial justice, restorative justice, transformative justice, and Criminal Justice Reform. Our goals are: To sustain a community of individuals and organizations working at the intersection of art and justice system reform, with a focus on community resilience and prevention through advocacy and reform.
Since 2014, The Confined Arts has produced visual and performing arts public programming and film-based projects that target specific aspects of the criminal legal system to shed light on or counter harmful, reductive, and dehumanizing narratives that shape and inform public perception and policy decisions. Through the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent national attention on our country’s history of systemic racism, TCA has responded by continuing to create art that challenges and changes the narrative of the criminal legal system and those directly impacted by America's carceral system. As a result of the impactful work of The Confined Arts, I’ve received foundation support as well as a historic 4 consecutive Change Agent Awards from the School of General Studies at Columbia University.
Isaac Scott, founder of the Confined Arts, sits in his studio. "Mental health is stigmatized in this space. If I show you the scars of my incarceration, it’s only going to make you have more judgments," Isaac said. "I’m carrying two stigmas simultaneously. You feel like you have to show your best self coming home, wear these masks. You can’t show the trauma. That becomes more emotionally distressing." Art gave him a space to express his emotions
Experts and advocates have long touted the beneficial role of arts programs in the criminal justice system, both as an outlet for incarcerated people to express themselves while behind bars and an important element of the rehabilitation process once they’re released. And while the COVID-19 pandemic may have limited the intimacy of prison and reentry arts programs, many found ways to continue to teach, appreciate and showcase the work of incarcerated artists even during the crisis, by transitioning to virtual and solo lessons.
Yazmany Arboleda (b. 1981) is a Colombian American artist based in New York City. His art practice is always created in collaboration with others. An architect by training, Yazmany activates communities with large scale art projects that seek to build connections across barriers and highlight how linked we are. He believes that art is a verb not a noun.
The Confined Arts has received a grant from the Global Drug Policy Program at the Open Society Foundations for the Claiming the Visual Narrative Public Arts Project. The purpose of the grant is to counter the racist narratives of the drug war through artistic collaboration in New Jersey. The Confined Arts, founded by Multimedia Visual Artist Pastor Isaac Scott of Columbia University, uses a unique methodology of strategic arts engagement to change popular perceptions, build relationships, and foster action towards collaborative community-based solutions.
It is crucial for community-based activists to engage in local and national politics and influence the opinions of elected officials to preserve community values and uphold public safety. As a result of this collaboration, political leaders are more likely to adopt a representational and equitable approach to their policies and governance.
Bop is a hip-hop artist, producer, audio engineer, and composer. His base music is hip-hop, but he is interested in all genres of music. He is 34 years old and is nearing his 10-year anniversary of coming home from prison. Bop’s inspiration for his music comes from his life, relationships, and other artists he looks up to. He would like his music to impact people in a positive way, instill love, happiness, and fun in his audience, as well as highlight different realities and perspectives.
April is Second Chance Month. Second Chance Month is a nationwide effort to raise awareness about the barriers that those with a criminal record face in the United States.
The Confined Arts believes in the power of art as a tool for political and social transformation and is committed to highlighting the role of the arts to: (1) offer second chance opportunities to artists who have been impacted by the criminal legal system, and (2) change the dehumanizing narratives that prevent people from receiving second chances post-incarceration. Art, as a political and social tool, is overlooked and undervalued by leaders who do not utilize arts advocacy tools. TCA believes art should be in every change agent’s toolbox as a means to change perception, build relationships, and foster action. We recognize the importance of deconstructing collateral consequences and making it easier for formerly-incarcerated people to live in a free and fulfilling way.
The Phoenix Players Theatre Group (PPTG) is a performance collective founded by Michael Rhynes and Clifford Williamson, incarcerated men in the Auburn Correctional Facility in central New York. In the words of the group’s founders, “[PPTG] is a transformative theatre community, which utilizes theatre to reconnect incarcerated people to their full humanity.” Even though the group invites several civilian facilitators into its meetings, PPTG is run and operated by incarcerated people. Since 2009, PPTG has held small, tight-knit workshops for two hours each Friday evening, with the aim of creating a space where imprisoned writers and performers can be witnessed, and where they can initiate a process of personal, cultural, and socio-political transformation.
PPTG is a part of the Arts, Justice, and Safety Coalition, a group of arts organizations and programs focused on racial justice, restorative justice, transformative justice, and Criminal Justice Reform.