Arts Access in California Prisons Continues to Grow

Pictured: Guitar lessons at North Kern State Prison, led by instructor Marcos Delgado, provided by the Arts Council of Kern. Photo by Peter Merts.

SACRAMENTO, CA – The California Arts Council has announced its latest round of contracts to new and existing Arts in Corrections coordinating organizations offering rehabilitative services to incarcerated individuals in California state prisons. The awards come in response to the most recent request for proposals, highlighting the program’s objective to address the needs and priorities of individual California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) institutions.

Fugitive Kind Theater, PEN America, and TheaterWorkers Project join the list as the state’s newest Arts in Corrections service providers, offering instruction in theater, storytelling and creative writing. Eight existing organizations were awarded additional contracts to extend the reach of their course offerings within their current facilities and/or into additional institutions. A list of all newly contracted providers can be found below.

Administered by the California Arts Council, Arts in Corrections programs are designed to prepare incarcerated individuals for success upon release, enhance rehabilitative goals, and improve the safety and environment of state prisons. The program is internationally recognized for its high-impact, innovative approach to addressing the state’s public safety needs and rehabilitative priorities through the arts.

Services provided span the full spectrum of art disciplines, with organizations offering instruction in theater, guitar, dance, creative writing, and Native American beadwork, among others. As of June 2017, arts programming reaches all 35 state adult correctional institutions.

“It is profound, to watch participants involved in the creative process be remolded by it as individuals,” said California Arts Council Director Anne Bown-Crawford. “We’re thankful to the state for its continued belief in the arts as a rehabilitative tool, and we’re looking forward to this new phase of expanding our program offerings.”

California’s Arts in Corrections program is made possible by funding from the Division of Rehabilitative Programs at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Since the program’s re-launch in 2013, CDCR’s investment has increased from $2.5 million in the first two years to an $8 million annual commitment.

“Having the ability and the resources to engage inmates through the arts is something that we value very deeply, and we are grateful for the support of these organizations, supporters and volunteers that continue to be committed to bringing rehabilitative opportunities into our prisons,” said Brantley Choate, Director of CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitative Programs. “We see first-hand the positive changes it makes in our prisons. We know the majority of inmates will be returning to our communities, and it is our belief that we need to prepare them with skills and resources so they can have successful lives on the outside.”

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For California Arts Council press inquiries, contact Kimberly Brown, Public Affairs Specialist. For CDCR press inquiries, contact Alexandra Powell, Public Information Officer.

Arts in Corrections Contract Awardees

*Indicates new arts programming.

Actors’ Gang – Los Angeles, CA
Summary of Services: The Actors’ Gang, under the leadership of Artistic Director Tim Robbins, has provided theater arts programming with an emphasis on Commedia dell’Arte techniques for more than a decade. The Prison Project team provides highly physical, emotional, ensemble-based theater workshops. The work endeavors to unlock the vast human potential of the incarcerated individuals. Classes allow the participants to address and begin to heal their trauma, as well as learn to manage their emotions in a productive way.
Facilities Served: California Correctional Institution*; California Institution for Men; California Institution for Women; California State Prison, Sacramento; California Rehabilitation Center; High Desert State Prison*; Ironwood State Prison

Fresno Arts Council – Fresno, CA
Summary of Services: Local arts agency Fresno Arts Council values the role the arts play in all communities, believing in the benefits of increased self-awareness and success from participating in arts programming. The Council provides visual, performing, and literary arts instruction in California state correctional institutions.
Facilities Served: Avenal State Prison; California State Prison, Corcoran; Pleasant Valley State Prison; Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran; Valley State Prison*

Fugitive Kind Theater – Los Angeles, CA
Summary of Services: Fugitive Kind Theater develops foundational skills for participants, with an emphasis on connection to the individual’s voice, body and personal story as well as ensemble building, collaboration and creative problem solving. Acting exercises, techniques, and methods from a variety of performance styles will provide a comprehensive introduction to the roles and responsibilities of performers. Participants will learn how to warm up the body, achieve public solitude, remain grounded, pursue objectives, build a character, and achieve emotional truthfulness in performance. Coursework encourages exploration of personal stories and giving voice to experience through physical exploration, writing, and performance.
Facilities Served: California Institution for Men*; California State Prison, Los Angeles County*

InsideOUT Writers – Los Angeles, CA
Summary of Services: InsideOUT uses creative writing as a catalyst for personal transformation in numerous incarceration facilities in Southern California. Professional creative writing experts will provide creative writing and literary arts programming.
Facilities Served: California City Correctional Facility; California Correctional Institution; California State Prison, Corcoran*; Chuckawalla Valley State Prison; Kern Valley State Prison; Ironwood State Prison; Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility*; Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran*

Marin Shakespeare Company – San Rafael, CA
Summary of Services: The Marin Shakespeare Company has 15 years of experience providing programs in California state prisons, inspiring inmates and shedding light on their great potential. The company’s curriculum incorporates drama therapy techniques, Shakespeare study and performance, and the creation of autobiographical theater by inmates. Classes include check-ins designed to encourage self-reflection, skill-building exercises to encourage creativity, study of Shakespeare and how the themes from the plays relate to our own lives, and small group decision-making exercises designed to allow for the practice of conflict resolution. The program culminates in a final performance of a Shakespeare play with costumes and props.
Facilities Served: California Health Care Facility, Stockton; California Medical Facility; California State Prison, Solano; Deuel Vocational Institution; Folsom State Prison; High Desert State Prison*; Mule Creek State Prison*; San Quentin State Prison

Muckenthaler Cultural Center – Fullerton, CA
Summary of Services: Serving the at-risk and underserved members of our community has become the mission of the Muck’s expanding arts education outreach program. Through Arts in Corrections, Muckenthaler provides intensive, mini-residencies at correctional facilities, offering instruction in visual and performing arts.
Facilities Served: California Rehabilitation Center; California State Prison, Los Angeles County*

PEN America – Beverly Hills, CA
Summary of Services: PEN America instructors introduce participants to the fundamentals of storytelling, including various techniques for evoking experiences, re-telling and improvisation, group creative collaborations and examples of how stories are used in other cultures. The course utilizes music, literary excerpts, video, photographs, articles, interactive problem solving improvisations, class discussions, and reflective activities to synthesize material. The workshop is designed for students with little or no previous writing experience who wish to engage in an exploration of their creative abilities, and provides a positive outlet for sharing the vicissitudes of their lives.
Facilities Served: California State Prison, Los Angeles County*

Red Ladder Theatre Company – San Jose, CA
Summary of Services: Formed in 1992, Red Ladder Theatre Company has a long-standing history of serving incarcerated populations, using the tools and techniques of improvisational theater to help its participants develop positive life-skills. Guided by Red Ladder Company members, participants are encouraged to examine and solve the issues and problems that affect and often derail their lives. Through the tools and techniques of improvisational theater, participants are able to safely come to terms with, and triumph over, the forces that hamper their lives while also actively developing their abilities to make positive choices, solve problems creatively, focus on tasks, work collaboratively, learn from their mistakes, and develop leadership and self-esteem.
Facilities Served: California Health Care Facility, Stockton; California State Prison, Sacramento*; Central California Women’s Facility; Correctional Training Facility; Deuel Vocational Institution; Folsom State Prison; Folsom Women’s Facility; Salinas Valley State Prison; Valley State Prison*

Riverside Arts Council – Riverside, CA
Summary of Services: The Riverside Arts Council offers sessions in contemporary and Shakespearean theater, incorporating exercises involving movement, voice, storytelling, improvisation, scene study and character development. Culminating performances conclude each session. Within the framework of this program is an underlying therapeutic value. The performing of these projects leads to a sense of accomplishment and pride.
Facilities Served: California Rehabilitation Center*, California Institution for Men*, California Institution for Women

TheatreWorkers Project – Los Angeles, CA
Summary of Services: TheatreWorkers Project teaching artists will provide an introduction to the fundamentals of physical theater, improvisation and writing techniques that will lead to a performance piece or staged reading created and performed by the participants. Participants will work together as a whole group ensemble and in small groups structured to provide safe and supportive environments for creative risk taking. TheatreWorkers Project’s belief that “every human being has a story to tell” serves as the jumping off point for this program.
Facilities Served: California State Prison, Los Angeles County*

William James Association – Santa Cruz, CA
Summary of Services: The William James Association has a 40-year history of developing, managing and funding multi-disciplinary fine arts programs for incarcerated and at-risk individuals, working with organizations from National Endowment for the Arts to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office to provide fine arts services in correctional settings. WJA provides a wide array of programming spanning the fields of visual, literary and performing arts.
Facilities Served: California Correctional Center; California Institution for Men; California Institution for Women; California Medical Facility*; California Men’s Colony; California Rehabilitation Center; California State Prison, Los Angeles County*; California State Prison, Sacramento*; California State Prison, Solano; Centinela State Prison; High Desert State Prison; Mule Creek State Prison*; Pelican Bay State Prison; Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility; Salinas Valley State Prison*; San Quentin State Prison; Sierra Conservation Center

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The mission of the California Arts Council, a state agency, is to advance California through the arts and creativity. The Council is committed to building public will and resources for the arts; fostering accessible arts initiatives that reflect contributions from all of California’s diverse populations; serving as a thought leader and champion for the arts; and providing effective and relevant programs and services.

Members of the California Arts Council include: Chair Nashormeh Lindo, Vice Chair Larry Baza, Phoebe Beasley, Christopher Coppola, Juan Devis, Kathleen Gallegos, Jaime Galli, Donn K. Harris, Louise McGuinness, Steven Oliver, and Rosalind Wyman. Learn more at


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