Guest Blog: Denise Shumway – The Ohio Prison Arts Connection (OPAC)

When the world closed, as some describe the widespread shutdown due to Covid 19, many of us with connections to Ohio’s prison system knew we couldn’t just sit back and hope for the best then wait to see our students on the other side of the pandemic.

We considered our own lives in isolation. What were we doing? We were reading, listening to music, watching movies; we were engaging with the arts! With that in mind, we knew we wanted to give our incarcerated friends a way to experience something of the arts and create some art themselves! Thus, the Creative Care Package Project was born!

This project was birthed in discussions members of the Ohio Prison Arts Connection (OPAC) had as we wrestled with how to maintain support and connection. OPAC is a coalition of people committed to building arts access for people in prison and re-entry, and to creating spaces for storytelling, resource-sharing, and dialogue both inside and outside of prisons. (Link to OPAC Website and Facebook page). 

We put out a call for artists to contribute artistic prompts with the goal of creating a booklet that could be printed and given to inmates to work on a variety of creative projects. We asked for creative writing prompts, drawing prompts, or other simple invitations to create. The only stipulation was that the prompt be contained to one 8 ½ x 11 page, with ample white space for response. The call went out to OPAC friends who passed along to other artists and friends.

And the pages began rolling in!

We limited the booklets to 40 pages, with a mini-booklet also available. Initially, we printed them and mailed or delivered them, so size was an issue with a limited budget to work with. We also sent them out electronically so people can use selected portions or individual pages, or print the entire booklet in quantities they needed. We wanted this project to include as much flexibility as possible so people involved in the prison system from a variety of angles and in different settings can pull from the files what works for them.

We sought and received amazing support from state leadership which gave us permission to send our project out to every institution in the state through the recreation directors. This streamlined the process to a uniform system of sharing both current and future booklets. And we hope it will help when it comes to sharing completed work which we hope to publish.

Now, five months later, we are glad we took a pro-active approach right away. With no end to the visitor/volunteer ban in sight, we don’t know how long it will be before we can get back to what we were doing in our pre-pandemic days. Nor do we know what our involvement will look like when things do open back up.

Meanwhile, we are thrilled to know we have provided those on the inside with a way to share their thoughts and feelings with each other and with those on the outside. We also plan to continue to produce a group of prompts each month in an effort to give artists on both sides of the fence a way to connect with their inner artist.

If you want to contribute an artistic prompt for a future edition, here is what we’re seeking:

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And if you want to share the Creative Care Packages with those you know, here’s where you can find them:

Care Package

Care Package – Vol 2

Mini Creative Care Package – Vol.1

One thought on “Guest Blog: Denise Shumway – The Ohio Prison Arts Connection (OPAC)

  1. Hi Denise, Thank you for sharing your work. It is wonderful.

    We at the Judy Dworin Performance Project in Hartford CT also developed a booklet idea. We have been working in the state women’s prison, York Correctional Institution, for 15 years, initially with a year-long performance residency, culminating in 4 performances, then a Moms & Kids program with 3 special visits including a weekend, and most recently I AM (Imagination, Arts & Me) a residency for a special unit of 18 to 25 year olds. All of these programs have been on hold in terms of the way they normally would happen. We also have a Dads & Kids program at Cybulski Reintegration Center for men soon to be released. Also on hold. We have not been able to go back in since March and, like you, see the situation lasting for the foreseeable future.

    So we have been sending prompts through counselors at both institutions to all of our program participants designed for each particular program and have been creating professionally designed booklets from their responses and sending them to the participants and their families. For the I AM program we were even able to facilitate an art exhibit in their unit with a ‘gallery catalogue’ as the booklet component.

    This has been not only a way to reinforce the women and men’s creative energy but also family connection during this incredibly isolating time.

    We are continuing to brainstorm other possibilities. I love the widespread distribution you have been able to achieve — that serves as an inspiration on this end for sure. It would be great to stay in touch on all. So glad to discover a booklet comrade in the midst of this!

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