This month, we’ll be putting our Artist Spotlight on Cedar Mortenson. JAC asked Cedar some questions, and below you’ll find Cedar’s response. But first, an introduction in Cedar’s own words:
CM: Thank you for contacting me, for your correspondence and notifications. I hope this letter finds you well, in good spirits and warm. There is quite a lot of snow outside here, from what I can see on the weather channel anyhow. I haven’t been outside for over 6 months. I dream about the sun on my face, rain, wind, snow, dirt under my feet. I usually chef at one of the local ski resorts in Northern New Mexico near where I live at so I can get my free lift pass that goes along with the job, then all my extra time is spent upon the mountain with my snowboard or playing with the dogs and the horses in the snow. Sometimes I get snowed in where I live way up in the mountains so it’s just us til the snow melts enough to get out or my SUV can get through the snow pack. I miss home a lot. It’s hard to be incarcerated so far away from home.
JAC: What inspires your artwork?
CM: Life in general, mostly the impact that life occurrences have on my heart as the pencil and paper is a channel to that. It’s a form of therapy in here. I exercise, I shower, I sleep, read, write, draw. I miss the people I love so much that it’s hard to write them or call, plus phone calls are expensive and I don’t want them to have to come out of their pockets for my bad choices, so I write but it hurts a lot; drawing is a better way to convey my love and thoughts. I draw them portraits and dreams. My dogs and horses inspire my artwork. I am a naturalist, activist, chef, poet, freestyle cage fighter, and outdoorsperson among being an armed robber apparently. I go to sleep every night looking at photos of my dogs. We have a pack. I’m the leader. We need to be together. My brother is looking out for them but he doesn’t love them like I do. He doesn’t embrace them and squeeze their fuzzy faces against his own and kiss the top of their heads, and sing them their songs. They each have their own song, and they get so happy when you sing to them. “There was a sailor dog named Blue… She sailed across the whole Atlantic Ocean…” So begins Blue’s song. Blue and Pepper are sisters. Rocco, Doodle, Midnight and Amos are Pepper’s sons. Midnight has gone missing since I’ve been incarcerated,
I also have horses. This is my family. I am responsible for taking care of them. I enter art competitions with hopes of placing to win cash awards to send to my mom to buy dog food and hay for them, and my motives are accelerated now with winter here.
This is my main challenge as an incarcerated artist, is trying to find ways to support my furry family and my family too. When I’m free I’ll always help my mom with wood for the winter and hay and bring her groceries. She lives on a rural reservation with her husband and is elderly. Giving time to the elderly is really important.
It’s a challenge finding a continuum to remain proactive about environmental issues. The jail gives us our food in styrofoam containers. I retail biodegradable compostable products and packaging for 5 FDA approved U.S. companies and can offer them a more cost efficient and completely biodegradable alternative but of course as an inmate they won’t use the resources I offer.
Persistence can crack an egg though it’s a challenge to find the most direct outlets for writing and drawing proactive issue work materials that I feel may have the most influential impact. How do I reach people with my art and writing from here? I’m grateful to JAC for the opportunities they provide to do so, and I believe this coalition will grow and prosper in its ability to reach more and more people over the course of time. It’s a challenge as an artist/muralist to be limited to 8” by 12” paper with colored pencils, pen, ink that are 3 inches long and grow shorter with use because apparently they can be used as weapons if they are longer than 3 inches. I’ve recently discovered the white paper lunch sacks. When carefully deconstructed from about an 18 by 24 inch platform to create on and can easily fold back up to fit in a regular business size envelope. This discovery came after continuous write ups from ripping up the facility’s linen sheets to use as canvasses to draw on. So far they haven’t confiscated any of my paper sack artwork yet.
I could go on to list more challenges but in all honesty the blessings are as great, thank God I have an imagination, a sense of humor, the ability to create and the tools that are accessible and approved to create what I can. God is good to me. I am humble and grateful. Where I’m at is no one’s fault but my own.
It is enough that our time with loved ones is taken from us in penalty. Our voices and hearts. Expression should have a continuum always, this is the essence of life and no one should be allowed to take that from any individual under any circumstances. So thank you so much for providing an outlet for this; it’s rewarding to me to have this form of expression, correspondence, communication. I sincerely hope this is reciprocated to you and the members of the Coalition committee who work to make this possible that they can continually feel their efforts are making a difference and receive a beneficial impact in their own lives as well. And of course I hope that people will buy my artwork through this experience as I constantly stress about my animals everyday.
Please consider joining our pARTner Project to connect directly with an artist in prison. Find more information and sign up byclicking here.
It’s two a.m. I can’t sleep. I find myself inside the restroom stall of the dorm I share with 200 other men, but no one happens to be in here with me and it is quiet enough to hear my thoughts and feel my emotions. I throw on my headphones and tune into rapper Swoope’s song “You Got Me”. The song is an exact expression of my feelings at the moment. I feel like God got me – like he is really looking out for me. The past three days have been so beautiful. I’ve seen loved ones, as well as strangers all, come together throughout this weekend with the same purpose. It was glorious. I have caged my emotions the whole time, but right now tears, Mr. Kool-Aid smiles, and laughter is starting to run wild. I am alive. I can see greatness before me. I feel closer to my dreams than ever before. The moment that I’ve just lived out was so much bigger than me and I’m ready to take it to another level. My eyes are on the stars but my head is against the ceiling. I feel like a jumbo jet in a dark and dirty warehouse. My joy and excitement are anchored by reality. My motivation is fueled and frustrated all at once.
These are the thoughts and emotions surrounding me after the final show of four performances in a span of two days of TheHamilton Project. The KUJI Men’s Chorus lead by Dr. Catherine Roma teamed up with, Dr. Jessie Glover, Lori Hiltenbeitel, and a band of supporters, at Marion Correctional Institution in Marion Ohio, and took Lin’s masterpiece from the heavenly heights of Broadway all the way down to the lowly floors of the jailhouse. I was first introduced to the idea of performing Hamilton in November of 2018. KUJI had just finished what was then our best performance to date, the reenactment of Les Miserables with students from Salisbury college. Dr. Roma was already thinking about what was to come next for us and she wanted to keep elevating. She asked me what I thought about doing Hamilton. I had heard of the musical, but I never paid much attention to it. I had seen some hip-hop musicals and never really thought they were any good. I remember watching MTV’s “hip- hopera” Karma and thinking, “this really sucks”. I love hip hop and I want to see it rise to levels unimaginable, but not at the expense of it being “corny”. KUJI did good with Le Mis, and it made us better. It taught us discipline, accountability, priority, and brought out hidden talents within the group. Best of all, we built unity throughout the process. So maybe another musical will help us advance as a group. What if musicals could become KUJI’s “thing”? Dr. Roma could be opening up the lane of hip hop, knowing I will put my all into this project because rapping is what I do and hip hop is what I am. I was also skeptical because in hip-hop good rappers don’t rap other artists’ music. But, I trusted Dr. Roma and believed in my team so I said: “let’s do it”. By February of 2019, we were gearing up to do Hamilton.
I still had not heard any of the music. Dr. Roma gave me the soundtrack and from the press of play, I was caught in Lin’s web of dope beats, flow patterns, wordplay, and storytelling ability. I thought so far so great. The music wasn’t corny. It solidified my decision to pursue the project. I wasn’t sure what role I would play in the musical. KUJI is made up of many good artists who could fill several roles. I was instantly spellbound by a song called “Wait for it”. It was to be performed by the character Aaron Burr. He also had a daughter and I have two. Again another of his songs (“Dear Theodosia”) directed toward his daughter expressed my sentiments well. However, the group thought I should play Alexander Hamilton (the lead role) which is the most demanding role of all. I accepted, so it was time to fully commit.
After listening to the music I started memorizing the songs. Lin used a lot of rhyme schemes that I was already familiar with, so the flow came first. Flow is the cadence and style of the song lyrics. Next, I learned the lyrics by reciting day and night until they were committed to memory. Then I explored the meaning of it all. I could mimic the musical at that point but I still had to become my character. I wanted to see Miranda’s vision and feel Hamilton’s struggle. I wondered what was Lin trying to say. How true was the story of Alexander Hamilton’s’ life? The only thing I knew about him was that he was on the ten-dollar bill. I learned all the basics of Hamilton’s story by listening closely to the fragmented story of the soundtrack. It taught me about Alexander’s family, his upbringing, intelligence, and work ethic. Dr. Roma brought in material for us to read about it. We met with Dr. Glover once a week for a month and dissected each song. I began to see him as a person, leader, family man, politician, and genius. I tried to imagine Alexander as a performer. I knew this would be the most difficult part of the job – portraying a white politician as a young fly MC. Everything I learned about theater and acting as a member of Theatre of Conviction for the past four years, (which is also run by Dr. Glover) paid off. As I understood his dream and struggle, overtime got in tune with the spirit of Hamilton, and it became real on stage.
I related to Alexander’s ambitions to create something great, bigger than himself. In “The Room Where it Happens”, the lyrics “God help and forgive me, I want to build something that’s going to outlive me” are the echoes of my soul. He knew that what he was about to attempt was big, and big dreams are dangerous. He longed for change – for a revolution. It would call for great sacrifices from many. He knew the pain of those sacrifices and so he asked for forgiveness. He coveted divine help, knowing the magnitude of his task and the righteousness of the cause. I dream of using Hip- hop to transform the ghetto and empower its people. I don’t want to simply take the fruits of a successful hip-hop career and give back to the ghetto; I want to plant the hip-hop tree in the ghetto. I want to restore control of the art form and its benefits to people who produce it. We forge the art form in the fire of our oppression; it’s only just that we benefit from it. Alexander also knew that he needed the education to be able to execute his goals. “Imma get a scholarship to King’s College”, he said. He wanted to go to a prestigious college and establish valuable relationships – social capital. I need education too. I need to thoroughly understand the music business. I need to meet powerful and passionate people. That is why I’m attending Ohio University while I’m in prison. I hope to use it as a springboard to Berklee’s School of Music to gain a wealth of knowledge and relationships and obtain a degree in Music Business and Management when I’m released. I admire his obsessive nature and big-picture perspective. I learn from his mistakes and shortcomings. His infidelity and lack of self-control destroyed his family, stained his reputation and single-handedly prevented his presidential hopes, which would have allowed him to make a greater impact. He was never home and didn’t spend enough time with his family. I know it’s critical to value my relationships and remain faithful. These connections tapped into my internal energy reserves and allowed me to bring life to every rehearsal.
The rehearsal was challenging. We were only able to rehearse for two hours a week as a group. We lost a couple of months because of inconsistencies in prison and personal schedules. We battled and struggled with one another. We gained new members and lost some. We met with Dr. Glover and Lori every other week to stage the scenes. Driving two hours to the prison Dr. Roma, our Choir Director, was there as much as she could be, but some days we were on our own. Those times called many of us to leadership. This was new to all of us. No one had ever done a hip-hop musical; it showed and it wasn’t looking good. We needed an extra push. Time was running out and we were getting discouraged. Then, the women arrived.
Dr. Roma brought in seven women to fill the female roles in the play. It was the day before the first show and we had not blocked the entire musical. We had chosen 23 out of 46 songs and did not have a good sense of how all of them were supposed to be sung and acted out. The stage lights were not ready, and we still needed our costumes. We had not tightened up our harmonies as an ensemble yet, and now we were adding seven more strangers to an already volatile concoction. Things could have gotten ugly. But, the women were like a warm cup of coffee on a brisk morning, warm relaxing, and yet energizing. They were accomplished professionals, and passionate about music. Lori, Bennyce, Lisa, Audrey, Danielle, Jillian, and Ashley were ready to go when they walked through the door. Working with them was easy and familiar. I walked into the chapel where we were putting on the show and they were all on the stage singing “Helpless”. I joined in with Danielle, who was playing Eliza and we sang the song like we had been singing together forever. I knew that was a good sign that we were going to be alright. We got into the costumes and into character. We tried to run through the music from the beginning but we ran out of time. Our next time meeting would be the following day, showtime, and no time to do a full run-through, so we gathered in unity and sung a hymn together. “I will be your standing stone, I will stand by you”. This was like an agreement within the group. We would support each other.
The audience arrived. Our first performance was for the general population in the prison, accompanied by the Warden, Deputy Warden, Majors, and of course staff security a.k.a Correctional Officers. We took our places. Mine was behind the curtain, where I would spend time before each show praying and calming my nerves. I listened as Dr. Glover gave an introduction, and then the music started. “How does a bastard, orphan son of a whore…” delivered by Scienze who played Aaron Burr. The execution of his lines set the tone were good, as I prayed that he would do well, and he did. Performer by performer, everyone hit their lines flawlessly in the opening. Then it was my turn to take the stage. I stepped out from behind the curtain into the light and spoke the words with a melodic cadence “Alexander Hamilton”.
I was surprised at how well the population received it. It is hard to impress people that you virtually share every waking moment with. Most of them, like us, had little knowledge of the story and were educated and entertained at the same time. They were glued to their seats, in awe of what they were hearing and seeing. Many of them are still talking about it now.
It was the Deputy Warden’s last day working at the institution, she was moved to tears by the show. The joy was real and you could tell it was going to get better as the performances continued.
Our second show was for an outside audience that included family, friends, former inmates, and children. The former first lady of Ohio Karen Kasich was there. She wrote “I adored the show. It brought tears to my eyes and made me laugh and smile as well. I think that’s a sign of some good acting!! These folks obviously made some devastating choices in their lives, and are they paying the price. But that does not mean they are ‘throwaways’ “. Others also wrote heartfelt comments and donated to our mission. My mother and mother in law shared the night with me. My aunt whom I had not seen in ten years showed up unexpectedly with my cousin who is suffering from mental illness. They were all blown away by the show and we are still in contact because of it. The entire environment was like nothing I had ever experienced before, inside or outside of prison. I’m still not fully capable of explaining how it felt or how we pulled the shows off with such little preparation. There were times I was experiencing altered states of consciousness, when I had a heightened sense of awareness about what was taking place in the 1800s, being relived in a moment of music and theater. I knew something was happening that I was and am thankful to be a part of. This would not have been possible without the hard work, creativity, and support of everyone that was a part of the experience. I truly believe that everyone who was supposed to be there was there. Murphy’s law was in effect, it was a struggle, but nothing was able to stop The Hamilton Project from happening.
Since the show, we have heard a lot of great feedback and request to do it again. One wildly entertaining and motivating reflection came from a 15-year-old name Cleo “EVERYONE DID AMAZING AND U MANAGED TO MAKE AN EDGY TEEN WHO IS BENT ON BEING AN EMOTIONLESS EMO SMILE AND BE VERY HAPPY”. Her comment speaks to the many physical, and emotional transformations that were taking place during and after the show. I had not been able to freely speak to my daughter for the entire nine years of my incarceration, but because my mother in law attended the show, things changed. She was so impacted that she went home and told my daughter’s mother – her own daughter – what she witnessed. She told her how she felt I had matured and talked about all the positive things in store for the future. My daughter’s mother opened up and is now supportive of my daughter and my relationship. My mother-in-law was reconciled to my mother at the show after years of feuding. Both of them met and were impressed with Dr. Roma. It was a time of true unification. Real relationships were formed and bonds were strengthened.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. My dreams are coming together. I’m not doing anything special. I’m using my natural God-given gifts and combining them with hard work and purpose. I’ve longed for times like this. I’ve always wanted to sing with a stylish, edgy, talented choir. I’ve always liked the sound of the music choirs produce, collective voices singing in harmony, and now I have the opportunity and it feels great. However, when I think about what’s to come, and what has to be accomplished, some anxiety kicks in. When is my time coming? Will I ever sit in a classroom at Berklee? Is it a silly fantasy to picture me in a studio making beautiful music and working to get it out to the world? Will I have a chance to be a real father to my daughters before it’s too late? I want to build an entire community and an artist-run label. I want to buy my mother her first home. I want to hug Dr. Roma and Dr. Glover without feeling like the police are going to apprehend me. I’m concerned about my age and time were against it all. I feel like a hot air balloon inside of a shack inflating, covering the floor, bursting out the windows, and ceiling trying to make it out but still being held back from its destination in the sky. My time is coming soon, I could be released as early as next year. But, as I learn more and reach new levels of awareness that time seems further and further away. Then I’m reminded of the words of Greek Philosopher Heraclitus, he said, ” All things come into being through opposition”. So maybe this struggle I’m experiencing – this struggle – frustrated motivation will birth something beautiful.
In the words of Dr. Jessie Glover, “there is a non-zero percent chance we will be doing Hamilton again in May of 2020”. Dr. Catherine Roma seconds that, “we are definitely doing it again”. We will get on the same page eventually, and I’m ready for whatever.
About the guest contributor:
Tron is a rapper with ambitions to launch an artist-run record label that can uplift his community in Columbus, Ohio.
About the production:
The Hamilton Project was a collaboration between KUJI Men’s Chorus and Healing Broken Circles, a nonprofit organization that runs a community center inside Marion Correctional Institution. It had support from the MCI Administration and Chaplain, Otterbein University, Wilmington College, Puffin Foundation West, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Braddock Fund. If you are interested in The Hamilton Project 2020remount, please follow ohioprisonartsconnection.org.
The question has been coming up a lot lately. I enjoy creating art, but I know that I am more than my work. I create the art to escape from this life I have been leading behind bars. It has been a horrible experience, and I would not wish it upon anyone, but I take responsibility for the bad things I have done. So, when I ask myself, “Who is Mark Andreason?”, I recognize that I am on a path of self-discovery since taking this leap of faith that my art will take me anywhere but here.
I find myself smiling more as a result of feeling like a kid again. I am becoming more aware of what is simple beauty. The other day, I noticed a squirrel that ran to me for food. It was awesome to see this creature in my surroundings that usually does not sustain anything attributed to nature. Prison life has been hard and hardened my outlook on life. Yet, the squirrel’s lack of fear toward me made me feel like I am approachable. It put me at ease in my own space.
I wonder sometimes if my negative outlook blocked me from openings because now that I am moving in a direction where I allow myself to be free, opportunities continue to come my way. I found out this month that “I’m Tired” is being published in AverageArt, an art industry magazine based in London. Wow! I still can’t seem to wrap my head around the good feeling that has come over me, but I am excited because my artwork is out in the world—at least internationally—for everyone to see it.
If that is not enough, I have also received a Special Merit Award from LightSpaceTime.art, which is featuring “Beginnings” on YouTube for their 8th Annual Animals Online Exhibition. My mind races with how many people will be exposed to my work. It is amazing to me that I am experiencing such good fortune. The way I see it is that if my work is in the world, then I am in the world.
So you know, I don’t know if I am the same Mark Andreason anymore, but I do know that I like this guy. I can look at him in the mirror even with all of his faults and past transgressions. What I know about this guy is that he is talented based on the recent public opinions of others. He’s also a man who appreciates the natural unfolding of a new chapter in his life. Mark Andreason is growing every day. In some ways, he is a kid again with a fresh pair of eyes and a grateful heart. Wouldn’t you know it? That guy is me!
More about Mark:
Since 1986, California-based Mark Andreason has been honing self-taught skills. Mark was heavily influenced by the painters Julie Bell, Boris Vallejo, and artist Luis Royo. He uses only pen and eraser to develop urban Gothic drawings. “Someone asked me, ‘When do you create for yourself?’ I thought it was an odd question since I enjoyed drawing for other people and assumed that it was understood that I was drawing for me. Duh? But then I realized that what I was really being asked was to look to my art for what motivated me. It took on a different meaning and had a different purpose, especially dealing with my disappointment about not being free. I am now working from the inside by freeing myself instead of expecting those from the outside to determine my fate.”
*This post was originally published on the baddkarMA.net Blog, May 27, 2018, and used with permission from the artist/writer. Please visit the site to experience more of Mark’s artwork and writing.
I’ve been pondering this in my mind over and over and over again. Trying to find a way to be able to keep creating work to send out for you to see without compromising the things I need in here. I find it to be nearly impossible to do from my position and I’ve failed to find that balance, and let things get to out of control.
So! Should this failure stop me from studying and creating artwork. No, I don’t think so. Even though I don’t have the money to continue to send my work out doesn’t mean that I should stop creating. So I’ll keep at my studies and work to be better, my becomings are far from over.
You may not see any work from me for a while cause I need to get my affairs in order in here. But once I do get things back on track you will see my progress, you will see how far I’ve come. You will see how I see beauty in all things though once upon a time all I saw was ugliness.
Like I said before, I’m fairly new to this art world and I’m learning as I go and there needs to be balance in art no matter how chaotic some of us may make a piece of artwork seem. There is still balance in it and we should also find this balance in our lives. We can only be made better for it. Trust, this experience has made me see things more clearly and can only hope it has done the same for you.
This is the becomings of a master!
About the guest contributor:
“I’m Rayfel Zumar Bell known as R. Zumar and discovered my passion for art while incarcerated. I’m a self taught artist who strives to break into the art world even from a cell. I spend the lions share of my time thinking about and creating art, the rest working out and my favorite pass time, snacking :)! Through art I want to help others and contribute to various charities I care about; cancer, autism, sponsoring kids in need around the globe, and preserving wildlife.”
View the first two installments in the artist’s blog series here and here.
The evening of January 9th, 2020 proved to be a cold one, yet the decade opened with warmth exuding from inside President Lincoln’s Cottage, where I experienced artwork celebrating the core of the human spirit at a well-attended opening. The physical space and its history lent itself to the celebration of courage and the undying strength of creativity. The Cottage was where Lincoln developed the Emancipation Proclamation, and it is now where the Justice Arts Coalition is displaying the work of 25 currently and formerly incarcerated artists in an exhibition that runs through the month of January. This tapestry of multiple mediums exploring the values of human dignity, internal liberty and hope is a beautiful partnership, in concert with the Lincoln cottage’s new program, A Home for Brave Ideas. This duo advocates for incarcerated artists to be recognized as having a voice and provides an avenue into public dialogue around the intersection of the arts and social justice. Through innovative guided tours, exhibits and programs,Iron Cages reflects the Mission of a Presidency caught between the crosshairs of a punitive society and the reality of our shared humanity.
The evening of artwork by incarcerated artists and performances by local prison and reentry theatre program Voices Unbarred inspired visitors, bridged differences and made tangible a connection to the past while presenting a platform for the work still to be done. As a mother, daughter, sister, wife, teacher and American, I cannot urge my fellow citizens enough to take the opportunity to immerse themselves in this exhibit, participate in the dialogue through interactive pieces and share the experience with others.
Photo by Bruce Guthrie
Photo by Bruce Guthrie
Photo by Bruce Guthrie
Photo by Bruce Guthrie
Ultimately, freedom of expression is the greatest freedom of all and no one can steal a person’s creativity, as it is theirs alone. The compassionate commitment to self-expression that these brave artists have shown through creating art in and around the US carceral system unites us all and allows us to understand that transformation happens from within. Please find the time to experience this healing and powerful art exhibit in our nation’s capital.
Photo by Erika Berg
Photo by Erika Berg
Photo by Erika Berg
“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
― Abraham Lincoln
About the guest contributor:
Dr. Jennifer E. Tinker deeply enjoys literature, art and dance. Jennifer practices yoga, and has implemented school gardens in various U.S. educational locations. Eco-Literacy became a main focus of her educational framework from 2012-2016. Since, she has lead several workshops in language-acquisition and Visible Thinking Strategies for teachers in the U.S. as well as China, Thailand, Japan and the Philippines. Her strengths lie in the humanities, and she currently is a teacher in the D.C. Metro region. She continues her family’s tradition of creating and collecting art.