“Something to Say,” a new art exhibit at the Margaret Lane Gallery in downtown Hillsborough, features artwork from residents at Orange Correctional Center (OCC) in Hillsborough. Visitors are encouraged to come “hear” their messages, expressed through a range of mediums and styles, by artists who, by many accounts, have been rendered voiceless.
This show is one result of a collaboration among the participating men at OCC; the Human Kindness Foundation; the Rotary Club of Hillsborough; Eno Friends Meeting; Yesterday and Today Frame Shop; Margaret Lane Gallery; and several individuals including Mark Hall and William Grizack with Faceless No More; Josh LeRoy, Chaplin at OCC; Melissa Radcliff with Our Children’s Place of Coastal Horizons; and Allison Davidson, teaching artist.
Bill Grizack, who, with Mark Hall, co-operates Faceless No More, an organization that aims to build people up through education, and to help those that suffer from either addiction, homelessness, incarceration, or or some combination of the three, said he was approached by the Hillsborough Rotary Club about leading some kind of program that would involve art and men incarcerated at Orange County Correctional.
“We said ‘absolutely,’ Grizack said. “You know, it’s pretty awful in there, generally speaking. And during COVID it was even worse. The mental challenges that happened when you’re at the second derivative of being locked into a place during COVID is just awful. We wanted to do something that would help the guys have an outlet to express what it is that they were doing.”
Mary Knox, who owns and operates the Margaret Lane Gallery with her husband, David, was also approached by the Rotary Club. “They asked if we would do a show featuring art from the residents (of OCC) that fits in with our overall accessibility and inclusivity goals of the gallery. We said, ‘sure.’”
The gallery then brought in Yesterday and Today Frame Shop to matte and frame the artwork for placement on the walls at Margaret Lane.
Art supplies and donations for supplies came from several different avenues, including other artists in the community. The supplies are made available to anybody within OCC who wants to use them. There was not requirement to take part in the show.
The participating artists from OCC reveal a range of artistic ability, from beginner to highly skilled.
“It’s sort of a mixed bag,” said Grizack. “I will say that the folks who are incarcerated represent the same society that we live in today. So that wide range of talent is there. Some folks in there are just insanely talented and you can see that in the work.”
The show will have 17 pieces of artwork by about a dozen inmates. Grizack said the men were initially skeptical of the program, but eventually saw the artwork as an opportunity to engage in something positive.
“Prison is not physically hard,” Grizack continued. “Oftentimes you’re doing work that feels very meaningless, or you’re doing something that has no meaning, day in and day out. To be able to engage in something creative, of your own choosing, that you can engage with and see through to the end does a few things for you. One, it does help the time go by, which is a blessing. Two, you get to actually accomplish something of real meaning that your mind and your hands created. Three, you’ve produced something tangible that’s positive, that your family can see and your loved ones can see and the other people there can see. You did something positive and the sum of those parts is far greater than the whole.
“You’re always seeking forgiveness and redemption while going through that experience, and what the family members see is, ‘OK, someone is actively choosing to do something positive,’ and those pivotal steps go a huge way towards re-engaging in your family,” Grizack said.
The families of the participating artists have been invited to the reception (the artists themselves are not allowed to attend). Knox said she isn’t certain of how many of the family members will make the event, but most appear excited to have the chance to be involved.
The artwork will not be for sale. Knox said the pieces will return to OCC, and might be available to the artists upon release. She also said she hopes this won’t be the last time her gallery and OCC team up for a show.
“After this show finishes, there’ll be a general meeting of the loose coalition to talk about moving forward, but certainly we talked about it within our family, both with Margaret Lane Gallery,” she said. “We are certainly receptive to doing this again. We’d like to do this on an annual basis. Also Yesterday and Today Frame Shop has every intention to continue providing the framing and matting service.”
Grizack said there are other correctional facilities that involve the arts and put on exhibitions, but those shows are internal, or at the facility. The “Something To Say” show is the first that is a community-based art show, where there is a community effort engaging the men at the correctional center.
“It’s a wholly different thing,” he said. “There’s a mental thing that happens for the men in there who are, like, literally ‘my voice is being heard in the community in which I live. I can’t go out into this community right now, but I live here.’ Knowing that (their artwork) is here is awesome for them.”
Show dates for the “Something To Say” exhibit are:
July 28 to August 1 and August 18 through August 22 (gallery is closed August 4 through 15)
Opening reception: Friday July 30, 6-9 pm, during the Last Friday Artwalk. During the reception, several different helping organizations, including the Human Kindness Foundation and Our Children’s Place will be represented (we expect others as well) and the Ready Singers, a group of men who were incarcerated at OCC, but have been released, will perform between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., followed by other live music. The Friends of the Cook School at Orange Correctional will be providing prepackaged treats.