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October 2009

Chapter 2: The Gift of the Partnership Path

William_Cleveland_Photo This is a personal story about a precious gift.

At one time I had the privilege of running one the largest arts colonies in the world.  Actually it was a franchise.  We started small but ultimately we had 38 sites operating under the auspices of California Department of Corrections.

Here’s the story: In the late 70’s, I worked with a woman named Eloise Smith, from Santa Cruz. Eloise was a battler and inveterate seeker of truth and justice.  One of her great quests was to insinuate the arts into  community life as a force for healing and self expression.  After a lot of research and musing she came to the conslusion that that the best way to make the case for the doing this was go through societies back door-- with the prisons. 

When we made our first prison visit, to the California Medical Facility, in Vacaville, the first prisoner she talked to was a guy named Verne McKee. Verne was president of the both the visual arts and musicians guilds. He told Eloise straight out that a small investment in the Vacaville prison arts community would save lives.  Verne was a con with the gift of gab and Eloise was a hard sell, but, after a lot of back and forth, she decided he had it right.  As a result of their work together, a lot of other folks came to that same conclusion. 

A few years later, after we started the Arts in Corrections Program the bean counters at the Department came and told us that when prisoners made art, their incident rates went down inside, and they committed fewer crimes when they got out.  By 1986, there were art programs in all of California’s prisons. And, as the system grew, so did our franchise.

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