Arts in Prison – Two inportant books from Erasmus+ funded Arts of Freedom project

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On Friday 30th September the European Prison Education Association (EPEA) was delighted to host an event to celebrate the conclusion of the innovative Erasmus Funded Arts of Freedom project.

Colleagues from the Netherlands branch of the EPEA arranged a beautiful location for the event at De Nieuwe Schuur in the countryside of Herpt near ‘s-Hertogenbosch and we were able to enjoy our coffee in the sunshine.
The Arts of Freedom project has focused on the education and training of visual artists for participation in projects involving work with prisoners and in prison, as well as the education of prison employees to raise their awareness of creative work.

We present the two books which have been produced for this project :

Book 1 (Arts of Freedom, A collection of Practices and Ideas on Art in Prison) is for artists who are interested in working in prison, It aims to improve soft skills of visual artists for work (murals and art workshops) in prison

Book 2 (Arts of Freedom, A Necessity of Art in Prison) is for staff employed in the prison system to raise awareness of the importance and effectiveness of such projects not only for the prison community but also for the overall community itself. It showcases the effects of such projects including the therapeutic and aesthetic effects on the observer.

We had almost 50 people attending the event from 8 countries and each person attending received copies of the books which have been printed in English and which are available in pdf format in 5 languages (shared via a smart business card style USB stick).

We heard from the chapter authors about how the start of the project had been hampered by Covid (of course) and how each partner initially had very different ideas about how the book should be written and what it should contain. The chapter authors came from organisations in the Netherlands, Poland, Hungary as well as the lead partner, HDLU, from Croatia.

Art is so important in prisons for many reasons – psychological growth and healing, personal well-being and therapy. Until now, much of the evidence of the benefits of art in prisons has been anecdotal so this project aimed to document the importance of Art education, which is often the first to suffer when financial cuts are made. It is hoped that these beautiful books can help to inspire teachers and persuade prison authorities of the value of this work.

Our guest speaker (Frans Douw) has been a prison director in the Netherlands for over 30 years and now leads a foundation called “Recovery and Return” alongside a former prisoner. He spoke from the heart about his work and his described his experience that politicians never act on scientific evidence, but prefer an emotional “hook” for their policy reform.
He offered two pieces of advice for those working with young people in the criminal justice system :

  1. Provide a safe surrounding – with clear rules and structures.
  2. Accept people as who they are, allow them to inhabit their own space.

Frans encouraged us all to be curious about the people we work alongside to discover their talents and try to meet people as equals in life in spite of the power imbalance that often exists between us.

We hope you will enjoy the books which are the outputs of this vibrant work. They can be downloaded via this link.

Ruth McFarlane, Projects Officer, EPEA on