‘Know my Story’ Prison partners with ArtReach for unique gallery exhibit

prisonThe public will get a glimpse into the lives and minds of some prisoners at the at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater, as part of a collaboration with the local arts organization ArtReach St. Croix.

ArtReach is one of 77 organizations nationwide to receive a grant to host NEA Big Read, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. This year, programming will focus on themes related to the noir classic “The Maltese Falcon.”

“The Big Read is built around including a broad range of voices to connect to the themes of the book,” said Heather Rutledge, executive director of ArtReach St. Croix. “In late 2015, I reached out to the warden of the Minnesota Correctional Facility Stillwater and its art department to partner with ArtReach.”

“Know My Story,” an exhibition at ArtReach St. Croix, invites the community to see work created by inmates through the art and creative writing classes.

“Taking part in educational programming, such as art, helps the men find positive ways to express their experiences, move forward and better prepare to reintegrate into our communities,” said Patricia Pawlak, education director at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater.

“Know My Story” will feature two- and three-dimensional artwork created through the fine art and career technical educational programs and six-word memoirs written by members of the creative writing class.

“Art benefits the offenders through the gift of discipline,” said Charley Murphy, arts education volunteer at the prison. “Once you learn to make a finished piece of art, you can learn ways to tell your own story. And in learning to tell your own story you inevitably see how it relates to the stories of others, like ripples in a pond. There is a direct relationship to increased awareness of yourself in relation to others in the world.”

As part of NEA Big Read in the St. Croix Valley, “Know My Story” will explore themes that are often uncomfortable, like the themes of cynicism, fatalism and moral ambiguity found in Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon.”

“Not only is the prison a big part of the community, it has been a part of the community from before Stillwater was a [city],” Rutledge said. “It has been an interesting partnership to share their voices.”

“Know My Story” will be on view from Thursday, March 30, through May 13 at the ArtReach St. Croix Galleries, 224 N. Fourth St., Stillwater. Gallery hours are Wednesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturdays noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

The public is invited to the NEA Big Read in the St. Croix Valley Kick-off and Exhibition Opening 2-4 p.m. Sunday, April 2. In addition to the work on display as part of “Know My Story,” visitors can also see sculptures by three St. Croix Valley artists — Barbara Riegel Bend, Alan Honn and James Shoop. The sculptures were created in response to “The Maltese Falcon” and will be on tour at regional libraries through mid-May.

For more information about NEA Big Read in the St. Croix Valley and a full list of events happening in April, visit ValleyReads.org

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]