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Presentation by Prison Arts Foundation

NIGAT’s June Day Meeting was held at the Support Hub of Prison Arts Foundation (PAF) in William Street, Belfast, by kind permission of Fred Caufield, PAF’s Executive Director, to whom NIGAT extends its sincere appreciation for his co-operation and help.

Three presentations reflected the work of PAF which was created in NI in 1996 to deliver a range of artforms in prison, in recognition of the power of participation in art to create personal and social change.

Liam Kelly, author and poet, began his creative journey with Prison Arts Foundation in 2018,  indicating that his introduction to Creative Writing ‘not only changed my life but saved my life’. He spoke movingly of the major influence of a Writer in Residence who guided him over a number of years to develop his confidence and his style to a point where he has won awards, publishing his first single-authored poetry anthology in 2023. Liam read selected pieces from his anthology, provided an overview of his early life which gave a flavour of his circumstances – and treated his audience to a ‘rap’! His second book, ‘Memoirs of a Belfast Boy’  will be published in the coming weeks.

Stephen Greer, artist, described a life-story punctuated by traumatic consequences of ‘the Troubles’, including addiction, physical injury, major health problems and hospitalisation. He spoke of his love of drawing in his schooldays, a skill which led him to work over a number of years with a skilled and empathic art teacher (who later retrained as an art therapist). Stephen spoke with emotion of the loss of this valued person in his life and his subsequent and ongoing success as an artist, with the audience able to view a number of his powerful works.

Stephen is now a visiting PAF Artist in Residence and mentor to others in the institution where he re-framed his identity as an artist.

Dr Christine McSherry is an art therapist employed by PAF with responsibility also for Research and Development there. Her absorbing presentation entitled ‘ Supporting women through their journey back into the community’, described the rationale, purpose and content of an 8-week art therapy project with a group of women.  She outlined the essential planning considerations needed to achieve a therapeutic alliance, detailing her theoretical approach (a collaborative, pluralistic, trauma-informed and co-produced framework). The thoughtful oral feedback and striking visual images from group participants conveyed the benefits of their stories being witnessed and validated, without judgement, through the art therapy process.

Christine offered as an ending the following: ‘The art of imagination is actually the art of survival ’. Keith Haring, American artist and social activist (1958-1990).

Other important aspects of the day included a tour and explanation of the Hub’s Braille facilities and ongoing developmental work there conducted by David Johnston, Support Hub Manager, whose enthusiasm, experience and long-term commitment to this important work was evident.

Feedback and evaluations from the audience included a visual response to the powerful material provided within all presentations

The Day Meeting also provided an opportunity for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for Registered Art Therapists, a mandatory requirement for their continuing registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

NIGAT’s Day Meetings (3 per year on the first Saturdays of February, June and October) have been offered since 1976 – surely a record!

The Group has held an annual Art Therapy Summer School since 1993 with 2024 seeing its 31st event (2-4th August) with the theme ‘Synchronicity’.

For further information email: summer-school@night.net

NIGAT’s next Day Meeting occurs on Saturday 5 October 2024.

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