Fine Arts Professor Curates Art Exhibition At Women`s Prison

Inside Out

Inside Out

Duston Spear loves teaching painting at Pace University, but it’s her students at the Bedford Hill Correctional Facility, a maximum security women’s prison in Bedford Hills, New York that really inspire and challenge her.

“At Pace, I memorize my students’ names for the semester, but then often I don’t see them again; with these women, I’ve been working with them once a week for many years,” Spear said. “And they are so hungry for knowledge. They work at jobs in the prison all day, and then at night they come to class. People think prisoners just sit around watching TV all day, but it’s not like that. They are very motivated.”

For the second year, Spear is curating “Inside/Out” an art exhibition that displays the artwork of inmates alongside the artwork of college students from Pace University, Marymount Manhattan College, Barnard College, and Mercy College. An opening reception was held on April 2, 2009 for participating artists. The artwork will stay on view in the facility’s Visitors Center through June 2009.

New York State law prohibits prisoners’ artwork from being shown in public, so Spear asked one of her students to describe her painting for the Dyson Digital Digest.

Sophia Tower’s “Portia” is a portrait of a 17th Century woman.

“Even in the 17th Century the women were full of pent up frustration and anxiety,” Tower explained. “Portia was a ‘self mutilator’ or now known as borderline personality disorder. The painting shows her beauty, yet it also shows her desperation. The dark background makes it all seem secretive.”

Tower explained that through Spear’s classes, she has gained a new perspective on life.

“I look at the world through a painter’s eye, from many different angles, with many different lights, and all different kinds of colors and hues and shades. The world is one big canvas now I know I can repaint it any time I want. It just depends on how I look at it and where I'm standing and what colors I see,” she explained. “Even thought I am in prison my mind is free.”