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Prisoners Sell Art Through Prison Art Gallery

Creating art can expand our human experience and help us grow. For prisoners, having contact with the outside world is crucial because many are in a place where educational programs, letters or visits are rare or non-existent. The Prisons Foundation strives to make things better for the prisoners who want to express their creativity.

The Prisons Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC that promotes arts and education in prisons as well as alternatives to incarceration.

Prisons Foundation Director, Dennis Sobin, is a former prisoner who spent 11 years behind bars. ?There is a need for people on the inside to be recognized for the art they create in prison. Art humanizes prisoners ? it encourages them not to give up,? Sobin believes.

The Prison Art Gallery is located a few blocks from the White House at 1600 K Street NW, Suite 501, Washington, DC and is open seven days a week. Last year 302 prisoner artists sent artwork or crafts, and 83 sold at least one work. The Prisons Foundation promotes its artwork very enthusiastically. A few prison artists have been very popular ? selling every single piece of artwork at the gallery and art shows the foundation sponsors. Others have sold several pieces and have remaining pieces that will continue to be exhibited. Sometimes, a piece ignored one day, may sell the next.

Unfortunately, some prisons do not allow prisoners to sell their art and collect the funds from the sale. Therefore, some artists donate the proceeds to a charity of their choosing, or have them sent to their families or friends.

Some of the artwork is placed on a backing and covered with clear acetate. Some pieces are matted and a few are framed. The Prisons Foundation covers those costs. The foundation also makes photocopies of the artist?s handwritten bios and their art descriptions that are placed on the back of each piece. Envelope art, cards and other crafts are also welcomed and sold.

The Foundation?s first showing was held in September, 2004. In April of 2006, the organization received a certificate of appreciation from the National Organization for Victim Assistance. The Foundation tries to give the highest percentage from the sale back to the artists. Art experts have told the Foundation that the financial agreement with the artist is fair and often better than many commercial galleries.

The money to run the Foundation comes from grants, generous donations from individuals and organizations, and from the sales of its reference books that go to libraries and universities around the nation.

The Prisons Foundation art program has been written about regularly in the Washington Post. Articles have also been published in The Washington Diplomat: The International Newspaper, Inside Journal, Washington?s City Paper and several newspapers elsewhere in the country.

All prisoners that want to submit artwork are sent forms and a brief survey. The survey is used in the Prisons Foundation?s efforts to educate the public about prisons and prison art. No names or institutions are revealed without permission.

?Having the general public view prisoner?s artwork has the potential to change things for the better in our nation?s prisons,? said Carolyn Sobin, arts director. ?In creating art many prisoners can be confronted with their true selves.?

Dennis Sobin said, ?Many prisoners have fragile self-esteem that is often further shattered by the hostile environment in which they live. Our organization hopes to better a prisoner?s incarceration.?

In addition to seeking more prison arts and crafts, the Prisons Foundation is currently looking for partner organizations in other cities to establish branches of Prison Art Gallery. ?We have plenty of art on hand to share with other organizations who are looking to change public perception of prisoners while generating good revenue and publicity as we have done in Washington,? said Dennis.

More information may be obtained by writing or calling the Prisons Foundation, 1718 M Street NW, #151, Washington, DC 20036, 202-393-1511, or

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