Arts & Culture

OU’s museum director develops interactive art classes for incarcerated community

During the pandemic last year, Oglethorpe University Museum of Art‘s Director Elizabeth Peterson began looking for more ways to bring the joys of art to the community.

After jurying “HeartBound Ministries: Art from the Inside,” an annual exhibit featuring art made by incarcerated artists, the answer became clear — she would teach art to the underserved communities at Georgia correctional facilities.

In March 2021, Peterson began volunteering at Helms Correctional Facility, which specifically works with populations of men and women with medical or prenatal needs. She collaborated with HeartBound, a nonprofit that brings programs and resources to the prison community, to develop engaging, interactive classes for prisoners to learn more about art and flex their creative muscles.

Due to COVID restrictions, Peterson’s classes with the inmates have been held entirely online, but that did not stop her from getting creative with how she taught.

Peterson reacts to a portrait created by an inmate during her Mother's Day class

Peterson (bottom right) reacts to a portrait created by an inmate during her Mother’s Day class

A few days before each class, art supplies are delivered to the correctional facility. On the day of class, Peterson starts her video call with a mini-lesson before diving into a hands-on project. For example, a quick history of women and mothers in the Renaissance followed by an exploration of linear perspective turned into a Mother’s Day card project.

“I hope it will spark creativity and imagination,” says Peterson, “Most of all I hope it helps them have a fun way to send messages home and keep family connections.”

Though classes have been online for now, she hopes to visit Helms in person soon.

Teaching at a correctional facility is just one of the many ways that OUMA has been working to transform the role of the museum in Metro Atlanta. In 2019, Curator of Collections John Daniel Tilford launched “Museum to You,” a program where Tilford brings art from the museum to senior living communities, host discussions and appraises art.

Additionally, “Oglethorpe’s Portfolio: Art by Students,” a student-curated exhibit featuring works by seven student artists, is on view through the fall semester in Oglethorpe’s Conant Performing Arts Center, allowing the museum to connect with broader audiences attending “Heathers: The Musical” and to improve access to OU student art.

Elizabeth Peterson

“I have always had an interest in museums beyond the confines of the museum walls,” notes Peterson. “Museums are truly transforming from the ‘temple to forum’ — from an exclusive and often inaccessible place to one of radical welcome for everyone.”

“Getting out in the community, however you can do that, is incredibly valuable.”

After a year and a half of virtual programming, the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art reopens its doors to the community Sept. 24 with free general admission and, serendipitously, a new exhibit. “HeartBound Ministries: Art from the Inside” — the very exhibit that helped inspire Peterson to teach at correctional facilities — will be the first exhibit that patrons can enjoy in person at the museum.

The show not only uplifts the voices of incarcerated artists, but sales and at-will donations from “Art from the Inside” will benefit HeartBound Ministry’s “Little Readers” program, which allows children of incarcerated parents to see and hear their parent reading to them via DVD.

Visit the museum’s website for more information on exhibits, new hours and directions.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email