The Power of Art in the Prison Space

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Antonia Bernal Medaleno, CSU student

Emotions surfaced as the people of Fort Collins gathered at the Museum of Art for the opening night of exhibitions “To See Inside: Art, Architecture, and Incarceration” and “Henry Hargreaves: A Year of Killing,” on January 25th, 2024.  Artists who are formerly incarcerated, such as Sean Marshall and Shawna Hockaday, made their appearance as their work hung on the walls of the museum. “The reason this exhibit to me means so much is because art literally saved my life. It was the only thing that kept me afloat in such a dark atmosphere,” said Marshall as he proudly stood in front of the room. Sarah McKenzie, artist, and organizer of the exhibition met Marshall through an organization with the University of Denver Prison Arts Initiative (DU PAI) after his release in early 2023. The museum featured three of his pieces including “Crumbling.” McKenzie also met Hockaday in 2023 through a drawing class she was teaching at La Vista Correctional Facility in Pueblo. “I didn’t know I could draw as good as I can,” said Hockaday as she thanked McKenzie for inspiring her to get out of her box. Hockaday used color in her piece “Locked Out,” which is new to her as she tends to stick with black and gray. Among their work, the exhibition also includes pieces from artists who are currently incarcerated, “No matter how dark it gets, they continue to create art and tell stories, and the beautiful thing about tonight is so rarely does that get to be seen by the public,” said Dr. Ashely Hamilton. Hamilton is a part of Artistic Justice (AJ), which works across different artistic and academic mediums and operates alongside DU PAI. McKenzie’s overall vision is for us to see inside. “The title is an invitation to all of you to look into a system that we’re not really meant to see that is designed to not been seen by the majority of people in American society,” said McKenzie.

Photo Credit: Antonia Bernal Medaleno

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