Creative inmates at the Northland Region Corrections Facility are stoked to have scooped an award at this year's Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards.
The Redemption Performing Arts Whānau and Redemption Arts Tuakana Teina Mentors won the Arts Access Corrections Whai Tikanga award which was announced online on October 13.
Both programmes are run by art tutor Beth Hill of Redemption Arts and are being held up as an example for other prisons to follow due to their positive impact on inmates.
Though NRCF has won Arts Access awards before, this is the first time an award has gone directly to the prisoners.
Hill said the men involved in the programmes span all units within Ngāwhā prison. They were "thrilled" when they found out about the win, she said.
"It builds their confidence," she said. "It gives what they're doing added value."
Hill has been a champion of arts and education at the Ngāwhā prison since 2013, after graduating from NorthTec with an arts degree.
She established her businesses Redemption Arts and Education Services and contracts to the prison.
The art programme includes theatre, creative writing, art history, painting, printmaking, sculpture, graphic design and music.
The mentoring programme was established in 2018 and gives the men an opportunity to share whatever skills they have with each other such as literacy and numeracy, kapa haka, te reo, music or weaving.
An inmate involved in both programmes, Marvel*, said mentoring his fellow inmates on artistic techniques and reassuring them they're on the right path was "fulfilling".
"It gives me a sense of purpose," he said.
"It's always good to have some skills to pass on to someone else and watch them grow from that."
Marvel works with textiles to create stunning artworks and he also writes poetry and takes part in whakairo (art carving) workshops.
The art programme benefits him in a host of ways, he said.
"It's very therapeutic; it's a really good way to spend your time when you're reflecting on things and watching that translate through your work.
"It's fantastic that Beth has been acknowledged [for the programmes].
"A lot of people don't realise how much work goes into the programme as a whole and the amount of work that makes it happen."
The annual Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards celebrate the achievements of individuals and organisations which provide opportunities for people with limited access to engage with the arts.
They also recognise the achievements of an artist with a disability, sensory impairment or experience of mental illness.
Executive director Richard Benge said access to the arts is a fundamental human right.
"During these difficult times of a global pandemic, we know that the arts and creativity offer a valuable pathway to mental health and wellbeing."
It's not the first time Ngāwhā corrections facility has won Arts Access awards.
In 2016, the prison received the Arts Access Corrections Leadership award for its innovative, comprehensive arts and cultural programme.
Two years later, Hill scooped two more awards; the Arts Access Accolade and the Arts Access Corrections Māui Tikitiki a Taranga award.
The men had
a whānau event to celebrate their recent success and to officially receive their trophy.
It was held at the prison on Friday
and featured a performance, spoken word event and waiata.
The power of art
Since Riot* got involved in Northland Region Corrections Facility's art programme a year ago, he's discovered a hidden talent and found a new path.
He first picked up a paintbrush after transferring from Auckland prison to Ngāwhā and the 39-year-old, who's spent his entire adult life behind bars, is grateful for the opportunity.
"I've come to the stage where I've had enough," he said.
"This is the part where a lot of career criminals realise what's happening in their lives and that they've got to grow up.
"Art helps me express myself; it's a coping mechanism now, when I feel frustrated or stressed or anxious. It's benefited me spiritually and mentally."
Riot is also a mentor in the prison's Redemption Tuakana Teina Mentors programme.
When the Northern Advocate visited the art room on Monday
, he was putting the finishing touches on two paintings which reflect his whakapapa; an Egyptian-themed painting and an elaborate Māori koru.
Painting has allowed him to have "more sunshine and more interaction" in his life.
"It's more social, and I've learned a lot about painting," he said.
"It's helped me laugh and get my sense of humour back. It helped me be better for my children. They can see the change."
Riot has also written the play which was
performed at Friday's whānau event to celebrate winning the Arts Access award.
*Note: Inmates' names have been changed to protect their identity.