Most Hawke's Bay prisoners don't think much of art when they first meet Nicola Scotland.

But by the time they get to know her, many have become empowered by it.

Scotland started teaching visual art in the Hawke's Bay Regional Prison (HBRP) two-and-a- half years ago in the youth and Māori focus unit.

Earlier this month she received the Highly Commended citation, in the Maui Tikitiki a Taranaga Award, at the Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2019.

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The award judges were impressed with the work Scotland had done with the inmates.

"The standard of Nic Scotland's arts delivery in Hawke's Bay Regional Prison is excellent and her work with the Youth Unit is award-winning.

"Nic works collaboratively to achieve great results; is innovative in promoting the prisoners' artwork; and is able to make things happen."

Scotland, who has had 193 men on art projects she has taught over the last two years, with 62 in high security, said she finds the work she does with them incredibly rewarding.

"I've taught secondary school art for 20-plus years. I jumped at this opportunity.

"We provide them the space, resources, time and tutor for them to have the opportunity to create personal work, either for themselves or their family.

"It's not just about colours on a page," Scotland said.

Based in the prison's Youth Unit, she runs the Life Skills and Reintegration Programme, and teaches the Young Enterprise Scheme group, home economics, and art.

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"They get a sense of pride in the piece of work for their family, a sense of pride for when their work is up in the unit."

Scotland teaches visual art every week to 70 men across five units who are all involved in art projects around HBRP.

She empowers them with a sense of identity, wairua and an ability to communicate in a positive and meaningful way.

Whanaungatanga (kinship) underpins each class. The men have a sense of ownership of the projects and their contribution to the site community.

"It's a safe space where the guys can sit down as a whānau group, and for each of the units to work together.

"The conversations and discussions in that space creates a positive environment.

"At the beginning of their journey, a painting is just of an object – something they can see. As their self-expression develops, their art changes and starts telling stories based on kaupapa values, whakapapa and identity."

Scotland has led a group of young men to write and creatively illustrate an anti-bullying resource with related raps called Can You Relate?

Their project went on to win the Resilience category of the Young Enterprise Scheme's National Excellence Awards. The resource is being sold nationally and supported by Bullying Free NZ.

She also brings community mentors into the prison, including musicians, sportspeople and actors, to support the youth.

"I see pro-social benefits that come with it. It helps create a positive identity for the inmates to be known for something other than their offence."