Whanganui's Juanita Davis has received national recognition for her work teaching raranga (weaving) to men in Whanganui Prison.
Davis was highly commended in the Corrections Māui Tikitiki a Taranga Award category at the Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2021.
Following a successful pilot programme at the prison in 2018, Davis has been teaching raranga, along with the history of weaving, the protocols of harvesting the harakeke, and how to dye it.
The pilot programme was organised through Community Education Whanganui but since then Davis has been running the programme as a volunteer. However, she said in the past six or seven weeks she had received some funding from the Department of Corrections for the programme.
"It turned out to be very successful - the men absolutely love it," Davis said.
"It's great working with them. Sometimes I feel I learn more from them than they learn from me. It's about sharing that knowledge."
Davis is currently running four programmes and has 28 students but said she had lost count of how many men had been through the programme since 2018.
During the programme, the men learn to weave their own personal korowai which also involves learning about their culture, who they are and where they come from.
"Juanita's raranga programme with men in Whanganui Prison is a wonderful demonstration of the value of art and tikanga as a rehabilitative tool in Corrections facilities," the judges said in their comments.
"The men develop confidence and cultural connection, and the mana the men would have felt in wearing the korowai they had created is transformative."
Davis said at one graduation ceremony, the students had been allowed to invite their families.
"That was amazing. I'm hoping we will be able to do a bit more of that."
A small group of men, including a few from Davis' first group of students, have been learning to make wahakura (woven bassinets) for Whanganui District Health Board's Safe Sleep programme.
"They have really come a long way in their weaving but they [wahakura] have to pass my check first so we're about quality not quantity," Davis said.
They also make ipu whenua, woven containers for a baby's placenta.
Davis said she knew she had been nominated for the Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards but was surprised that "it turned out to be quite a big thing".
Art, Culture and Heritage Minister Carmel Sepuloni spoke at the awards ceremony at Te Papa.
"We all understand the power of the arts and creativity to transform our thinking; build new skills; increase our understanding and empathy; and simply make us feel better about ourselves and the world," Sepuloni said.
"It makes sense, therefore, that the arts can be a very powerful tool to support the rehabilitation of men and women in our prisons, and forge pathways to a positive, productive life.
"[The] recipients and those highly commended in the two Corrections Awards illustrate the passion, commitment, and innovation of those involved in their delivery. I've been told that the number and quality of nominations this year was outstanding, reflecting the impact of the work that Arts Access Aotearoa and the Arts in Corrections have been doing over many years."