Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bridging "inside" with "outside" in Gadsden, AL

Concrete, Steel & Paint’ is a documentary that explores the value of connecting prisoners with the outside community. Mario Gallardo—Director of the Walnut Street Gallery and a Professor in the Art Department at Gadsden State College, took this message to heart and brought it to life by inviting inmates from the Etowah County Jail in the SCTIF public screening at the Pitman Theatre in downtown Gadsden. We had screened the film in prisons before, and even had the opportunity to coordinate bringing the public to those events, but never has this happened in the reverse.
Close to 20 inmates attended the Saturday night event escorted by Sheriff Entrekin, who was also joined by his wife.
Following the screening, it was a little awkward at first navigating between two sides of the room, but the physical boundary seemed to breakdown as the conversation continued. More and more people chimed in … on “both sides” as we did a round robin to hear first impressions of the film. Words like hope, courage, thought-provoking, real, and inspiring were among some of the descriptives.
One gentleman asked: “Why are there prisoners and crime victims?” His thought was more of question meant to ponder what it is about our society that creates prisoners and crime victims, from a sociological standpoint.
A student, interested in art therapy, was riveted by the film – it gave her inspiration about the healing power of art. She commented on the fine line between prisoners and crime victims, between us and them, when you think about what we are all capable of and what can happen to anybody.
One of the incarcerated men was impressed by the courage of the partners to work together and see the project through.
The Sheriff talked about his restorative program approach, the importance of restitution and their mural painting projects.
The exchange opened up a bit when Bobby Welch, Executive Director of the Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts, asked the guys from the prison about coming out to visit and see the artwork there. While the questions were typically being addressed to me, Bobby broke the ice with this question. The Sheriff responded with an open invitation. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Gadsden has started its own planning for a ‘Healing Walls’ spin-off.
My hope, moving forward, is that we might replicate the audience diversity created in Gadsden, and find more opportunities for bringing the community together with people who are incarcerated.
This was a great start and has set a new precedent for the film’s potential to engage the very principles that it upholds – finding opportunities to bridge “inside” with “outside” and exploring the potential for what can happen in the exchange. Thank you, Mario and to all of the Gadsden partners (Mary G Hardin Center for Cultural Arts, Gadsden State Community College, Wallace Hall Fine Arts Center, Downtown Gadsden Incorporated).
The Historic Pitman Theatre in downtown Gadsden
screens 'Concrete, Steel & Paint'