Beauty beyond bars: University of Arizona program helps showcase inmates’ artwork

Updated: Feb. 4, 2020 at 10:35 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Thanks to a partnership between a local prison and the University of Arizona Museum of Art, inmates are able to share their creations beyond their cells.

“I found artwork as a means of escape to kind of get out — get out of my head, get out of this environment,” said Bruce Ward, an inmate at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Tucson.

When he puts pencil to paper, Ward said he feels free, despite spending more than a decade behind bars.

“That’s a story I try to gloss over, but [I went to prison for an] aggravated assault,” he said. “I’m no longer the person I was when I was [first] incarcerated, the person who committed that crime.”

Ward said he found a new identity and purpose in prison.

“People like to tell me that they can’t draw a stick man, but it’s the same thing. I started with zero ability,” he said.

Ward has come a long way since then, picking up techniques from other inmates over the years and getting resourceful with materials. His work is now at the level of an advanced artist.

He isn’t the only one at the Whetstone unit with talent. Several inmates turned the walls of their visitation room into a colorful collage.

Curators at the UA Museum of Art believe state prisoners artwork should see the light of day. That’s why staff gathered 21 pieces from the complex in Tucson and put them on display at the “Hobby Craft” exhibition. It’s where two drawings by Ward are now drawing attention.

“Having an exhibition in this space legitimizes what it means to be an artist,” said Chelsea Farrar, the curator of community engagement at UA Museum of Art.

Chances are Ward, and many of the artists featured, won’t get a chance to see his work at the exhibition or be able to witness the impact. But, Ward said that doesn’t matter to him.

“I [just] really appreciate the opportunity,” he said. “I want to go pro and it’s just a matter of time before I’ll get to hear their reactions or see their reactions on Facebook.”

Ward said he expects to be released this year.

The exhibition will be up until March 29. For information on hours and admission, visit the UA Museum of Art website.

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