Phoebe Bachman, a facilitator with Mural Arts.

Artists incarcerated inside State Correctional Institute Phoenix, in suburban Montgomery County just outside Philadelphia, collaborated with their counterparts inside San Quentin Rehabilitation Center, near San Francisco, California, to stage an art exhibition.

“The View From Here” has been on view at Paradigm Gallery in Philadelphia’s Old City. “The View From Here” will be on display from May 4th-June 3rd. Opening reception is on Tuesday, May 7th. The event is set for Thursday, May 23 from 6:30pm – 8:30pm in the Creekside Room.

Marin Poetry Center presents work by San Quentin writers in collaboration with William James Association and Portal Writing Workshop. Writing of people who live or have lived at San Quentin will be read by friends, family, or the formerly incarcerated.

See also “The View From Here” on display May 4th-June 3rd. Opening reception is on Tuesday, May 7th.

“The View from Here” – a cross-country collaborative prison art exhibit between San Quentin and Philadelphia area SCI Phoenix state prison. Also on display will be “Needlework from San Quentin” featuring creative work from a new and surprising program.

The bicoastal show features over 40 pieces by 23 artists serving sentences of various lengths. The artists communicated with one another through letters, many of them written longhand and delivered via two organizations operating art programs inside each facility: Mural Arts Philadelphia and the William James Association.

“We’re not allowed to bring paper inside the prison,” said Phoebe Bachman, a facilitator with Mural Arts. “Which is very hard as an art program.”

“The View From Here” will be on display on the third floor of the Paradigm Gallery until March 24. Afterwards, it will travel to the Bay Area, where it will be exhibited at the Mill Valley Library and then at the Richmond Art Center.

When the show travels to the Bay Area next week, Ramirez hopes to go with it, and meet the guys in San Quentin he has only known through letters.

“I hope to go out there and visit them personally,” he said. “And thank them for giving me this glimpse into their world that I had to imagine.”

Bachman described a system by which letters written by men in San Quentin, for example, would be scanned by the facilitators of the William James Association and emailed to Bachman, who would then forward them to officials inside Phoenix and request they print them out in the prison offices.

“There are certain limitations about being someone who is currently incarcerated reaching out to someone else who is currently incarcerated,” Bachman said. “We tried to circumnavigate that by using the art programs to create this through-line for correspondence.”

Due to the difficulty of putting incarcerated people in direct contact with people held in other facilities, “The View From Here” is unique even among prison art exhibitions.

“It opened up interest in the exhibit, because they knew it was an unusual collaboration,” said Carol Newborg, who manages the art program in San Quentin for the William James Association. She has been teaching art in California prisons since 1983. “We actually have a lot of shows going on, and not everybody does work for every show,” she said. “But a number of guys were interested in working for this context.”

Most of the letters, which are on view in the art exhibition, are introductory, announcing themselves to other artists who are strangers. They describe prison conditions, the resources available to make art and a little insight into what compels them to create.

“Art, for me, is not a hobby. It is to me a form of rehabilitation,” wrote Jeffrey Isom of San Quentin, who has been incarcerated for 19 years.


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