I understood from my dreams last night that I would write about something different today, but what? By the time I reached Sippin’ Internet Café on Eaton Street in Old Town Key West, my “office,” so to speak, I was getting a glimmer that it would have to do with artistic expression. Opening my email account, I found an email from Lynne Vantriglia, accompanied by this just below:
June 23rd, 2008: Press release: for immediate publication
Former participants of Art Behind Bars, the art-based community service program for inmates, are pleased to announce an event to honor the program that helped them turn their lives around. There will be a party at the Oldest House Museum, 322 Duval Street, Key West, on Sunday, June 29th, from 1-5 p.m. There will be food, entertainment, creative activities for children, a fifty-fifty raffle, a show of Art AFTER Bars, and more. Admission is $10; cash bar.
This event is to honor and celebrate the volunteers and staff of the organization that has touched the lives of so many participants and their families, as well as the community at large. According to event organizer Melinda Mitchell, “I want to celebrate and honor the Founder, Board Members and Volunteers of Art Behind Bars that have so freely given their time and support to us participants. We are holding a benefit to give back and support keeping the program alive; I need your help in making this endeavor successful.”
Program founder and art teacher Lynne Vantriglia has served as mentor to many people making the difficult transition from jail back into the community. Most recently, in May, former participant Candy Mense graduated from FKCC with honors in addiction therapy. Art Behind Bars was the highest-scoring program in the state of Florida at a recent review of Art in Education programs, out of 66 programs state-wide, and has been invited to have a show at the Division of Cultural Affairs headquarters in Tallahassee this coming September.
This has been a year of milestones for the program. It conducted its 1,000th class in March, has served 7,250 students since 1994, [850 in the last year alone], and donated artwork valued at $94,000 to 370 non-profit organizations. For more information about the program or the event, visit www.artbehindbars.org or phone 830-377-3299.
What I, Sloan, know from Lynne Vantriglia about Art Behind Bars, which is not precisely stated in the Press Release, is that Art Behind Bars inmates at the detention center on Stock Island have a lower recidivism rate than the rest of the Florida inmate population. In fact, Art Behind Bars has a lower inmate recidivism rate than any other Florida inmate-help program. Furthermore, there is a considerable waiting list to get into the Arts Behind Bars program. Beyond all of that, Art Behind Bars produces a great deal of one-of-a-kind greeting/post cards, which it donates to different organizations.
And, as you see from the Press Release, there is an Art AFTER Bars program for its graduates. I own two wonderful pieces by graduate Candy Mense, mentioned in the Press Release. The second piece of hers that I purchased is called “When Pigs Fly,” and a reproduction of it hangs in the office of Key West City Commissioner Teri Johnston. I own several other pieces from the these amazing programs, all of which, frankly, I believe are masterpieces. I do not own the masterpiece that heads this post because I did not know Lynne Vantriglia or about Art Behind Bars when that piece was done. And I didn’t have an money; I was homeless. A different kind of bars to be behind, I suppose. But then, who isn’t behind some kind of bars? Who isn’t?
I’m sure I have left out other important aspects of what these two amazing art programs do, but just on the face of what I wrote above, one would assume that Art Behind Bars is having money thrown at it, to help it keep up the good work and increase its outreach to more inmates. Such is not the case. Lynne Vantriglia several times has told me that Art Behind Bars is at the bottom of the philanthropic food chain in the Keys, that it’s a constant struggle to find enough money to keep the programs going, and that she spends far too much time scrounging for money and not nearly enough time working with inmates. Not nearly enough time.
I hope every person who reads this post will join me with their checkbooks at the Oldest House Museum this coming Sunday afternoon. This is one human family we ALL need to support.