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​Aboriginal art program helps connect the dots and creates “freedom” behind bars​​

​Issued: Wednesday, 21 September 2016

A correctional centre’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art studio, which was the first of its kind in Australia, is now helping inmates to continue practicing art after their release.

The Girrawaa Creative Work Centre’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art studio was opened by Corrective Services NSW in 1998.

The corrective Services Industries initiative aims to help Aboriginal inmates reconnect with their culture through art, and also to raise funds for the centre through art sales.

Located at Bathurst Correctional Centre, in the state’s Central West, the program encourages inmates to develop their art skills, build a portfolio and learn how to sell their works.

Girrawaa Creative Work Centre manager Bryan Reiri said with the financial support of the Bathurst Local Aboriginal Land Council they were now able to supply art materials and advice to former inmates.

“If they need art materials they call me and I organise for them to collect them from the Aboriginal Land Council,” Mr Reiri said.

“They can also send their artworks to Girrawaa to be framed. I always encourage them to call me when they’re out in the community - sometimes they just need to be reminded of Girrawaa and the skills and support they received here.

“Lowering recidivism rates is a tough one, but if we can teach them skill sets that they can use to supplement their income, they have a better chance of staying in the community.”

Apart from being reconnected to their culture through art, inmates learn how to commercially market their products. Works include paintings, sculpture, glass art and tourist favourites such as boomerangs and didgeridoos. Arts works can be commissioned and are available for purchase from $40 to $2,000 at the centre.

The centre also has a commercial contract to supply an arm of the Department of Education with framed artworks that are given as awards to gifted students, in place of the traditional plastic and glass trophies.

Proud Wiradjuri man, Justin, 35, has been at the centre for the past six months and said he found “peace and freedom” through art.

“You tend to lose yourself when you’re on the outside with the distractions of the world - I don’t really have any links with my community anymore, so I’m distracted by drugs and alcohol,” Justin said.

“I was brought up painting and learning my culture, it was just something we did, so at Girrawaa I feel peace and freedom when I paint. Even when you’re on the outside and actually free, you don’t feel that freedom.”

Fellow inmate and Wangkumarra man Ronnie, 32, agreed: “I was going through a rough time out there - as soon as we get out we just go back to our old problems and our old crew.

“Now with being able to call Bryan from the outside, he will be able to empower and help us in the community.”

Bryan Reira at GirrawaaGirrawaa centre manager Bryan Reiri in the art room.

Inmate Justin working on his painting.Inmate Justin working on his painting.

Inmate Ronnie working on his painting.Inmate Ronnie working on his painting.