California Arts Council

State of California

Press Release Detail

June 05, 2014Caitlin Fitzwater

Arts-in-Corrections Programs Return to California State Prisons

California Arts Council announces contract awards for organizations providing rehabilitative arts services in state correctional facilities, in partnership with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Sacramento -

Today, the California Arts Council awarded contracts to seven organizations for Arts-in-Corrections programs in fourteen state correctional facilities. Arts-in-Corrections services will be provided by The Actors' Gang, Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Dance Kaiso, Marin Shakespeare Company, Muckenthaler Cultural Center, Silicon Valley Creates*, and the William James Association.

This Arts-in-Corrections pilot program is made possible by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which committed $1 million to add structured, contracted Arts-in-Corrections programs in selected state prisons. CDCR is also committed to a second year of support, providing $1.5 million for fiscal year 2014-15. The funds are administered by the California Arts Council. Both CDCR and the California Arts Council have a long history of providing arts programs in correctional facilities.

"Arts engagement is a valuable rehabilitation method that can provide positive change for inmates and for communities across our state," said Wylie Aitken, Chair of the California Arts Council. "The Arts Council is pleased to award contracts to these exceptional organizations, in partnership with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The arts are a powerful tool that can address many of the challenges facing the state of California."

"Structured arts programs have proven results," said CDCR Secretary Jeff Beard. "Not only are inmates channeling their energy into constructive, creative projects, they are also learning new skills and expressing themselves in positive ways."

The Arts-in-Corrections programs will offer an array of performing, literary and visual arts disciplines, such as theater, music, dance, creative writing, poetry, storytelling, painting, and drawing.

The Actors' Gang is among the contracted organizations. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Tim Robbins, The Actors' Gang Prison Project has been providing rehabilitative theatre arts programming in CDCR facilities since 2006, but will be receiving public funds for the first time through this pilot program.

Robbins stated, "The Actors' Gang Prison Project is overjoyed to be a recipient of the newly reinstated state funding for Arts-in-Corrections. We are grateful that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has recognized the deep value of the work we are doing to facilitate transformation and lower recidivism rates while saving taxpayers money."

He continued, "The Prison Project welcomes new organizations to the movement to reform the prison system and thanks existing arts organizations that have campaigned with us for many years to bring back effective arts rehabilitation. With the support of the California Arts Council, we are excited to continue to expand and deepen the work we have been doing successfully for eight years in California."

Incarcerated for 38 years and released in 2009, Guillermo Willie participated in previous Arts-in-Corrections programs at various California state prisons. He shared, "When I finally made a conscious decision to change my life and become a better human being, one of the factors that played a role in my decision was the fact that I wanted to paint, I wanted to be able to use paint brushes - I wanted to be an artist. I did not want to be the bum, the fool I had been for so many years. Arts-in-Corrections changes people. It changed me."

Contracted services will be provided as follows:

- Service facilities: Los Angeles Region - California Institution for Men, California Institution for Women, and California Rehabilitation Center
- Project summary: The Actors' Gang, under the leadership of Artistic Director Tim Robbins, launched The Actors' Gang Prison Project in 2006. For the past eight years, experts from The Actors' Gang have provided privately-funded theatre arts programming in CDCR facilities. The current programming of the Actor's Gang Prison Project will now expand to new institutions, providing theatre arts and technical theatre programming to inmates.
- Contract award: $112,000 Note: This project is a major expansion of ongoing work in coordination with CDCR, with funds awarded through the State's Non-Competitive Bid process.

- Service facilities: Central Valley Region - Kern Valley State Prison and California State Prison - Corcoran
- Project summary: Master teaching artists of traditional expressions will provide four residencies, with a focus on: Chicano theater and music; Mexican Jarcho music, dance, and verse; drawing; and storytelling.
- Contract award: $90,621

- Service facility: Central Coast Region - Salinas Valley State Prison
- Project summary: Teaching artists will conduct Caribbean drum/percussion and dance classes taught in a geographical, historical, and cultural context, culminating in a final presentation.
- Contract award: $30,900

- Service facilities: San Francisco Bay Region - San Quentin State Prison and California State Prison - Solano
- Project summary: Marin Shakespeare Company's successful "Shakespeare at San Quentin" theater program will expand, and a new program will launch at Solano Prison, with classes focused on the creation of original autobiographical theatre pieces written and performed by inmates, inspired by themes chosen from Shakespeare.
- Contract award: $51,671

- Service facilities: Central Valley Region - Kern Valley State Prison, California State Prison - Corcoran, Substance Abuse Training Facility - Corcoran, Valley State Prison, Pleasant Valley State Prison
- Project summary: Performance artists will provide intensive mini-residencies in music and theater, culminating in a live performance for staff and family members, involving stories, monologues, scenes, and other theatrical pieces.
- Contract award: $44,605

- Service facility: Central Coast Region - Salinas Valley State Prison
- Project summary: Inmates will participate in workshops focused on the creative process and tools and techniques of improvisational theatre.
- Contract award: $30,060

* Silicon Valley Creates was awarded this contract in lieu of the original applicant, San Jose Repertory Theatre; project description, services rendered, principal staff and award amount remained identical to submitted proposal.


-  Project Summary: The William James Association (WJA) has a 37-year history in Arts-in-Corrections and has worked with the California Department of Corrections, the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the California Department of Mental Health, and various local-government correctional and educational facilities. WJA will provide Arts-in-Corrections services in a wide variety of arts disciplines (music, visual arts, theater, storytelling, and others) in the following facilities:

Pelican Bay State Prison
California State Prison - Sacramento
San Quentin State Prison
Valley State Prison, Chowchilla
Pleasant Valley State Prison, Coalinga
Kern State Prison
California State Prison - Corcoran
Substance Abuse Treatment Facility - Corcoran
Salinas Valley State Prison
Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility

While WJA is the principal contractor, the organization has developed partnerships with various local arts agencies throughout the state to provide programming for this contract. WJA intends to provide mentorship and technical assistance and help prepare these organizations for applying for funding and providing services on their own in the future. Official partners include:

Del Norte Association for Cultural Awareness
Arts Council of Kern
Fresno Arts Council

Additional arts organizations providing expert artists through the WJA contract, include:

Jail Guitar Doors 
Playwrights Project 
Project PAINT (The Prison Arts INiTiative) working with the Oceanside Museum of Art 
Marin Shakespeare Company

- William James Association cumulative contract award: $468,764


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Media Resources

  • Interviews: The following parties are available for interviews:

- Wylie Aitken, Chair - California Arts Council

- Jack Bowers, Chair, Board of Directors - William James Association

- Alma Robinson, Executive Director - California Lawyers for the Arts

- Dr. Larry Brewster, Professor and Arts-in-Corrections Researcher - University of San Francisco 

- Representatives from each funded organization and from CDCR

- Guillermo Willie, Arts-in-Corrections past-participant - Incarcerated 38 years, participated in arts programs at various California state prisons. Has been out for five years, now works as an artist and participates in theater programs.

Additional quote: "My thoughts are that arts provide a door for expression for young people who grew up with negativity from friends and family. Through art, they will find a way to express themselves with a group that accepts their expression in a positive manner. I could take my paintings out to the yard, and start a conversation with people who wouldn't have given me the time of day. All biases, prejudices would just go off to the side."


The Mission of the California Arts Council, a state agency, is to advance California through the arts and creativity. Members of the California Arts Council include: Chair Wylie Aitken, Vice Chair Susan Steinhauser, Michael Alexander, Christopher Coppola, Donn K. Harris, Charmaine Jefferson, William Turner, and Rosalind Wyman. Learn more at

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