The Collegian
Monday, April 15, 2024

School of Law displays works by incarcerated artists

<p>A plaque outside the University of Richmond School of Law on Sept. 24, 2022.</p>

A plaque outside the University of Richmond School of Law on Sept. 24, 2022.

In a recent installation, the University of Richmond School of Law displayed paintings created by incarcerated artists to celebrate Days of Empathy from March 17 through March 29. 

Day of Empathy is a nationwide annual event that advocates for criminal justice reform in the United States. This year, the UR School of Law participated by displaying paintings from Art for the Journey, a nonprofit organization in Richmond that uses art as a pathway for prisoners in the Virginia Correctional Center for Women. The installation also includes a small display of art by Shawn Chick, an incarcerated client of the law school’s Children’s Defense Clinic. 

Jamie Wigginton, director of programs at Art for the Journey, was excited for the art to be seen. She has been with the program since its beginning in 2014 and has been able to watch it grow, as the women involved can use this class as a retreat and sometimes even find a new talent. 

“It’s amazing to watch these women go from not knowing how to draw shapes to being landscapists,” Wigginton said. 

Programs that cater to people in prison have to battle through tight security, lack of funding and sometimes unwelcoming prison staff. Getting supplies and volunteers into these facilities is almost impossible at times. Even when they manage to do this, volunteers are still reliant on the prison staff to call the women for class, which they often don't, Wigginton explained. 

Wigginton and her colleagues will continue to advocate for the women in the program.

“It could be any of us,” she said. “I feel like even though they’ve made mistakes and they’ve done something wrong, they still deserve to be treated like humans.” 

Chick was sentenced to serve life plus 23 years in prison at the age of 17 on a charge of first-degree murder. For the last 28 years, he has spent his time painting and reading books in the prison library. He has also obtained his GED diploma while incarcerated.  The Children's Defense Clinic is urging for his release with no results yet. 

Izzy Longstaff, the student program manager for the Carrico Center for Pro Bono & Public Service, asked Chick to make a few pieces for the installation because she knew he was artistic. She was unable to obtain the physical art but have displayed scanned photocopies. 

“Something that was eye-opening was how challenging it is to get in contact with incarcerated people and how hard it was to obtain this artwork,” Longstaff said. 

According to Longstaff, the installation has been well-received by students and staff. 

“It was really cool coming to school Monday because I was able to watch people stop by and read the stories, and it was a really nice feeling to have,” she said. 

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The UR School of Law typically uses written essays as the display for Days of Empathy. This is the first year art has been used, and it was a great success, said Kim Edwards, director of technology services.

“We would love to keep working with the community to always have an art exhibit here,” she added. 

Moving forward, the law school would like to work with the women more directly and continue to display their works, Longstaff said.

Contact lifestyle writer Abigail Finney at abigail.finney@richmond.edu.

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