Prison Residencies 2021 – Evaluation Report
A group of 13 female artists have been inspired by the historic records of Shepton Mallet Prison, including “crimes” such as being a Suffragette or the theft of butter. Artists were to develop individual research and art practice alongside other selected female artists. The Artist Residencies are set in the cells of C-Wing, the former women’s Wing. Each artist will have the opportunity to create new works exploring a historical timeline of women’s incarceration and respond to topics such as: Victorian women within the prison system including the Suffragettes held at Shepton Mallet prison, the official and unofficial postal service within the prison and what impact this had on women’s mental health, their lives, their families and their communities while being confined within the 75 ft high prison walls.
In 2019, Luminara co-curated and was a contributing artist of the well-received ‘B-Wing’ exhibition set within Shepton Mallet prison. The project was funded by the Art Council England as well as other funders including Hauser & Wirth Somerset.
Despite the unprecedented events of the past year, Luminara has been determined to continue developing ideas for future art projects at the prison. Starting in Autumn 2021 and in partnership with artist and curator Amanda Lynch, plans were developed to create exciting, sustainable and ongoing arts and culture events with opportunities for artists nationally and internationally set in the unique venue of prison.
Luminara invited Amanda to work together as co-curators establishing the first of its kind, Prison Residencies. As Amanda worked remotely, responsibly was split up jointly: Amanda taking care of online commitments, website production and online organisation. Luminara took on responsibility to be physically present within the residency, working with the community and visitors who attended.
Amanda worked remotely forming the website into a living diary with daily updates from artists as their work developed throughout the residencies via photographs and video content. Amanda took responsibility of the remote working artists, with phone calls, emails and WhatsApp groups. Luminara was physically on site working with the artists, the press and the prison team. Luminara and artists had face to face contact with school groups, university students and general members of the public who visited over the course of the 16 days. Social media, press and publicity was Amanda and Luminara managing this daily to give the project as much promotion as possible. Artists where on site from 11am – 4pm daily over the 16 days.
By using the setting within the prison, we focused on the female history. Working only with women to encourage female artist growth within the local community as well as from other parts of the UK. Our aim is to bring residency programmes to unusual spaces, offering artists a new and different way of working, moving the focus from sitting in one’s studio to an environment that could be challenging yet a space for thriving artistically.
The project was a huge success with artists producing a body of work in response to the prison and its history. Artists found it a valuable experience to create work within the prison setting. It was a unique opportunity to showcase their work and gain feedback from visitors to the prison, some of whom would not usually visit art galleries or speak with artists. The overnight stay for some of the artists was a good opportunity to see their work in a new context (at night with little light entering each cell).
Below are just a few of the wonderful comments we received over the course of the Prison Residencies, it is always great to hear people’s thoughts and feelings about their experience and we are very thankful for any comments or feedback received.
“I’ve appreciated the ways in which the artists are engaging with the space and inviting visitors to do so also”
“Fascinating place to learn the history of the building. Thank you to the artists for welcoming us to share their work”
“Fascinating and unnerving – will be back. Thank you”
“Very Interesting and thought-provoking”
“Wonderful to see a residency in such an interesting space and to see so much work from female artists all together”.
“Wonderfully thought provoking and inspiring”
“Amazing Collaboration of artists – very powerful.”
“Educational, interesting insight into the history of the prison and had a fascinating meeting with one of the artists in residence, who’d produced some good, thought-provoking work.”
“Fabulous venue for such inspiring work. Loved everything particularly Carrie Mason and Victoria Bone -Thank you for sharing your practice with me – LOVED IT!”
“Fascinating collection, really insightful”
“Thoughtful, insightful, political”
“Thoughtful, respectful, inspiring and dynamic – Well done all.”
A big thank you to Jason King who shot the photography and videography for the event. Check out his Instagram page: @makelifevisible