Art project at Dartmoor Prison gives prisoners and artist, Sara Downham-Lotto, a shared sense of purpose and hope during Covid.
Abstract painter Sara Downham-Lotto is leader of Arts Lab’s ‘Prisoners Sharing the Light’, an art project for 20 male prisoners at HMP Dartmoor, started in April 2020 as a response to the Covid crisis. Funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and the Prison, the project addresses the immediate needs of prisoners adapting to contact restrictions, solitarily locked up in cells up to 23 hours a day. ‘Sharing the Light’ provides a creative outlet and helps reduce the increasing sense of isolation and anxiety amongst male prisoners. What makes this project special is that participants are given the opportunity to express themselves through art whilst learning about abstract art by creating work collaboratively with a professional artist. Sara brings inclusive art teaching and facilitation through weekly briefs delivered to each prisoner in brown envelopes. Each week has a different theme, such as ‘What Matters to Me’, ‘Blue’, ‘View from my Cell’ and ‘Black & White’.
Every week, envelopes are returned to Sara filled with art. In her studio, she then empties the contents of each package and arranges them into collages – both manually and digitally – 20 in all. The work is then photographed and sent to the local printer where it is made into posters. The posters are returned to each prisoner with their weekly packages, as a positive reminder of shared creative purpose and to help brighten their cell walls.
‘At a time when creativity is becoming increasingly valued as a force for good, I have a clear sense of purpose: to use abstract art to inspire creative thinking and transformation across communities, whilst growing her own practice as a painter. For me, art and teaching are interconnected practices – the one feeding the other. People and process-led and experimental in approach, I work primarily with paper and mixed media. My collage technique, layering material from workshops and discarded paintings, emits an upbeat joyousness through colour, bold, abstract forms and repeating pattern. Each work then becomes a palimpsest of my own and others’ past experiences in the act of making art.’
Trained in Fine Art and Art History in London, Manchester and Glasgow, Sara has been painting, exhibiting and teaching art for over 30 years in the UK and abroad. In 2016, she founded Arts Lab CIC to consolidate her lifetime’s work into a model to benefit wider audiences and collaborators. Her belief is that art, the great leveller, should be accessible to everyone for its extremely positive impact on people’s lives.
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