The Great Prison Art Exchange

The Great Prison Art Exchange is a collaborative project between HMP Dartmoor, HMP Exeter, the community and Dartington Arts Lab. It was conceived in December 2017 by Amanda Sherriff, Voluntary Sector Co-ordinator for HMP Dartmoor and HMP Exeter, and Sara Downham-Lotto of Arts Lab, Dartington.

The aim is to convey a positive message of hope and opportunity to permeate prison and community spaces with collaboratively created artwork. Lead by artist and Arts Lab director Sara Downham-Lotto, interior spaces of both prisons will be transformed to create a sense of calm and beauty. Through a mass exchange of ‘inside-out’ ‘outside-in’ artwork facilitated by Arts Lab, prisoners, prison officers, schools, colleges and other members of the community will be involved in this exciting revitalisation.

Induction workshop Part 1 for the project was in mid January. Sara spent an afternoon with Amanda Sherriff and the Outside In Group of prisoners at Dartmoor. The time was spent doing some collaborative painting and opening up the project proposal for discussion with the prisoners. Conversation was animated and there was no question about an enthusiasm for prisoner involvement at all levels. Says one of the prisoners: “It’s a novel idea that I think has great promise. If we can get people engaged and involved, I think the project will be inundated with those wanting to submit work to be displayed. Furthermore, we’re enthusiastic about ‘outside’ work being brought in and displayed. I’m most excited about seeing the works both inmates and the wider community produce and how they are intepreted and absorbed. This is a very exciting project and I think it will be well recieved.  Happy days. Thanks”.


  • To improve relations between prisons, prisoners and prison staff and the wider community – both local and national
  • To challenge ‘us’ and ‘them’ preconceptions and ‘build bridges’
  • To create a sense of hope and optimisim amongst offenders of a life outside of prison
  • To instil a sense of importance and pride in the physical environment of a prison
  • To revamp/decorate areas of the prison to reflect overarching ethos of value and respect

Induction workshop Part 2 was to establish a steering group and action plan for the project with prison heads of Education and Development, senior prison officers and Amanda Sherriff from EDP Drugs & Alcohol. This was held at the start of February in the studio at Arts Lab. A significant part of the day was devoted to experiencing the art practice at first hand and discussion around prisoner needs and involvement. The depth of understanding and empathy for life inside and the optimism for the potential impact of the project was very strongly felt. Each of us went away with an action to make this happen …. and soon!