An exhibition of artwork by incarcerated men

Prison Art Exhibition

An exhibition of artwork by incarcerated men at Avenal State Prison was on display at Fresno State’s Graduate Art Studios at the M Street Arts Complex in downtown Fresno from April 5-22, 2018.

The exhibition, “Insider Art: Exploring the Arts within Prison Environments,” showcased over 100 works including paintings, drawings, sculpture and small pieces of craft. All of the work was created by incarcerated individuals who are a part of the art programs at the male-only state prison just outside the town of Avenal.

Over the previous two years, Criminology Department chair, Dr. Emma Hughes, had established a relationship with the prison to give criminology students the opportunity to see how the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation operates.

Hughes was impressed by the murals around the prison created by incarcerated men, and she learned about the arts program.

“It seemed a shame that so much beautiful work and, really painstaking work, was being produced in this environment but that only a few people were getting to see it,” Hughes said. “And it just seemed really beneficial for people in the community to be able to see it and also for the men who had produced this work to have a wider audience for what they were accomplishing.”

Hughes partnered at Fresno State with the College of Social Sciences, the College of Arts and Humanities, the Center for Creativity and the Arts, the Department of Art and Design and Project Rebound to display the artwork at the Graduate Art Studios downtown.

The exhibition drew hundreds of people and was part of the Center for Creativity and the Arts’ theme for the year: “Voice and Silence: Expressions of the Human Spirit and Community.” It also featured taped performances by men who participate in the prison’s music program and the Actors’ Gang theater program.

Attendees had the opportunity to hear and see performances on monitors displayed in the gallery in which men talked about the impact the arts have had in their lives.

Photographs taken by Neil Chowdhury, photography assistant professor in the Department of Art and Design, gave insight into the arts inside the prison.



“Insider Art: Exploring the Arts Within Prison Environments, A Collection Work from Avenal State Prison” is the companion catalog to the exhibition, “Insider Art: Exploring the Arts Within Prison Environments” that was on display at M Street Graduate Studios in April.  The catalog is published by The Press at California State University, Fresno and was produced by the Center for Creativity and the Arts.

Dr. Cindy Urrutia, director of the Center for Creativity and the Arts, and Dr. Emma Hughes, chair of the Department of Criminology, edited the catalog. The book includes essays by Hughes, Urrutia and Rosemary Ndoh, the warden at Avenal State Prison; Lt. Doug Snell of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; and two of the incarcerated artists — Joseph Frye and Eric Bergen, both of whom have been central figures in organizing the art classes at Avenal.

The catalog can be purchased for $15 via Amazon or by contacting Gail Freeman on campus at 559.278.3056.