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Old Gold & Black

Old Gold & Black

Senior Katie Harmon joins inmates in art exhibit 

Katie+Harmon+teaching+art+class+at+a+local+county+jail.
Katie Harmon teaching art class at a local county jail.

WOFFORD STUDENT COMBINES THERAPEUTIC ART LESSONS AND COMMUNITY SERVICE TO HELP RAISE FUNDS FOR ART PROGRAM AT SPARTANBURG COUNTY DETENTION CENTER

Wofford College senior Katie Harmon, an art his- tory major and studio art minor from St. Louis, Mo., didn’t expect to be working in a jail. As a Bonner Scholar who is required to spend 10 hours a week in community service, however, Harmon, goes where the need is greatest.

“I worked in the Northside of Spartanburg for three and a half years, mostly with an after school program at the Northwest Recreation Center,” says Harmon. “This past fall, Haley Guss, the AmeriCorps

Vista at the Spartanburg County Detention Center, asked for Wofford students who were potentially interested in working with therapeutic arts. Dr. Karen Goodchild [Department Chair of Art and Art History] referred me to Haley, and from there, we began corresponding and eventually started the program.”

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Harmon held the first therapeutic art class in No- vember 2014 in conjunction with four marriage and family therapists from the West Gate Family Therapy Institute. The purpose is to help inmates work through the ideas of restorative justice.

“Restorative justice is more forgiveness-based as opposed to the standard retributive justice, which is punishment-based,” says Harmon. “We’re fo- cused on helping inmates find some positive means of communication so that they can more positively deal with the crime that they’ve committed and learn about forgiveness. We try to show them that, yes, you did something wrong, and you’re working with the consequences, but you have a future be- yond this.”

According to Harmon, the program switches be- tween lessons on art history and therapy sessions, but the overarching focus is on areas of personal development and forward and positive thinking. The marriage and family therapists are striving to lower inmate depression and anxiety rates through the therapy session. The art history aspect provides additional lessons on people and events from the past that can serve as models of behavior.

“The majority of the inmates are below a high- school reading level and have never been exposed to artists like van Gogh or Matisse. But now, they can see works and register them, so we’re build- ing this base of artistic and cultural knowledge that they can come back and use,” says Harmon. “Now they know who Nelson Mandela is, who Picasso is, and they can refer to these people and their con- tributions to the world and can translate them to their own life. The inmates have especially been inspired by the quote ‘Do not judge my by my suc- cesses, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again’ from Nelson Mandela.”

Currently, the Therapeutic Arts Program is raising

money in order to sustain the program. Many of the inmates have donated their work to be auctioned off. A portion of the proceeds will go back into buy- ing supplies for the program at the detention cen- ter and the rest of the funds will go to the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network. The SCVAC provides funds to victims of crime so that they can have access to advocates and other necessities.

“The inmates I work with are so excited with the process. They know their art is being used to positively help others, and they take pride knowing that they are making money that can go back to the advocacy group,” says Harmon. “Through this pro- gram, the most important thing I’ve taken away is that everyone is human, and even though you’re in- carcerated or have done something wrong, you’re still a person. So many people commit crimes be- cause of other circumstances. They aren’t inherent- ly bad, they’re just trying to get by and don’t know how to do it in the right way.”

If interested in donating to the program, fun- draising has gone live at http://www.gofundme. com/SCDCarts. Once the $2,000 goal is reached, a selection of inmate art work will be framed and dis- played in the Martha Cloud Chapman Gallery along side pieces from Harmon’s collection. All of the art- work will be for sale during the exhibit.

An opening reception will be held on May 7 at 2-3:30pm. The event is free and open to the pub- lic. For more information visit scdctherapeuticarts. wordpress.com.

— Kelsey Aylor

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