The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

April 6, 2014

Prisoners transform into artists

Should they benefit from their work?

EILEEN DUNAVAN
Commercial-News

— Imagine living in the space I am going to describe. It’s as small as the typical American bathroom, and contains little more than a bed, toilet, shelf, and personal possessions (which are limited). Death Row is not far from the cell you are living in and weighs constantly on your mind — with good reason. You have been convicted of killing a convenient store clerk for only $300.

You’ve been living here for a while, knowing that you’ll never walk through the door to freedom, never. What would you do?

 James Allridge, convicted of the crime I just spoke of, became an artist. Was he an artist before? Probably not, but he certainly became one. He began by drawing and drawing and kept going until he was able to produce many pieces of art for a rather nice fee. For many years he has been quietly helping to support his legal defense by selling his art on the Internet.

Allridge became rather famous after Susan Sarandon once came to the prison to see and speak to him. Their visit consisted of a discussion of Allridge being on Death Row and whether that was the punishment that should have been dealt. The rest of their discussion consisted of Allridge’s art, which Sarandon really liked. He became something he never could have conceived of being — a celebrity artist. After Sarandon’s visit, other celebrities began to show a keen interest in the man’s art.

I am going to leave you now to fix myself some warm tea, so perhaps you would like to fix yourself something warm as well. Be my guest!

OK, now let’s continue. As we all know in life, there are two sides to every story. “You can paint all you wish, you can draw all you want, but you should never be able to profit from anything you may produce while living on Death Row,” said Andy Kahn, director of Houston Victim Assistance Center. “Brian C. was murdered for a mere pittance of $300 and now his killer has gained fame because so many Hollywood celebrities visiting him because they are enamored of his art.”

According to Allridge, “My art gives me something productive and meaningful to do. It gives away a small part of me with each piece I create. I am giving back to society.” Of course, his many supporters wish his death sentence to be turned around and for life in prison to be handed down.

Here’s another viewpoint. David Atwood, a Texas death penalty activist and friend of Allridge’s, says Allridge never set out to raise money for his legal defense. His art is representative of his personal development. Isn’t that what we want all prisoners to do — develop to their greatest possibility?

Don’t we want them to become artists, writers, intellectuals? They shouldn’t be criticized for that. They should be applauded! Well, there’s a story to ponder for a while, and what your decision will be. Should inmates, (especially those on Death Row) be able to profit from any art they produce or should their money earned go elsewhere or to the victim’s family members?

Upcoming events

Now, I shall tell you about the goings-on at the Danville Art League First, there is always magic happening there. What can one expect from a building full of art and people who want to learn about art and learn as much as they can? I will give you gallery information as well as upcoming classes we will be having.

Gallery information

— May — I Sing the Body Electric

— June-July — Barbara Curtis McDonnell will bring her landscapes to us to view.

— August-September — There will be a members’ challenge, a “$5 Foot Long.” Artists buy a $5 wrap around canvas. The Art League will display the work and the public will be invited to buy the pieces for $25-$50. This should be great fun, both for the artists and the people who come to buy some very inexpensive art from people who have earned much more than $25-$50 for their art.

Workshops

— Saturday, April 12 — This will be a makeup for John Gabb’s workshop. There will be a still life set up and any media may be used. There will be a potluck.

— Saturday, May 10 — We will be “Painting in a Spring Garden” with Eleanor Wesch, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

— May 19, 20, 21 — The Southern Illinois Workshop once again will be held at the Dubois Center Camp (west of Mount Vernon). Two workshop classes will be held. You may choose one that you prefer.

— The Danville Art League is entertaining the thought of a plant sale, which would be held in April or May. We have not yet made a firm decision on this, so stay tuned for more information. Same time, same channel.

— May 12, 5-8 p.m. — There will be a fundraiser at Buffalo Wild Wings. The Danville Art League gets 20 percent on food, but not on alcohol.

— The April general meeting will be canceled.

Classes

— We have thoroughly enjoyed having your children in our winter art sessions, and wow, the weather certainly wreaked havoc with everyone’s plans. Our spring classes started March 31 and will run until May 19.

— We offer four weeks of summer art lessons this summer, with plenty for kids to do. There will be a “Boot Camp” for teens (ages 13-18) from June 23-26.

— We will offer again our three-week summer art program for children in first through eighth grade. This consists of one week of sculpting camp from July 7-10, drawing camp from July 14-17  and painting camp, July 21-24; all camps are from 9 a.m. to noon. These camps always fill up quickly, so it is not too early to sign up now to be sure of a spot.

Each camp is $50 for the first family member and $25 for each additional family member. We supply all of the materials needed, plus a snack each day. The children get to enjoy art with other children, learn about new ways to create art, and just have a great time.

One last bit of information. I would like to encourage you to get a family membership to the Danville Art League. The cost is $30 for a year’s membership. We have open times during the summer where your child can come in and work on his or her own projects with adult artists.

I realize I have mentioned this before, but consider joining us. You will have so much fun and gain pride in what you are able to accomplish artistically. ART ROCKS!

Eileen Dunavan is a member of the Danville Art League. Her column appears once a month.