Carving out a brighter future

Morwell’s new GovHub building has teamed up with Correction Victoria’s The Torch program to create artworks with a difference.

Due to open early next year, the Latrobe Valley GovHub is a $30 million, three-storey, regional employment space being built in Morwell. Constructed almost entirely using local suppliers, trades and materials and even taking design cues from the bucket wheel of the dredgers – an icon of the Latrobe Valley’s industrial heritage – the building is symbolic of economic growth driven by local investment.

In keeping with this theme, GovHub developer, Castlerock, contacted a local arts organisation to establish a partnership.

An Indigenous art program to reduce recidivism, The Torch Program (The Torch), provides support to Indigenous offenders and ex-offenders in Victoria through art, cultural and arts vocational programs and has been introduced at Fulham Correctional Centre (FCC) in Gippsland. What’s more, the program gives a chance for Indigenous participants to sell their artworks while still in custody.

To understand why Castlerock wanted to be involved, it’s important to know how The Torch – which run projects for Indigenous inmates throughout Victoria's 14 prisons – came about in the first place.

In brief, The Torch – funded by the State's Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) through Corrections Victoria and also by several philanthropic organisations – addresses the over-representation of Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system and progresses self-determination by providing art support to Indigenous offenders in Victoria.

In our state, Indigenous Australians represent approximately one per cent of the population yet account for over 10% of the adult prison population.

Close up of artwork on tableEncouragingly, statistics show The Torch's ability to turn those figures around. A review of 66 post-release participants, who had been in the program for over 12 months in 2017-2018, found that only 11% had returned to prison compared to the general recidivism rate for Aboriginal prisoners in Victoria of 53.4%.

Reducing the rate of recidivism is vital to reducing incarceration rates. In 2017, the Australian Law Reform Commission calculated that a 20% reduction in recidivism would reduce the number of Indigenous people appearing in court by 50%.

The Torch seeks exhibition, sales, commission and licensing opportunities for artists in the program and acts as an agent to sell and licence their works, with 100% of the sale or licence usage fee paid to the artist. Proceeds from sales by artists in prison are placed in a DJCS trust account with the balance due to each artist paid upon their release.

The works are in hot demand.

In addition to being held in the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, Museum Victoria, the Koorie Heritage Trust, Shepparton Art Museum, Deakin University and Monash University, The Torch artworks also grace the offices of the Victorian Premier, the Victorian Ombudsman, VicRoads, Melbourne Water, Forensicare, the County Koorie Court and other government and corporate bodies, as well as the homes of more than 1000 private buyers.

Kent Morris, The Torch’s CEO, explains that income from sales and licensing helps to "alleviate the socio-economic disadvantage so many Indigenous men and women coming out of prison come back to and the artists’ increased connection to culture through the production of art generates confidence, self-esteem, cultural pride … and desire to reconnect to the community".

Case study: The Torch Program at Fulham Correctional Centre (FCC) in Gippsland

Artwork on board tableA series of boardroom tables have been commissioned for the Latrobe Valley GovHub. Created by Fulham Correctional Centre (FCC) inmates and using traditional Koori burning techniques, the carved tables also make striking artworks.

The initiative – facilitated by GROW Gippsland (a program established by the Latrobe Valley Authority, with a focus on creating job opportunities and strengthening social and economic outcomes in the Gippsland region) – supported the engagement of a wood craftsman from Tarwin Lower as well as The Torch, who are giving inmates training in traditional Koori art, and “giving them the chance to reconnect with their culture alongside engaging, meaningful work,” says FCC General Manager, Natalie Greenfield.

“It provides a unique opportunity for FCC to support men to reconnect with their culture and build development skills that will improve their employment opportunities post release. Such supports are effective in reducing the likelihood of reoffending.

“We’re thrilled about the collaboration itself and that it has resulted in positive supports and employment opportunities. The Torch appraises and manages the sale of the work on behalf of the artist and all proceeds go to the prisoner post release.”

More commissions may be on the horizon too, Natalie adds, as other organisations have viewed the art-etched boardroom tables and are interested in commissioning similar works.

For more information on the Latrobe Valley GovHub visit the Regional Development Victoria website.