A recent collaboration between Talbot Rice Gallery, the University's art gallery, and HMP Shotts prison has given inhabitants a chance to attend talks and immersive, practical workshops.

Clare McAllister, Curatorial Graduate Trainee (Equality & Diversity) at Talbot Rice Gallery, gave us an insight into the project, its aims and how it has been received.

Since February 2016, Talbot Rice Gallery (TRG) has been taking exhibitions out of the gallery walls and into the art room at HMP Shotts in North Lanarkshire.

HMP Shotts is a modern prison with a population of around 500 men. They have an active education suite run by New College Lanarkshire where TRG have delivered talks and practical workshops which bring alive the themes inherent in our current exhibitions. New College Lanarkshire Art Lecturer Hazel Moore runs a committed art group and, in her students, has sparked a dedicated interest in both art making and theory.

The men have been incredibly receptive and engaged every time we have worked with them. Many have discovered their artistic skills since going to prison and have focussed their energy positively into learning more about artists, art theory and history while developing their draughtsmanship and making skills in parallel. In support of their learning, visitors to the prison art group have included Rachael MacLean, an Edinburgh College of Art graduate who is currently representing Scotland at the Venice Biennale, and Turner Prize Winner Jeremy Deller.

The prisoners' first experience of TRG came via The British Art Show 8, a major survey show that happens every 5 years showcasing the best art and most exciting artists working in the country. Next came Alice Neel: The Subject and Me, followed by Between poles and tides, a group show featuring contemporary acquisitions of the University of Edinburgh Collections. Each exhibition presented new themes and opportunities to open up ideas about what art can be and instigate lively debate and discussion with the group. Work the prisoners have made as a result of these workshops contributed towards this year's submissions to the Koestler Awards, the UK’s art awards scheme for offenders, secure patients and detainees.

Claire Hills and Clare McAllister
Image courtesy of Talbot Rice Gallery
Claire Hills and Clare McAllister of Talbot Rice Gallery during workshops at the prison

This relationship has allowed TRG to reach an audience who couldn’t access our work otherwise and, in the larger scheme, we hope this work contributes in some way to the agenda of arts as a springboard for positive change that exists within the Scottish criminal justice system.

The inmates at HMP Shotts produce Scotland’s only creative arts magazine for prisoners - STIR magazine - for which they created an insightful article on working with Talbot Rice Gallery during the Between poles and tides exhibition.

Clare McAllister is the Curatorial Graduate Trainee (Equality & Diversity) at Talbot Rice Gallery, the University of Edinburgh's art gallery.