Testimonial for Arts in Corrections Programs to California Arts Council

California Arts Council

1300 I Street, Suite 930

Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear CAC:

Teaching visual art at two prisons for the Muckenthaler Cultural Center has been and continues to be a learning experience.  The opportunity to work with inmates reveals the value of art making as a worthwhile endeavor for inmates, whose lives are dominated by the routines of prison, but who quickly grasp the opportunity for cultural experiences as a welcome release from the numbing daily repetition of incarceration, and the brief chance that programs provide for new thinking.  The possibility of experiencing ideas and the process of working with media, are movements toward the kind of inner thinking, akin to the notion of penitence, at the root of the work penitentiary.  Of course the word also implies punishment, as in the word penal colony.

This ambiguity in language expresses the contradiction at the core of prison experience. Inmate sentences reflect the severity of criminal activity against society.  The duration of incarceration relating to the severity of acts committed.  Effective, professional custody officers primary duty is to prevent escape.  Opportunities for re-thinking and re-orienting lives of inmates—the penitence within penitentiary—are not within the job description.

I should clarify that I am not involved with prison education because, I seek to challenge the justice system, or to question the purpose of incarceration in the first place.  In fact I seldom learn why inmates are incarcerated, unless I have worked with them for weeks, and they initiate.  I am teaching because the content of classes proves valuable for inmates because it frames a space for contemplative reflection.   There is a whole spectrum of thinking that individuals engage as they serve their sentences.  Providing meaningful programs directs some of this thinking towards socially beneficial outcomes.  Program participation is also a better use of time than the routine of prison life, which one inmate commented: Prison keeps you young.”  It is more like prison tends to freeze maturation processes at the level inmates experienced before incarceration.  Without opportunities to meaningfully consider new ways of being, and to regard themselves as valued, there is no chance at reforming.

Though I have many experiences teaching visual art to children, adolescents and adults in an array of situations—community centers, urban schools, universities, I initially found that inmates were very attentive students, who once they understood instruction, eagerly focused upon art processes.  Our conversations frequently referred to the relaxing and un-stressful environment of Artmaking classroom. One inmate even wrote a brief testimonial about the value of esthetic experience in his own life.  (A pdf copy is attached from inmate at ISP)  He is not alone in finding benefit from visual art classes, despite having little prior experience with art in corrections, or any pretense of being a visual artist.  Except for his literacy and willingness to share his opinions in writing, his view is typical of most inmates, who come to discover a sense of personal worth through the activity of drawing and painting.  My classes also include many occasions for conversations about artistic meaning, the purposes of art, and the difficulties of manipulating media to create convincing artifacts.

A theme surfacing in conversations with inmates is the absence of hobby programs that enable regular practice.  I understand the value of hobby programs, yet am careful to distinguish my programs, from a routine opportunity to practice a hobby or craft skill.  My program is different because the work is not really about activity to create products, and pass the time; it is more about discovering ways to transform perception, spatial awareness and memory into a representation.  The concept is never to produce the perfect example, it is always to reach for different horizon. Some products do emerge from the process, the time goes by pleasantly for most.

This is a challenge for many individuals who have adjusted to rules-based environment. (The adjustment to prison rules is also a factor in performing my job as an art teacher with appropriate concerns for personal safety, regard for security, and respect for individuals and procedures that run the place.)  I have observed that though Dept of Corrections has included the word “Rehabilitation” in its name, Custody Officers have little opportunity, or knowledge of reform.  I have met several who apply community policing methods to run their yards by getting to know attitudes of inmates through routine practice of communication.  This has the added benefit of expanding the information about inmates, and also addresses problems while relatively small.  This is not the same as longer-term process of rehabilitation, which except for the significant and ongoing effort to maintain security and the routines of prison life, is not the same as engaging rehabilitation.  Custody officers are clear on the professional separation between custody and rehabilitation.  It not that they are the problem, it is simply not within the role/job description/expertise.

As teacher within the system, I am also charged with responsibility for maintaining supervision over inmates, yet in the environment of the classroom, I endeavor to build trust for sharing communications, not merely about procedures that re-enforce the fact of incarceration, but also offer a means of making a meaningful platform for proactive engagement with visual art ideas. Though I speak about trust, I have clear boundaries for information that I will share.  What I mean is that I endeavor to establish relationships that enable speaking truthfully about the activities and results obtained in class.  Perhaps “respect” more like the word.  It does not take long to comprehend which inmates are actually participating, and those who use the class as a temporary respite from prison routines. I have never had to request someone or group be removed from class, although in lower security situations about 15-20% might not attend the full program.

Having acknowledged the need to work with custody officers, let me briefly discuss some practical concerns.  In the 5 two-week programs I presented at 2 at High Desert and 3 at Ironwood State Prisons, I have found challenges to running an effective presentation, where “effective” means filling the seats of my classroom with willing participants who arrive on time, and who will stay focused.  In my experience the prisons have done well to adapt education facilities to fit studio art.   Through trial and error, I have also learned the importance of securing my equipment, when class is not in session.  I have had fewer difficulties counting out supplies and tools, as I better anticipate the flow of classroom experience.  Many of the challenges occur because of unclear communication about the program, or misunderstandings about location, or procedures for delivering inmates to class.  On Level 4 and Level 3 Security Yards, inmates tend to arrive at the same time.  They are routinely searched before entering the classroom and after they leave. On Level 4 yards inmates always arrived on time, while on the two Special Needs Yards, one at High Desert where inmates were searched before entering the Education Program Facility, and the other at Ironwood, where inmates go through Work Change before a short walk to a vocational education facility called “shoe repair”.

In my most recent trip to Ironwood, I delivered a program to Level 2 inmates serving in the Minimum Security facility.  Because of a broken air conditioning unit in the Education Facility, our classes met in the Visiting area. The inmates on the lower security yards have a greater sense of freedom, which in the art room often translates to “I want to do it my way.”  This can work just fine, provided they achieve results they intend. However I have often discovered that this attitude is really a test of my resolve as a teacher, and actually an opportunity to work towards understanding how to assist with improvement.  In response I discuss with inmates their particular needs for learning. This may involve repeating a demonstration, or simply acknowledging that the lesson/activity needs a better connection for them.  They are adults who probably have a sense of whether they have artistic interests (I’m not calling it talent, because this shuts most people out of the process), which directed study can bring into formation.

In conclusion I want to respond to a cynical comment made by an inmate soon to be parolled from Minimum Security Yard E at ISP.  He labeled the class a “hug a thug” program.  At the time I merely responded that the purpose was to provide an opportunity to learn visual art.  What it revealed in retrospect was the basic distrust of most inmates for potential rehabilitation provided through the prison education programs.  Even if I know that my curriculum is valuable, much of the work must overcome the strong negative beliefs, or indifference to others, that got them their in the first place.  It also occurs to me that his perception was true because programs of such short duration merely remind individual inmates what they are missing.  I’m not the hugging type. My teaching intention is to deliver real experiences in visual arts that may engage making a new world.  He chose not to take the class.

--Jim Dahl

I am attaching a picture made by an inmate at High Desert SP.  It graphically shows the condition of incarceration in the mind.

Art in Correctional Institutions

Prisoner Looking Out This work was completed by an inmate of High Desert State Prison, where I worked for two weeks teaching painting and drawing with 24 Level 4 felons. Following intensive observation drawing and paint mixing introductions, inmates created works from their own experiences.  Many took the opportunity to play constructively; others such as Inmate Campos shared emotional insights about their incarceration. I also worked at Ironwood State Prison with a group of Level 3 felons.  Mostly serving life sentences, most of the inmates had never experienced visual art education. The painting class provided a respite from the routines of prison living, and new vista on capabilities.   Sal Hernandez Ironwood

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This is my recent series of paintings of furniture used by my own children. This series of observation based oil paintings adapts child furniture to exploration of relationships, play and psychology. The painterly rendering of form suggests a setting for dialogues. Also evident in the high contrast and bright colors is a recollection of the visual intensity of early memory.

Artist Exibitions


Primary Chairs   Fullerton Public Library, Fullerton, CA, September 29-October 30, 2011 Other Peoples Agendas    Old Town Gallery, Tustin, CA, Gum Bichromate Large Paper Media Graphic Prints February-March, 2008 A Peaceable Kingdom After Edward Hicks   The Art Lot, Brooklyn, NY, Winter, 1999 HOP 2, Oar, What? Rising Moon Gallery, 591 Broadway, NY April 1997 Art A Priority, The Downtown Gallery, Brooklyn Arts Council, January 1996 Up Against the Wall, Mason Gross School of Art Master’s Thesis Show, New Brunswick, NJ April, 1992 Words, don’t leave home without ‘em. Hofstra University, Long Island, NY Solo Performance and Installation, January, 1989


Liberation/Incarceration, Muckenthaler Cultural Center Fullerton.  Curated by Matthew Leslie  Sept 8 - Oct 2018 Nature Prevails    BC Space, Curated by Marc Chamberlain, Laguna Beach, CA  Sept 23-Dec. 21, 2017 Sense of Beauty               Southern California Plein Air Association     Salvo Gallery Newport Beach,   November 2017  Prayers, Protection and Resistance,  Muckenthaler Cultural Center, Fullerton CA.   Margaret Garcia and Natasja Saint-Satyr, Co-curators.   July-August 2017  Ribba Show Coastline Community College Art Gallery, Costa Mesa, CA   April 2018 and June 2017  Play, Los Angeles Municipal Gallery, July – August 2016. Contrasts: Jim Dahl Painting and Desiree Engel Ceramics, 57 Underground, Pomona CA.   April, 2015 Bax Space Pop-up, Fullerton's Finest, Curated by Steven Baxter, Fullerton June 2014 Southern California Artists,  Coastline Community Gallery, Costa Mesa, June 2014 California Art Education Association, Santa Ana Community Gallery, Santora Building, August 2013 Twisting the Edge II, Laguna Beach Wells Fargo Rotunda, Curated by Pat Sparkill, Nov 2012 No Regrets, CSUF Faculty Exhibition, Fullerton, CA, February, 2012 Twisting the Edge I, SCA Project Gallery, Pomona CA, November 2011 In the Light of Day, Brea Community Art Gallery, Brea, CA         Invitational exhibition en-plein air artists.      August 8-Sept 16, 2011 Southern Area Members, CAEA Exhibition, Santa Ana College Art Gallery, Santa Ana, CA,  Santora Building, August 8-September 3, 2011 Simply Red, dA Gallery, Pomona, CA, February 12-March 15, 2011 Artists Sister City, Young-in, South Korea Young-in, South Korea, January, 2011 Curated Members Exhibition SCA Project Gallery, Pomona, CA, December-January 2010 Korean Sister City Exhibition, Fullerton, CA, July - September  2010, Muckenthaler Cultural Center CSUF Faculty Art Show, Grand Central Art Center, Santa Ana, CA, September, 2009 Arts League Juried Invitational, Huntington Museum, San Marino, CA, April, 2008 Faculty Invitational Grand Central Art Center, Santa Ana, CA, March 2008 Refresh, Faculty Exhibition CSU Fullerton, Fullerton, CA, November 2006 Faculty Exhibition CSU Fullerton, Fullerton, CA, November 2003   PRE- 2003 9-11: Artists Respond, Bronx River Art Center, Bronx, NY, January 2002 Pairings: Jim Dahl and Tina Olsen, Community Gallery at The Bank, Brooklyn, NY, 2002 Offspring, Artists Celebrate the Child, Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, NY, May 2001 Black and White Soho Gallery, NY,NY, 2000 BWAC Pier Shows 2 through 6 Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY, May 1993-1998 Art and the Beach, Art Moving Gallery, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, February 1997 Ocean Lights, Hudson Waterfront Museum, Brooklyn, NY, May 1997 Works on Paper, The Kentler Gallery, Brooklyn, NY, April 1997 Promenade Art Show, Brooklyn Art Council (Producer and Exhibitor), Spring 1994 Prints 1993, Erector Square Gallery, New Haven, CT Kimberly Davenport, Curator, Wadsworth Athenaeum, 1993 1992 Masters of Fine Art, Zimmerli Museum, New Brunswick, NJ, March 1992 Artist in the Marketplace 10th Annual Exhibition, Bronx Museum of Art, Bronx,NY, 1990 Lower Eastside Print Shop 21st Anniversary Exhibition, La Mama Gallery, NYC, 1989 Mini Vortex World, Micro Gallery Installation at Philadelphia Art Alliance, February, 1987


City Water Tunnel #3, Dancing in the Streets, Inc. Street Painting for Here Café, Soho, NY, October, 1996 Exterior Mural Intermediate School 74 Bronx, NY. 200’ Exterior Wall with 60 students, June 1995 Raritan Valley Workshop Lunchroom 40’ Mural for Easter Seals Factory, New Brunswick NJ, 1993 Pictographs for Spirit, 75’ Mural for Rutgers University Busch Campus, 1991



2006 Master of Art Education (M. Ed.) Teachers College Columbia University, NY Research Thesis: Mapping Teacherliness, Case Studies Visual Art Credential Candidates 1992 MFA Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts, New Brunswick, NJ, Painting 1986 BFA Painting, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA. Graduation Cum Laude 1978 BA History, University of California at Davis, Davis, CA European Intellectual History


Braille Institute of Anaheim, Anaheim CA.    2016-2017
  • Working with blind and legally blind adults in visual art classes: 2-D tactile design, printmaking, painting; Contemporary Mosaic; Ceramic Hand- building Methods. Grant Support from the Kenneth Picerne Foundation
Artist Educator Muckenthaler Cultural Center, Fullerton CA 2015-2017 California Arts Council Arts-in-Corrections 8 Day Program Service:
  • High Desert State Prison, Susanville CA. Fall 2015, Winter 2016
  • Ironwood State Prison, Blythe CA. Fall 2015, Winter 2016, Summer 2016 spring 2017
  • California Rehabilitation Center, Fall 2016, March - April 2017
Muckenthaler Cultural Center 2013-2014
  • Curriculum Design and Implementation Printmaking and the American Revolution; La Habra Public Schools; Magnolia Elementary School District.  Richman Teen Center, Valencia Boys and Girls Club.
Assistant Professor Visual Art, California State University Fullerton, Fullerton, CA 2003 - 2013
  • Area Co-coordinator Art Education Program in Visual Art Department
  • Organized the Single Subject Art Credential Program in collaboration with the College of Education, Art Education and Undergraduate general education;
  • Member of Secondary Education Committee in College of Education;
  • Compiled a five-volume review of the Subject Matter Preparation Program, submitted for the California Teaching Commission, March 2011.
  • Prepared NASAD and WASC National Accreditation reports every three years while contributing to the state committees for accreditation;
  • Coordinated admissions to the Single Subject Credential Program;
  • Arranged student teacher placement with school districts throughout Southern California;
  • Advisement undergraduate students and preparation of recommendations
  • Teaching Assignments: Beginning Drawing, Art and Child Development, Media and Methods for Secondary Art, Seminar in Teaching Art, Student Teaching Supervision. Developed course: Critical Thinking in Art Education 2005-2013
Lecturer, Art Education, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, CA Supervision and teaching Single Subject Credential Program 2003-2005 Teaching Artist, The Brooklyn Museum of Art Studio Program, Brooklyn, NY
  • Artist/Educator for Museum studio workshops 2001-2003
  • Multimedia Instructor in Graphic Arts, Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY
  • Immersive research course for “at risk” high school students. 1997 & 2001
Adjunct Professor Visual Art, Kean University, Union, New Jersey 1997-2003 Fine Art Lecturer, College of New Jersey, Trenton New Jersey Spring 2000 Instructor: Painting and Pastel Portraiture, Forest Hills Adult Ed, Queens, NY 1995-1997 LEAP Artist Educator, (Learning through an Expanded Art Program) NY, NY Itinerant educator in all five boroughs of NYC Integration of Art, with Science, Math and Literacy learning experiences K-8, staff development. 1992-1997  Art Instructor, Rutgers University New Brunswick, New Jersey (Graduate Associate) Courses: Life Drawing; 3-dimensional Art making 1992-1994 Art Teacher Pasadena City Schools, Pasadena, CA 1983-1985


Gallery Director Community Gallery, Independence Bank, Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY 1998-2003 Director, BWAC Education Project (Brooklyn Waterfront Artist Coalition)
  • Administrative Director: Artist teaching residencies in NYC Community School District 14, Coordinator staff development workshops in school sites. Grant writing and design of visual art, interdisciplinary curriculum. Annual budget $50,000 with a staff 8-18 teaching artists. 1997-2002
Consultant, The Art Lab, Staten Island, NY
  • Researched, analyzed, reported an internal audit of three fiscal years for this medium sized Snug Harbor arts organization. 2000
President, Brooklyn Waterfront Artist Coalition (BWAC), Brooklyn, NY Leadership of 501(c) (3) non-profit corporation of Brooklyn artists 1994-1997 Chair, BWAC Pier Show Community Art Festival, Red Hook Brooklyn, NY Produced three visual and performing arts festivals in historic Erie Basin warehouse. 1994-1997


Author, Preface, The Creative Classroom: the Elementary Experience Fullerton, CA Publication, 2009, Kendall Hunt Publishing. Second Edition, 2012 Member, Elementary Art Education Committee (EASEUP), Fullerton, CA Service to Secondary Education Committee (SECTEP) and CSUF Visual Art Department Author - Coordinator for 5 Volume Report on Subject Matter Preparation Program--a review of CSUF Visual Art Education Major coursework in relation to California Standards of Teacher Preparation for K-12 Visual Art and Performing Arts Standards. 2006-2011 California Art Education Association Convention, San Jose, CA “Printmaking as Reflection.” November 2010 California Art Education Association Convention, Los Angeles, CA Panel Presentation: Hands-on Interdisciplinary Lesson Activity for K-6 Math and Arts Learning. November 2009 Presenter, Western Assessment Conference March 2006
  • Constructing Stance: Interview Assessment and Support for Teacher Learners
Service to California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, Sacramento, CA
  • Prepared and calibrated benchmarks for Teaching Performance Assessment 2009


Imagination Festival Judge, Secondary Art Programs, Orange County, CA
  • OC Department of Education multi-district art exhibit, Laguna Festival of the Arts 2005-2013
Demonstration Artist- Arts Alive Community Festival Mission Viejo, CA May 2011 and 2012 Juror Mater Dei High School Annual Visual Art Exhibition, Santa Ana, CA 2009, 2010, 2011 Juror Shared Visions, Blind and Visually Impaired Artist Exhibition, Fullerton, CA
  • Eye Care Center, Southern California College of Optometry 2007-2012
2010 Volunteer of the Year Award, Rolling Hills Elementary School, Fullerton, CA Art teacher for grades K-6; Backdrops and paintings for drama productions 2004-2010 Keynote Speaker - Wilson Junior High School Graduation, Pasadena, CA.
  • Delivered address for 40 Year anniversary of class of 1970. June 2010
Volunteer: Children’s Repertoire Theatre, Set design, Fullerton, CA 2006-2009 Grant Advisory Panelist, New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), NY,NY 1998, 1999, and 2000 Panelist “All Roads Lead to Brooklyn” Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY
  • Lecture: Community Arts on the Brooklyn Waterfront. November, 1998
Panelist FATE Conference Foundations Art Theory and Experience, St. Louis, Missouri.
  • Presented—The Bauhaus--Oh not again please! March, 1994


National Art Education Association (NAEA), Presenter at 2013 Fort Worth Conference
  • TITLE: New Art Teacher Stance: Changing Minds in Art Teacher Education.
California Art Education Association (CAEA)
  • Doc Languer Award, California Art Education Association 2010
College Art Association (CAA) Southern California Artists (SCA)


Jim Dahl has been involved with art and art teaching since 1980. A graduate of UC Davis with a degree in History and a BFA in Painting from Art Center College. He lived and worked in Brooklyn from 1986-2003. He completed his MFA in Painting from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers 1992, and earned an Masters in Art Education from Teachers College Columbia University, 2006. Jim’s artwork represents visual experiences in a world of constant, complex change and variation. Ultimately the works envision transformation, glimmer of consciousness within a parade of form. In the 1990’s while teaching as an itinerant artist in NYC public schools, he organized community art festivals for the Brooklyn Waterfront Artist Coalition in Red Hook. At the invitation of Community School District 14, he directed an artist residency program for K-8 classrooms in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Grant support enabled three years of curated exhibitions at the Independence Community Bank branch in Red Hook. The venue's design as an art gallery enabled a forum for conceptually driven displays of the vibrant South Brooklyn community. He also served as a grant advisor for the Community Assets Organizational Support Program of the New Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) from 1997-2000. He also taught studio art for the Brooklyn Museum, and served as an adjunct professor at Kean University, The College of New Jersey and Long Island University. From 2003 to 2013, he taught art education for CSU Fullerton contributing to development of art education teachers throughout the Southland, in addition to active membership in the California Art Education Association. The interest in educational process continues through work leading Visual Artmaking Programs for inmates in California State Prisons as an artist with the Muckenthaler Cultural Foundation. The effort to organize this site recognizes that the work remains eclectic. Content engages points of view through word play, relating or uncovering alternate significance, or activating  meaningful symbols in narrative.  This work involves both juxtaposition and recognition of darker implications in a search for truth that looks beyond overdetermined channels for reading meaning. Many of these works appear ordinary, while they are also evoke new layers of meaning as artworks are experienced through time, as new meanings emerge, and as the works inhabit new spaces. Sometimes these represent lived experiences, both real and imagined.