It’s not very often that you get to make history—let alone create community with a group of prison inmates. That’s exactly what took place in Denver in December 2019. Forty inmates from Denver Women’s Correctional Facility performed two shows of the holiday classic, A Christmas Carol.
You might be asking what this has to do with differentiation. The answer is everything.
The University of Denver Prison Arts Initiative is in its third year of providing inmates the opportunity to perform for other prisoners and their families inside the confines of prison facilities. This is the first time a show has gone to a public space. Both shows were sold out.
The Initiative is part of an audacious two-pronged approach and vision to be a leader in creating the future of education in the liberal and creative arts—no small feat given the wholescale reinvention underway across higher education.
When I partnered with the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences at DU to create this vision, we reimagined what liberal and creative arts education could be without the constraints of tradition and ivory towers. The result was the Keystone Strategic Plan.
DU’s Center for Innovation in the Liberal and Creative Arts’ initiative with the Prison Arts Program hasn’t gone unnoticed. In less than two years, the plan has resulted in more than $5 million in philanthropic investment to multiply their efforts and garnered national attention for making history as the first inmate theater company to perform in public in the U.S.
The most important win, of course, is how differentiation is delivering impact for audiences and performers alike: “If we have a prison that has no hope, no purpose, where idleness is prevalent, where there are subcultures and gangs and drug trafficking, what do we think is going to happen when they hit the door and their time is up? Nothing good that comes of that,” said Dean Williams, ED of the Colorado Department of Corrections. “These kind of events will reduce recidivism and make us all safer.”
Does the Denver Prison Arts Program inspire you? Would you like to see your organization effect this kind of change?
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