AN ABORIGINAL and Torres Strait Islander program is helping prisoners at central Victorian prisons sell their artworks while they are incarcerated, so they can support their families on the outside and build up savings for their release.
The Torch program has sold and licensed more than $1 million of artworks in the past year for men and women who are in jail or have been recently been released. Renowned ceramic artist Sean Miller, whose work is held in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, got his start while serving time in jail.
There are six Dja Dja Wurrung artists whose works are being shown at The Torch's Confined 13 exhibition being held at Glen Eira this month. The program was founded by Kent Morris 11 years ago to help prisoners connect with their culture and exhibit their work.
However, at that time it was not legal to sell any art produced in Victorian prisons.
"It went against policy at that time so we would have these very popular exhibitions and be unable to sell anything," Mr Morris said.
There was a 40-year history of work by Indigenous groups to change the policy but it had largely fallen "on deaf ears" until former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett joined the push for political bipartisanship on the issue and changed the rules. He remains a member of The Torch board.
The program is run in all 15 Victorian prisons including Loddon, Middleton and Tarrengower.
"First Nations men and women are not only over-represented in prisons, they are also the most financially disadvantaged," Mr Morris said.
"There are a lot of things like socks and underwear you need to pay for yourself in prison and the way The Torch works is that the artists can access some of the money while in jail to buy those things, and to help pay household bills for children and family at home and have some money for when they are released."
A spokesman for the Victorian government said so far this financial year there had been 19 people in the region take part in The Torch program.
This included eight people from Loddon Prison and 11 from Tarrengower Prison.
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