Arts in Corrections

Inmates at Corcoran State Prison participating in a son jarocho workshop facilitated by ACTA artist Cesar Castro, far right. Photo: Peter Merts for the California Arts Council.

With the support of the California Arts Council, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, ACTA is currently offering 27 residencies (at 13 weeks each) at 8 different prisons throughout the state as part of the Arts in Corrections program. Among the workshops offered for inmates by ACTA artists are music-based classes like son jarocho, Afro-Colombian percussion, blues harmonica, storytelling classes, and visual arts-based offerings like Native American beadwork and Chicano murals and illustration.

Inmates at Corcoran State Prison participating in a Chicano murals and illustration workshop. Photos: Peter Merts for the California Arts Council.

ACTA has been an AIC service provider for three years, and has, overall, conducted forty-two 13-week traditional arts residencies with artists at eight CDCR facilities: California State Prison, Corcoran; Valley State Prison; California Correctional Institution;  Pleasant Valley State Prison; Avenal State Prison; North Kern State Prison; California State Prison, Los Angeles County; and the California Rehabilitation Center.  

We are currently developing an expansion of the programming facilitated by ACTA at a number of correctional facilities, with a particular focus on Mexican jarocho music and verse composition; Native American beadwork; African American Storytelling; Songwriting; and African drumming.

Inmates at Valley State Prison participating in an African Drumming workshop facilitated by ACTA artist Abdullatif Bell Touncara. Photo: Peter Merts for the California Arts Council.

ACTA recognizes the participants in Arts in Corrections as a marginalized sector who are in need of healing, affirmation and of new inspiration. The art forms and artists we propose are not entities that emerge exclusively from the academy, but rather from the communities from which the incarcerated participants may originate. The artists who lead our workshops come from many of the same neighborhoods as their incarcerated students and understand that the notion of incarceration is not far-fetched from their realities, acquaintances or families. Concurrently they are invested in the art forms that have provided them with fulfilling lives and recognize the possibilities of transformation for those who are open to these practices.


V. Guitierrez and J. Benitez, inmates at Corcoran State Prison participating in a son jarocho workshop facilitated by ACTA. Photo: Peter Merts for the California Arts Council.

Through two decades of traditional arts work, ACTA has recorded the affirmation of cultural identity, a sense of belonging, and a purposeful manner of communal engagement, all of which contribute to the well-being of individuals. There is no doubt that participants engage in the classes with the hope of finding a sense of relief, safety, belonging and healing.

Traditional practices offer a venue in which people can practice, perform, but most importantly, gather in these actions. The capability to interact with people in a participatory manner, whether it be singing, dancing, acting, painting, weaving, sewing or cooking is a potential way to lift the spirit and reaffirm new meaning. This has been evident in gatherings we have either supported or organized such as Jarocho fandangos (Mexican gatherings), Arab Cultural Festivals, Festivals of Obon (Japanese Buddhist festival to honor the ancestors), etc. We have also seen traditional practices work as a space for healing, evident in the work of the organization whose work we support through our Living Cultures grants, Banteay Srei, in which girls at risk of entering the sex trade in Oakland focus on storytelling and the preparation of traditional food with elders as an intervention.


ACTA launched a pilot Arts in Corrections program in 2013, beginning with maximum security inmates housed at Corcoran offer three 13-week residencies. Today, we are launching a major expansion, doubling our program to offer 60 – thirteen-week residencies by 35 artists in 16 state prisons in southern and central California over the course of the year.

VIDEO: ACTA's Arts in Corrections Program -- short version + long version (by Sara Aguilar for ACTA, 2015)

Resources on our Arts in Corrections program:

For More Information

Antonio Delfino, Fresno

Program Manager

(559) 237-9812  


Jasmin Temblador, Los Angeles

Program Coordinator

(213) 346-3285