Art Release is a project born in the last days of the Midnight Special Bookstore in Santa Monica CA. After 35 years, of doing the most exciting and rewarding work, we were closed down by the same economic forces, eating away at everyone’s ability to survive and literally, causing the death of millions of people.
One of the last events held at the bookstore came at the request of Jack L. Morris, and artist incarcerated in the SHU (security housing unit) at Pelican Bay prison. At his suggestion, we hosted an art show and exhibition in April, 2004. Six SHU artists participated with their work, their families joined in and speakers read poetry and spoke about prison conditions today. The show was a major success.
As the store was closing, we got letters from Pelican Bay asking if we could continue the shows. At the same time, we found out that a long time customer, who had passed away, had left us money to save the store. It was too late for the store, but not for the artists. Within the next few years we hosted 8 exhibitions of art from the SHU in cities all over California.
By August 18, 2007, we had put on what was to be our last show (for a while), with 10 SHU artists. These shows were testimony to the endurance and value of our artists and their families. The project had so far been a success! See the exhibition page for a summary and pictures of each show.
Before our last show, the artists received warnings from the prison that their activities with Art Release and the exhibitions were in violation of rules prohibiting the "engaging in revenue generating activities". With the gracious help of the National Lawyers Guild, who counseled us on prison rules, Art Release received permission from all artists to begin accepting only donated art from them and guaranteed to the warden that no payment would be made to any artist/inmate for his art.
We continued with the shows, abiding by our promise to the warden. By October, 2006, all inmate/artists were charged with violations of the above rules. They had hearings, but could call no witnesses outside the prison. They were all found guilty and the verdict was entered into their files. None of them were allowed to communicate with Art Release. Margie Ghiz of Art Release was denied communication and visiting privileges for one year. According to Warden Horel, "This decision is based on your [Ghiz's] participation in assisting Mexican Mafia and Nazi Low Rider prison gang affiliates in activities...relating to unauthorized business dealings..." We have always maintained that exhibition of these artists' works is an exercise of their First Amendment right to free speech.
We continued with the shows, until August, 2007 when we decided to temporarily stop exhibiting for a few years.
The conditions in the SHU and all solitary prisons in the US are some of the harshest in the world. see about Pelican Bay [on the AR site (in blue like "see the exhibition page" above)]. In June 2011, The men in the SHU at Pelican Bay began a nonviolent demonstration in protest, a hunger strike, that eventually spread to other California prisons and to prisons in other states. prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com
Art Release has begun exhibiting again. We support the struggles of the SHU men and women; their art and words are often the most powerful testimony to their
endurance and fight against their conditions.
Inequality and injustice are dangerous. They corrode our communities and even turn us against each other. Every voice that speaks for humanity and justice, must be supported...especially if it is so completely silenced every minute of every day.