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Performer Folk Singin’, Hope Buildin’ and Yarn Spinnin’ in Canterbury Prisons

4 Nov 2015

This content is tagged as Music .


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Arts on Tour New Zealand’s touring artist – singer songwriter Adam McGrath from the band The Eastern – has “done it solo”, performing to prisoners at Christchurch Men’s and Rolleston Prisons. It was part of an Arts Access Aotearoa initiative.

“Performance is a powerful way of getting people’s attention and spreading a message,” says Maree Abernethy, Corrections Principal Adviser Rehabilitation and Learning. “Through the arts we can build offender’s communications skills and help them find ways to connect through music and storytelling.”

Adam has performed all over New Zealand, Australia, and the United States and is fondly remembered in Canterbury for his morale raising community work not long after the Canterbury earthquakes. He has been nominated for a number of music awards and has been described as “a national treasure” on Radio NZ, “NZ’s toughest minded songwriter” by Graham Reid from the NZ Herald and “The Truth” by Barry Saunders of The Warratahs.

His song ‘Hope and Wire’ became the inspiration and theme song for filmmaker Gaylene Preston’s TV3 drama series detailing life in post-earthquake Christchurch.

“Folk music doesn't discriminate between audiences,” Adam says. “It’s about connection, sharing and empathy; uncool terms all but powerful ones.” 

His performance in prisons carries a message of empathy and inspires and encourages, using music as an emotional outlet and an alternative tool for change. Through his performance, Adam explores what led to a successful path and journey in life for an everyday kiwi.

Larger than life, Adam’s repertoire ranges from bluegrass to the blues via folk, rock and folk/ rock. The music is interspersed with Adam sharing his own hard headed “truth telling” stories...folk singin’, hope buildin’, yarn spinnin’ and roof raisin’….”

Adam’s performance is interactive. As well as the music, it includes interactive story telling engagement with the group, and discussion using music/poetry to express emotions and to build or rebuild family relationships.

“It will also inspire others who have interests and gifts in music and encourage connection to the community and groups/family within the community upon release.” says Maree.

“There are many men in our prisons who have extraordinary hidden talents. We often find through the Arts programmes that these men are coming forward, realising that they have other ways to communicate and to share their thoughts. Some even go on to work professionally in the arts.”

“Our ultimate goal is to improve safety in our communities by reducing re-offending. Giving people on sentence in our prisons the tools to lead different lives is a key part of achieving this goal.”

Arts Access Aotearoa approached Christchurch Men’s Prison earlier in the year with an exciting opportunity to be involved with the Arts on Tour programme.

“Participation in arts opportunities can lead to very positive rehabilitation outcomes for offenders,” says Richard Benge, Executive Director of Arts Access Aotearoa.

With funding from Creative New Zealand, each year Arts On Tour New Zealand (AOTNZ) organises tours of New Zealand performers. They liaise with local arts councils and community groups to bring the best of musical and other talent to country districts. The AOTNZ programme is environmentally sustainable – artists travel to their audiences rather than the other way around.

Each month a different act is scheduled to travel nationwide performing at selected venues.

“The performance would be built into wider programmes for the groups involved,” says Maree. “This performance will have an impact that can be connected to and developed with our tutors, facilitators and treatment providers well after Adam has left the prison.”