Sketch of sneakers, black and white
Sneaker Sketch - copyright held by an anonymous artist in prison

Artists in Prison Share Art - Exhibit in DTES Opens

19 Jul 2022

In the spring of 2020, a team led by UBC school of nursing professor Dr. Helen Brown (she/her) and interdisciplinary studies PhD candidate Kelsey Timler (she/her) launched a project to deliver “art and reciprocity kits” to several prisons across B.C. and the Yukon.

Two years later, with 756 art kits distributed and hundreds of pieces of art created and shared with the project team, the program’s impact will be showcased as an art exhibit entitled Locked Up - The Soul Speaks Out, to be held in July and August 2022.

Medicine Wheel Surrounded by Animals*

The initiative to distribute the art kits, known as Action, Reciprocity, Transformation (ART) & Justice, is guided by Indigenous Elders and previously incarcerated activists and leaders. It focused primarily on Indigenous Peoples and people with mental illnesses in prison. It provided opportunities for comfort, healing and community building through writing and art creation and sharing, especially while extreme social isolation measures were in effect due to the pandemic.

“COVID-19 and the cancelled in-person research activities exacerbated the effects of incarceration,” said Timler. “The art kits provided an opportunity to tell the people in prison that they weren’t forgotten and to invite them to share their voice and vision with the world if they wanted to.”

Left: Wolf Howling to the Moon | Centre: Owl and Eagle Paintings | Right: Polar Bear Family*

“ART & Justice is an anti-colonial project,” said Dr. Brown. “We focus on how historical and ongoing colonialism results in the disproportionate incarceration and criminalization of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Our invitation to the artists to share their art with the wider public reflects our broader goal of upholding Indigenous Peoples’ rights by honouring their experiences, stories and creativity.”

One of the Elders in the project team, Elder Jean Wasegijig, shared “This project is important for the incarcerated folks, especially for their healing. Their art is stunning and close to their heart and spirit. My prayers are with them always.”

The art exhibit, in partnership with Gallery Gachet in the Downtown Eastside, runs July 23 through August 19, with an opening night on July 22 for the project team that will include a panel of artists and advocates.

Dr. Brown added: “The art we have received is diverse, powerful, and expressive. We have art on canvas, sketches, sculptures, soap carvings, poetry, and so much more. The art kits unleashed peoples’ creativity beyond what we imagined! Some of the artists have shared that their art has been part of their healing process and that they hope the art brings joy to others.”

Timler notes that the public is welcome to write, record and draw messages of support and reflections throughout the exhibition run, all of which will be gathered and shared with the artists in prison. “We are also working to find ways for the public to commission work directly from artists, and hope people will check out our website and social media accounts for more updates in this regard.”

Locked Up - The Soul Speaks Out

Event details:

Date: July 23 – August 19
Hours: 12 p.m. – 6 p.m. (Tuesday to Saturday)
Location: Gallery Gachet, 9 West Hastings St, Vancouver, BC
Opening night by invitation: Friday, July 22


  • Dr. Helen Brown (academic co-lead) Email
  • Kelsey Timler (academic trainee co-lead): Email
  • Elder Roberta Price (Elder matriarch leader): Email
  • Elder Jean Wasegijig (Elder matriarch leader & poet): Email
  • Peter Fraser (expert advisor with lived experience & expertise related to incarceration): Email
  • Moroti George (Gallery Gachet Programming Coordinator): Email


For more on the art program, visit, or follow ART & Justice on Twitter @Art_andJustice

*Copyright for all art is held by anonymous artists in prison.

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