Columbia University and Local Museums to Bring Arts Education to Incarcerated People

July 19, 2019 Press Releases

Columbia University’s Department of Art History & Archaeology and its Justice-in-Education Initiative will fund new a new arts program, “Art from Within,” for incarcerated individuals

NEW YORK, N.Y. [July 19, 2019]— For the 2019-2020 school year, Columbia University’s Department of Art History & Archaeology and the Justice-in-Education Initiative [JIE] is introducing a program that offers art workshops for incarcerated people.  “Art from Within” workshops will bring together local museum arts educators, art history graduate students and justice advocates at Columbia University. The participants will have the chance to discuss works from the museums’ collections and explore different art making strategies.

“Art from Within” marks a new initiative by New York art and social justice advocates to address mass incarceration in the United States that Maria Ruyter, Education and Outreach Manager at the Heyman Center for the Humanities, describes as “the defining civil rights struggle of our time.”

The program builds on a pilot workshop series that took place in spring 2019, with support from an Action Grant from Humanities New York and organized by a recent graduate from Columbia’s Art History Department, Leah Pires. “Through its partnership with talented educators from El Museo del Barrio and the Studio Museum in Harlem, the workshop shared artworks from the museums’ collections through group discussion and artmaking with students who are incarcerated. Using strategies drawn from expressive arts therapy, we explored art’s capacity to function as a tool for reflection, expression, and self-care,” said Pires. Art from the workshop series with El Museo culminated in an exhibition of student work, which is on view at the museum until September 2019.  

The new program will offer a unique learning experience not only for people who are incarcerated, but also for its Columbia participants. “Participating in ‘Art from Within’ has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as an arts educator and scholar,” said Nick Croggon, a  Ph.D. candidate and volunteer in the program. “I’ve seen first-hand not only skilled arts educators at work, but also the importance of arts education to communities beyond Columbia University’s gates.” 

“Art from Within” adds to existing JIE partnerships within Columbia University.  The Department of Philosophy currently hosts Rethink, a program in which graduate students teach philosophy in communities, including individuals who are incarcerated, those escaping domestic violence, and court-involved youth. Columbia Artist Teachers, from the School of the Arts, brings free creative writing workshops to communities throughout the city, including incarcerated people.

The program will work in partnership with Columbia’s Center for Justice and Professor Kellie Jones, from Columbia’s Art History Department, who will join a group of Columbia faculty advisors including Professor Elizabeth Hutchinson and Assistant Professor Meredith Gamer. 



The Justice-in-Education Initiative  is a collaboration between the Heyman Center for the Humanities and the Center for Justice at Columbia University, along with the Media and Idea Lab of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, to provide educational opportunities to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated persons and to integrate further the study of justice into the Columbia University curriculum. 

Maria Ruyter is the Education and Outreach Manager for the Heyman Center for the Humanities and the Society of Fellows in the Humanities, Columbia University. Through Columbia’s Justice-in-Education Initiative, Maria has been leading and coordinating programs for incarcerated people since 2015.

Leah Pires is an art historian and educator based in New York. She is a 2019-2020 Nancy L. Buc Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women at Brown University and holds a PhD in Art History from Columbia University. As a 2017-18 Public Humanities Fellow at the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University, Leah initiated an ongoing series of art education workshops that partnered with educators from New York museums to share artworks from their collections with incarcerated young adult women.

Nick Croggon is a sixth-year Ph.D candidate in the Department of Art History & Archaeology, and an affiliate of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society.  His research focuses on art and visual media in the US in the 1970s. Nick co-founded and edited the Australian-based contemporary art journal Discipline, and worked for several years as a lawyer in corporate and non-governmental practice.