San Diego State University College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts

Prison Arts Collective Moves Headquarters to SDSU

Founder and director Annie Buckley joined SDSU earlier this year as the new director of the School of Art + Design.

Prison Arts Collective Moves Headquarters to SDSU

Painting students and their instructors at work, in a gym at California State Prison–Los Angeles County. Photo by Peter Merts.

by Georgia Burgé

November 4, 2019

November 4, 2019

When Annie Buckley joined the SDSU community as the new director of the School of Art + Design, she brought with her a very special project: The Prison Arts Collective (PAC).

Buckley is the founder and director of the PAC, a project of Arts in Corrections, an arts program funded through a partnership between the California Arts Council and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which brings art classes into prisons and correctional facilities across California.

The mission of the PAC is to “expand access to the transformative power of the arts through collaboration and mutual learning that supports the development of self-expression, reflection, communication, and empathy through providing multidisciplinary arts programming in correctional institutions.” The PAC contract includes funding of $655,883 from the California Arts Council to the SDSU Research Foundation for 2019-2020.

The PAC began in 2013, when Buckley was on faculty at CSU San Bernardino, as a faculty and student-led community-based initiative in one prison. Since that time, the PAC has grown to facilitate weekly multidisciplinary arts programming on 15 yards in nine state prisons. In fall 2017, PAC’s second chapter was initiated at CSU Fresno.

In fall 2019, the headquarters of the PAC moved to San Diego State University. The project retains chapters at CSU San Bernardino and CSU Fresno. While the PAC already has programming in Blythe and Calipatria, this move gives the PAC the opportunity to expand to more San Diego-area facilities, which it plans to do starting in early 2020.

“I am excited to join the faculty at SDSU as the Director of the School of Art + Design and honored to bring the Prison Arts Collective to our campus,” Buckley said. “Since accepting this position, I have had the chance to work collaboratively with the SDSU Research Foundation, and the staff and leadership have been extremely supportive of the PAC. They have a wealth of experience that will allow our team to foster the PAC into the next phase.”

The classes offered through the program are similar to art classes taught at the university level and each class includes the history and culture of art, art-making, and reflection and interpretation. These classes are led by students, faculty, staff, artists, and incarcerated Peer Facilitators.

One key aspect of the PAC is a service-learning class in which students can collaborate with faculty to develop and teach these classes in the local prison. CSU Fresno has held these classes for the past year and Buckley hopes to initiate one at SDSU as well.

Stan Hunter, a founding member of the PAC, began working with the program in 2013 during its pilot program at the California Institution for Men where he was an inmate. After being released in January of 2019, Hunter was hired as a lead teaching artist and now acts as the site lead for the program at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, and the California Institution for Women in Corona.

“Working with the PAC helped me realize I didn’t need to get high every day just to make it, I just needed a paintbrush,” Hunter said. “I want to give that same gift to these guys, and also encourage them to do the work. What brought you to prison, what is it that you’re not dealing with? Let’s go back and look at that. I use art as a vehicle to do that. A lot of them are incarcerated in a cell all day long so it’s a perfect thing for them to keep their mind busy and focus on that internal dialogue. What’s the conversation you’re having with yourself right now? A lot of it’s negative, so I want to help them maneuver through that.”

The PAC currently has two SDSU student interns and hopes to get more students involved in the program as it continues to grow. Students can participate in the internship for class credit and can apply for a paid internship after one semester.

“I got involved with the Prison Arts Collective because having seen many documentaries about prison life, I saw how much art programs and extracurricular activities positively influence their time incarcerated,” said PAC student intern Annabel Ferguson. “I wanted to help and be a part of something productive towards many of the participants’ future time and life after prison.”

Those interested in getting involved can find more information in the PAC Resource Room in Art South room 552 (extension 42795). For more information please contact Program Assistant Sydney Burke at or Professor Buckley at or visit

The content within this article has been edited by Lizbeth Persons.

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