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Kelli Schollard-Sincock Creates Prison Arts Program for City of Alexandria and Fairfax County

Jordan Wright
July 16, 2018
for the Alexandria Times 

When Forensic Sketch Artist Kelli Schollard-Sincock, who holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Art from the University of Washington and completed the BFA program in Printmaking from George Mason, was thinking about how she could make an impact in her community, she recalled a casual comment a friend made during a lecture at Lorton the two women attended.  The talk featured prisoners’ art the guards had collected either through barter or outright payment and she was duly impressed by the caliber of the work.  Her friend said, “You should do that,” meaning teach art within the prisons.  The offhand remark didn’t really register with her until she read a report that the new administration planned to cut funding for the arts.  She felt it was a call to action.

Taking the bull by the horns, she approached Lt. Marybeth Plaskus at the Alexandria Detention Center and asked if they had a need for a prison arts program.  Plaskus gave her the nod, and the first class was held in February 2017.  “We started from scratch with one classroom that was immediately filled with about 25 male students.  That was such positive reinforcement for me.  They were always thankful I was there,” she says.  Since its inception the program has not only been hugely popular, but it has grown rapidly and now includes classes for women at the Fairfax facility.

Piggybacking on her success at the Alexandria prison, she then reached out to the Fairfax County Detention Center and began her arts program there in August 2017.  She now teaches there twice a week plus one day a week in Alexandria.  Yet there is still more demand.  Schollard-Sincock’s goal is to hire more teachers to fill the many requests for additional classes.

Kelli Schollard-Sincock teaching at the Fairfax County Detention Center

Initially the challenge was to find art supplies which are not funded by state or local counties.  She had to get creative.  Well, that’s what artists do.  Right?  In a stroke of good fortune, she discovered the ‘Buy Nothing Project’, an online sharing organization for free items that operates locally through Facebook.  There she put out a call for art supplies and had such a positive response that for four weeks she drove all over the county gathering an immense amount of materials.

Photo from Alexandria County Detention Center Prison Art Program courtesy of Kelli Schollard-Sincock

Del Ray Artisans heard about her classes and thought they could help.  The gallery’s Fundraising Director Joe T. Franklin, Jr. and Acting President Drew Cariaso wanted to learn about the program and have her give a talk to their members.  Member artists were so impressed with her outreach program that they held a fundraiser including an in-house drive for materials.  “People have really taken ownership of the program,” she adds.  Subsequently the gallery has been instrumental in helping her set up a non-profit to be called ‘Inspiration Matterz’ which will allow her to expand the program with the help of additional art teachers.  She credits Program Directors Lenora Murphy and Latanya Ervin at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center with keeping her program ongoing and her husband Austin and son Gregory for their support and encouragement.

Photo from Fairfax County Detention Center Prison Art Program courtesy of Kelli Schollard-Sincock

Schollard-Sincock chooses the subjects that are executed in a variety of mediums.  “Men and women respond totally differently to the programs.  My intention is to teach tangible skills not just doing crafts.  My very first student was an older gentleman.  He told me, “I don’t know what I’m doing here.  The best you’re going to get out of me are stick figures.” She says he really clicked when he started painting and is now painting photorealistic drawings.  “He is like the case study of why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Over the past year she has seen a huge change in their attitude.  “It’s empowering to learn that you have developed a skill.  The biggest thing in these classes is getting them to trust me and not give up.”

Director of the Target Gallery at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, Leslie Mounaime, reached out to her and offered their site for a show.  On Friday, July 20th, Del Ray Artisans will host the opening night reception for “Off The Grid” in the Torpedo Factory’s Site 2 Community Gallery showcasing 49 framed drawings from Schollard-Sincock’s prison art program.  The opening reception is from 7-9pm. The show runs through August 31st.

Kelli Schollard-Sincock’s own work can be found on her website www.KelliSincock.com.

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