Currently on display at Troy University’s International Arts Center, the “Garden of Perseverance” exhibit represents a multi-faceted partnership between TROY’s art and sociology departments and the Alabama Department of Corrections Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. This partnership will be celebrated with a reception on Jan. 27.
After researching food allocation and prisons, Dr. Sharon Everhardt, associate professor and Chair of the anthropology, sociology and criminology department, and Dr. Stephen Carmody, anthropology and archaeology associate professor, created a partnership program with the women-only prison in Wetumpka, Alabama in January 2019. Through a 15-week series of Fundamentals of Gardening classes held each Wednesday, the program teaches inmates about horticulture and nutrition. Participants receive a certificate of completion at the end of the program, and an advanced course is also offered for program graduates.
“It’s an incredibly rewarding program,” Everhardt said. “I really enjoy working with the women—they are really hungry for opportunities and for projects that will stimulate their brain.”
After two successful years, organizers broached the idea of offering art classes alongside the gardening program. Lead by art and design lecturer Dr. Kelly Berwager, the first painting class was held in the fall of 2021 and is the inspiration for the art exhibit.
“This exhibit is the first time that we’ve ever pooled our resources and worked together in a collaborative fashion, and I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in a short amount of time,” Everhardt said. “As an educator, one of the things that I was hoping that we would accomplish with this reception, and with this exhibit, is allowing people to see the incarcerated women we work with as human first. We want to showcase their work, but we also want to showcase and celebrate our new partnerships and unveil it to the world.”
Many of the art pieces on display feature plants, flowers or outdoor scenery in recognition of the gardening program. To emphasize the human aspect, recordings were made of the women speaking about their life experiences.
“I think this really got them thinking about the gardening program and what that’s really meant to them, and a lot of them showed it through their artist statements and their stories. You can see it by what they say about being able to paint and express themselves in different ways,” Berwager said. “It was interesting to get to know these women, and I had some of the best conversations over the last couple of visits. We’re just getting somewhere so it’s disappointing I’ve got to stop for a little while, but I’m excited to go back. This is powerful.”
Additionally, all of the pieces on display will be available for purchase with all proceeds going directly back to the artist.
“When we introduced the paint element, I have never felt that room so calm. The first painting session was just incredible because one of the things you can’t ever seem to get in prison is contentment, and it was quiet, very quiet,” Everhardt said. “This exhibit showcases a number of people’s work—first and foremost, the incarcerated women—but also the TROY students, faculty and staff who are coming together as a collective to try to support a very disenfranchised group in society.”
The reception will be held on Thursday, Jan. 27 from 5-7 p.m. and is free and open to the public. The exhibit is on display until Feb. 1, and purchasing inquiries can be directed to Everhardt by phone or email at 334-808-6575 and email@example.com.
The gardening program celebrated its third anniversary on Jan. 22, and longtime funding sources need to be secured to ensure its longevity. After an initial donation from the USDA, the program now relies solely on fundraising and donations. To make a donation to the garden project or art classes, click here. Art class donations should be designated or will otherwise go to the garden project.