Art helps Uruguay's inmates transition from prison


Officials at Uruguay’s National Rehabilitation Centre are using a creative approach to help soon-to-be-released inmates prepare for life outside the prison walls: musical theater.

"It changed my life!" says Enrique, of his decision to join “La Copadora”, the prison’s Murga, a kind of lyrical play form featuring elaborate, colorful costumes and, often, commentary on current events.

Murga, theater, literature, radio, art and photography are being promoted by the National Cultural Directorate (DNC) throughout Uruguay, with support from the MDG Achievement Fund, with a particular focus on the country’s prison population.

The premise is simple: those sentenced to spend part of their life behind bars lose their rights as citizens, but not their right to art and culture – things that DNC director Hugo Achigar describes as basic instruments for rehabilitating and rebuilding lives. The Murgas offer inmates a crucial space in which to interact and express themselves freely.

"La Copadora" is one of the initiatives supported by the UN joint program "Live Culture", whose aim is to promote and develop Uruguay’s cultural sector, generate jobs and improve access to cultural goods and services for the most excluded citizens, including prisoners seeking to reinsert themselves into society.

Another initiative supported by the program is "Urban Cultural Space," a center in the heart of Montevideo which has provided an artistic outlet for nearly 300 homeless people since August 2010 through activities ranging from literary workshops to movie screenings, song contests and readings.

One of the most significant results of this pioneering effort has been to create a sense of belonging for people who are typically on the margins of society, and to provide them with an opportunity not only for enjoyment, but to develop skills and emotional bonds with others.

The joint culture programme is a collaboration between the Uruguayan government and five UN agencies (UNICEF, UNESCO, UN Women, UNIDO and the UNFPA) and is part of the MDG-F’s work to help Uruguay achieve the Millennium Development Goals of reducing hunger and poverty and promoting gender equality.

For Enrique, the chance to participate in the MDG-F-supported Murga not only taught him new skills, it inspired him with “strength and a desire to live.” Once a free man, he says, he dreams of founding his own Murga.

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