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Sep 27, 2011

Who Is That Behind Those Bars?

Polly Holmes,  Montana Representative, 1970-1980
Why is it that America imprisons more of its population than about any other nation on earth? For being such a "developed" nation we certainly are at the bottom when it comes to one thing: incarceration rates, and child poverty. OK, two things. Adding income disparity that would be three– uh, four including healthcare. Anyway my point is that U.S. imprisonment rates are among the highest in the world. Is America really crawling with criminals? Yes is correct answer! It turns out that 95% of adults have committed at least one imprisonable crime (including me, but that's for a different post). But other civilized nations don't throw people in jail when they make mistakes but when they're truly dangerous. That's how we used to do it before campaigning politicians began their tragic race to the bottom by appealing to our lowest fears.

My mom, Polly Holmes, was a housewife in 1970 when she decided the government could be more responsive to real people, ran for the Montana legislature as a nobody and won. One of her major concerns in the 10 years she served was to reform the way we treat prisoners, focusing less on our revenge and more on their rehab. She didn't get far, but VA Sen. Jim Webb has taken up where she left off, trying to reform the whole system. He just might succeed, too! Not for compassionate reasons, unfortunately, but for budgetary ones. If our system were honest we would almost all be in jail together. Or we could adapt a more humane response to those who make mistakes and try to encourage their cooperativeness. Then we could reap the creative energies of those currently locked up who made minor errors or smoked too many joints and only imprison those whose crimes are massive, like the Wall Street CEOs who stole millions of houses and pensions. That's what prisons are for.
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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.