Jail project gives art education major new insight into teaching

PAINT internship includes public exhibit of inmates’ work, talents
Rundi Myklebust, Menomonie Public Library adult services, adjusts artwork done by Dunn County Jail inmates on display at the library. UW-Stout student Hanna Buttles has seen art change attitudes at the jail.
November 8, 2018

When University of Wisconsin-Stout junior Hana Buttles started her internship at the Dunn County Jail, she was nervous about teaching art techniques to inmates.

However, the art education major from Iola realized that her internship with PAINT — Program for Arts Integration for New Teachers — through Arts Integration Menomonie made her a better teacher.

“I used to be more self-centered as a teacher,” Buttles said. “I thought I would be planning daily lessons, teaching it to the students and going home. I see now how important it is to really incorporate that aspect of teaching into your life. It’s less about me and more about how I can support them.”

Hanna ButtlesButtles started teaching at the jail during the spring semester and is continuing this fall semester. She teaches different techniques to a group of 10 to 12 inmates.

“Getting into it, I was very scared and nervous,” Buttles said. “I had never taught in a jail environment before. It has been one of the most satisfying and most fulfilling parts of my education. It helps me become a better teacher. I have learned a lot about classroom management and how to engage students from a diverse background.”

Arts Integration Menomonie is an organization that encompasses collaborative partnerships between UW-Stout, the Menomonie school district and the local community to retain teachers through arts integration. PAINT is a collaborative partnership between UW-Stout, the community and school programs to give preservice teachers opportunities for paid internships to practice teaching in a creative capacity.

Some of the inmates find it difficult to trust others, Buttles said. “I need to show how I am engaged so they get engaged,” she said.

Through Saturday, Nov. 10, is an exhibit entitled “Dark Days Bring Out Distorted Beauties” featuring art by the inmates at the Menomonie Public Library. The inmates chose the name of the exhibit.

“They want people to know they are a hopeful group who made mistakes,” Buttles said. “They want to better themselves and be a part of society. They are some of the most respectful people I’ve ever worked with. They are trying to become better people. They are determined to rehabilitate.”

The use of art helps the inmates to express themselves, is therapeutic and helps the inmates share their thoughts and feelings, Buttles said. Having their art in the community is a step toward helping them incorporate back into society, she noted. “They wanted to get their message out that they want to be part of the community,” she said. “They want to reach out and make something of themselves.”

Many of the inmates did not have family or friends to share their artwork with, Buttles noted. The exhibit gives them that opportunity.

​    ​Some of the artwork created by Dunn County Jail inmates in the exhibit “Dark Days Bring out Distorted Beauties” at the Menomonie Public Library.

Buttles has seen art change attitudes at the jail. “Many of them are more confident in their abilities and the idea that they can make a difference,” she said.

Heather Pyka, Dunn County Jail program director, said Buttles came up with the idea for the exhibit. Pyka supported it. “I know people are proud of the good things they do and don’t get recognized for,” Pyka said. “It is good for them to get acknowledged for their talents. It is mind-blowing some of their hidden artistic talents.”

The jail has had an art program for about three years, Pyka said. “People forget they are not just inmates,” she said. “They are people with feelings, emotions and talents. The art helps teach people some coping skills.”

Many of the pictures focus on inmates’ futures, hopes and dreams and love for their families, Buttles said.

After graduation, Buttles wants to work as a high school art teacher and get a master’s degree in art therapy.

UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.



Hanna Buttles

Some of the artwork created by Dunn County Jail inmates in the exhibit “Dark Days Bring Out Distorted Beauties” at the Menomonie Public Library.