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Woodhull Hospital Exhibition Showcases Art From Detainees on Rikers Island

Correctional Health Services’ Creative Arts Therapy program is the oldest and largest jail-based arts therapy program in the nation.
Upper left: “October Kimono,” by William Greenwood, a selection from the NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine collection on display in Creating Within; bottom left: “Untitled,” by Audencio N., a former patient of NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Services on Rikers Island

NYC Health + Hospitals is presenting the first-ever exhibition to showcase creative works by individuals detained on Rikers Island alongside selections from its own art collection. "Creating Within: Art from Rikers and the NYC Health + Hospitals Art Collection" features art, songs and writing by participants in the Correctional Health Services’ (CHS) Creative Arts Therapy program. 

“We know that CHS patients in mental observation units on Rikers experience significant therapeutic benefits from working with our dedicated team of creative arts therapists,” said Barbara Bethea, Associate Director of the NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Services Creative Arts Therapy Department. “But the art they create is more than an outlet for their emotions and a way for them to learn about themselves. On display for members of the Woodhull community and the public, alongside works from the NYC Health + Hospitals collection, it is a testament to their creativity and resilience.”

"Creating Within" is a collaboration between NYC Health + Hospitals’ Arts in Medicine and CHS’ Creative Arts Therapy, two programs that use creative practices to foster emotional well-being and promote healing for the health system’s patients. The Creative Arts Therapy is the oldest and largest jail-based arts therapy program in the nation. These garments, drawings, collages, songs, and other creations explore a wide range of feelings, including loss, regret, defiance, hope, and love, and transcend the geographical, architectural, social, and psychological restrictions of incarceration.

The vast majority of people that CHS cares for in the City’s jails identify as Black and/or Latinx and are being detained pre-trial; more than half have a mental health diagnosis. CHS’ Creative Arts Therapy participants attend individual and group sessions with licensed creative arts therapists as part of their mental health treatment while they are detained on Rikers; their works comprise more than half of the exhibition’s display and speak to the healing nature of the artmaking process. 

“By intertwining works from the NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine collection with the artwork from CHS patients in New York City jails, Creating Within demonstrates that the language and healing benefits of the arts are universal, linking individuals, cultures, and communities,” said Naomi Huth, Director of Art Collection for NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine. “This exhibition asks viewers to experience the world from the perspective of people detained on Rikers and to appreciate the transformative, humanizing, and connective power of art, not just in therapeutic spaces, but in all environments.”

"Creating Within" honors the value of CHS patients’ art and their perspectives by showcasing it among analogous selections from the diverse and inclusive NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine collection. These include paintings and mixed media works by Charles Abramson, Martha Boyden, Cynthia Carlson, Manuel Garcia, William Gatewood, Lloyd McNeill, and Antonio Navia. 

“Art expands the imagination and sets you free,” said CHS patient Mitchell R. “It’s a way of expressing yourself. It’s good for your health.” Extensive research demonstrates that arts programs for incarcerated individuals lead to improved self-confidence, self-esteem, emotional stability, and well-being, and decreased hopelessness and anger.  Exhibitions of their artwork have also helped them feel “seen” by people in the community, serving as a bridge between those inside and outside carceral facilities.

Members of the public interested in arranging a private tour of the exhibition in person can email It is accessible to the public indefinitely internationally through the Bloomberg Connects app and CHS website. The exhibition is on display at NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull for staff and patients through March 2025.