Folk ceramics project (PPP) has a simple mission: “To empower former incarcerated women, trans and non-binary people and their communities through the arts.” However, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit’s value extends well beyond the pottery studio, where its members carefully sculpt and glaze dishes to sell from their warehouse.
At the heart of PPP is mutual aid, a form of community support and solidarity that expanded rapidly at the start of the pandemic a rich history in political movements. The initiative is multifaceted: currently three people are employed full-time and two are part-time, and those previously incarcerated can stop by to help with the production process and get paid for their contributions. Depending on the COVID-19 guidance and the ability to meet in person, PPP also hosts community courses. As the restrictions mount in the coming months, the organization plans to expand these offerings to stabilize their income and reach more artists.
The project started when co-founder Molly Larkey ran free pottery workshops for women, transsexuals, and non-binary people, many of whom were homeless. “It was immediately clear that the people who came to class had to be paid for their time: not just to appreciate their creative contribution to the organization that was slowly taking shape, but also to put money in their pockets “Says Larkey. Many of the gatherings also sparked conversations about employment and housing options that provided additional support beyond the group’s creative practice.
Two participants in those early days were Ilka Perkins and her wife Dominique, women who Larkey through their volunteer efforts with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, an organization that works tirelessly to ensure that detainees are released through commutation, probation assistance, and legal reform. Larkey offered Perkins a position as an artist assistant before Perkins was fired from the California Institution for Women in 2020. Soon after, the two co-founded PPP.
Today the organization sells 10 inch plates and bowls in three sizes– Each product is made entirely by hand, so the pale blues and earth tones vary with each dish. It is planned to develop new products and special packaging that will detail the problems of the communities. These include DROP LWOP (Drop Life without the possibility of parole) and Survived and punished, two abolitionist campaigns involving current PPP employee Susan Bustamante, who previously served a life sentence.
Many of the fully functional ceramics sell for $ 50, a price that is in line with PPP’s goals. The idea is “to share our beauty and creativity, to employ as many former prisoners as possible for meaningful creative work and to make our ceramics accessible to everyone,” says Larkey. “We hope that our art will also act as an advocate so that people can learn more about the problems that affect us and our loved ones who are still in prison.”
Regarding future efforts, Larkey is optimistic about the opportunities for artists to engage in mutual relief efforts to support their neighbors. “There is a real need for creative skills, but the most important thing – and I can’t stress this enough – is to work with a community over a period of time,” she says. “The people hardest hit by systemic oppression like the prison industrial complex have already laid the groundwork and will be the ones who know what is needed most.”
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