Spotlight: Empowered

Ceramics Monthly: What is the mission and structure of the People’s Pottery Project (PPP), and how did the project first get started in Molly Larkey’s warehouse studio space in Los Angeles?
People’s Pottery Project: Our mission is to empower formerly incarcerated women, trans, and non-binary individuals though our nonprofit ceramics studio. Pottery, ceramics, and art making are vital tools in forging community and healing trauma. Formerly incarcerated people are oftentimes excluded from these spaces. The community of potters and ceramic artists is so full of collective support and care, we want to make sure that formerly incarcerated people are included!

PPP is lead by formerly incarcerated people and provides job training and meaningful employment to individuals leaving prison behind, often after decades of incarceration. In the process we design, produce, and distribute our People’s Bowl and other homewares. We also offer pottery classes, engage in community events, and provide a platform for our members to advocate for necessary changes to our justice system.

PPP began when Ilka Perkins left prison after 26 years of incarceration (she was sent to prison at the young age of 17) and Domonique Perkins returned home after 13 years inside. Molly Larkey, an artist and community organizer, offered to hire Ilka as part of her application for release from prison. In 2019, when Ilka, Domonique, and Molly met, a creative partnership was born.

The project focuses on the needs of formerly incarcerated people first. There are very few resources available for people getting out of prison, especially for women, trans, and gender non-conforming individuals. These communities face multiple levels of discrimination in hiring, education, and publicly available resources. PPP is creating a model for a world in which we lift up individuals for successful reentry into society, while putting money in people’s pockets and making beautiful handmade ceramics.

The project is funded by our pottery sales through the website along with our merchandise (shirts, totes, and masks: #PotteryNotPrisons). We also offer ceramics classes, taught by our formerly incarcerated members. The generosity of donors, committed funders, and grants are also incredibly necessary for us, especially as the pandemic has limited product sales and classes.

CM: How large is the staff and how many classes are offered?
PPP: We have 5 full-time members, including the most recent addition of Lauren Fuller, who came home after 17 years of incarceration. This year, we held classes every Tuesday from August to November. We retrofitted the studio for safer classes in December, but decided to hold off with any in-person events due to the spike in COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles this winter. See our website/Instagram for details on upcoming socially distant classes.

CM: How were the designs developed for the People’s Bowl?
PPP: The design and glaze of the People’s Bowl was developed collectively. We wanted a design that was elegant, showed the character of our members, and was simple to fabricate. We wanted to use slabs so that it would be easier for formerly incarcerated people coming to class for the first time to participate and come away with a finished product. Our glaze was developed through experimentation. When we found our signature blue, it reminded us all of freedom, which is very precious to our team.

CM: How do individual staff members feel that working in a creative community has impacted their lives?
Ilka Perkins: PPP has given me a safe space to grow and use my creativity. It has given me that extra courage to venture out and interact with a larger community. The art community is so accepting and encouraging. As people who have been in prison, we are often concerned about how people will view us or judge us. What I love about the People’s Bowl is that when people see it, they see something beautiful. When they find out that formerly incarcerated people made it, they look at us differently. That is beautiful to me.
Domonique Perkins: PPP taught me more people skills, more transferable skills to other parts of my life. I’m introverted and in this environment I have adapted to being a team player rather than being self sufficient. It has boosted my confidence in communicating with other people, and that is so important to me.

Above, left to right: Domonique Perkins, Ilka Perkins, and Lauren Fuller. Photo: Eli Rosales.

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