Keith Haring’s exhibition at Marassi prison in Genoa

Built in 2016, the Marassi Prison Theater is a hotbed of cultural activities essential to prisoner recovery and reintegration. It now houses the American artist’s works while a mural inspired by his work is being created

Keith Haring, Untitled (dance)

For almost a week, until May 29, 2023, the Ark Theater of Genoa will open its doors to the public on the occasion of the exhibition dedicated to this theme Keith Haring (Reading, 1958 – New York, 1990), showing fifteen works by the American artist. No theater like many others that was born in 2016 from an idea by Necessary theater onpluswhich, for almost twenty years, has been engaged in cultural activities aimed at promoting the reparation and reintegration into society of the inmates of the Marassi prison.

Theater of the Ark, Genoa Marassi
Theater of the Ark, Genoa Marassi


For years before the Ark Theater took shape—in the two-hundred-seat building built in the prison courtyard but open to the city—the association mobilized professional teachers and actors with the goal of providing acting training to as many prisoners as possible to allow . The excellent response – in ten years, from 2006 to 2016, nine performances were staged by municipal theaters, attended by 25,000 spectators, including 10,000 students engaged in education on legal issues – prompted the Prison di Marassi, the first theater within of a prison to purchase in Italy and in Europe. The final show on the bill, last April, staged the Richard III by Shakespeare, interpreted by Society of the Unleashed, created to give voice to the talent and desire of Marassi inmates to go away again, supported by experienced actors and students of the DAMS of Genoa. And the Teatro dell’Arca has become a model to study.

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Arca Theater, Genoa
Arca Theater, Genoa

The role of theater in prison

First, for its ability to lead the way in a process that is still fragmented: at the 2015 General State Assembly on the Enforcement of Corrections, the Ministry of Correctional Administration testified to the positive impact of theater activities on the climate of institutions in what they practice; and just a few months ago, a bill was introduced with the aim of establishing a permanent observatory for theatrical activities in prisons, establishing an art workshop room in each institute, and promoting and supporting workshop activities through a special fund. The proposal has never (yet?) become law. But the Marassi Theater also has a lot to teach from a structural point of view: in the last few hours, the meeting of theOrder of the Architects of Genoa At Design penalty areas according to the constitutionto facilitate prisoners’ access to new professional opportunities by creating ad hoc infrastructures. Unfortunately, the solution is still a long way off, as the conference revealed: architecturally, Italian prison buildings are in most cases unconstitutional because they prevent any possibility of increasing their sensory and emotional deprivation, which is bound to a plan that does not take into account the psychological ones and aesthetic aspects for the benefit of the user, for a useful and positive execution of sentences (but something is moving, as shown by the observatory of the prison laboratory of the Milan Polytechnic and the experiments of the interior/exterior design studio project of the DIARC of Federico II of Naples ).


Hosting an exhibition of clear appeal, open to both the outside public and the prison population, is further confirmation of the project’s growing strength. The initiative, made possible by the collaboration with ELV Culture of Innovation, with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo and the patronage of the Municipality of Genoa, puts Haring’s works in prison entrusting the prisoners with the role of guides for students (for whom admission is reserved from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.) and visitors to the exhibition (from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., always after reservation and filling out a form with personal data, a procedure necessary to access the prison). At the same time a mural 12 meters wide and 6 meters high, inspired by a work by Keith Haring on the surrounding wall next to the entrance to the Arca Theater, with the participation of Marassi inmates, coordinated by the Ligurian Academy of Fine Arts in Genoa.

Livia Montagnoli

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