About the Film…
Lens & Pens: Art in an Unexpected Place tells the inspiring story of a transformational poetry, painting, and photography workshop and its impact on three maximum-security residents of the John Howard Pavilion at Washington, DC’s, St. Elizabeths Hospital. St. Elizabeths is DC’s public psychiatric facility, located east of the Anacostia River. Its beautiful grounds and historic buildings date back to 1855, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation declared the site a national landmark in 1991.
Lens & Pens features the workshop’s founder, Ed Washington, a social worker and former chief of the hospital’s Dual Diagnosis Treatment Branch; the program’s three devoted volunteer-teachers, Joy Jones, Maureen Jais-Mick, and Kate DeCiccio (poetry, photography, and painting group leaders, respectively); and three patient-participants: Pamela Thomas (poet), Ronnie Crooks (painter), and Kevin McCain (photographer). The courts have deemed this population ‘criminally insane,’ or ‘not guilty by reason of insanity.’ But while some will spend their entire lives at “St. E’s,” others will gain such dramatic interpersonal and artistic benefits from the workshop that they will ultimately leave the hospital for the greater community, continuing to develop themselves and their art.
Ed Washington conceived the Lens, Pens, Brushes & Friends program in 1989 to bridge the divide between this treatment population and the outside community, to give a sense of self-worth to the participants and raise their value in the eyes of the public. And the program has succeeded, with public exhibits, even sales, of their visual art; poetry recitations on radio and in print; and, more important, significant personal growth and increased self-esteem. Pam now volunteers for the program, encouraging current residents with her energy and intelligence.
Jennifer Lawson, general manager of PBS television station WHUT at DC’s Howard University, conceived the idea for the film after meeting Ed Washington and asked Deborah Schull to write and produce it. Deborah’s work on the film was funded in part by a grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, an agency funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Lens & Pens premiered in a touching public screening event on December 16, 2009, at the WHUT television studios at Howard University, with an exhibit of the artists’ work, Q & A with the film’s principals, a poetry recitation by Pam Thomas honoring Joy Jones’s years of service, and a catered reception. PBS broadcast the documentary on local PBS channels 32/32-1 on December 20 and 23, 2009. So far, the film has garnered 13 awards and festival screenings.