Arts Capacity helps people in need through the power of art, culture, communication, and live music to cope with challenges and develop the capacity to experience change for good.
What We Do
Today, Arts Capacity’s caring, interactive recital approach brings legitimate culture, much of it new, to the prison environment. Prisoners are treated respectfully as people who can appreciate art. We care more about their feelings and insights than our own, promoting the arts for its ability to re-humanize, restore, and reconcile persons living in stressful and de-humanizing conditions.
Our focus is:
- on the listener, not on the performers;
- on what the prisoner wants to hear, not on what artist wants to play;
- the long-term benefit of the prisoner, not our self-gratification.
Who We Are: Board of Directors & Staff
“We often hear of—and speak of—a certain “power of music.” This power is said to bring communities together, to heal, and to paint meaning through sound onto the confusing canvas of life.
The only problem was—for me, at least—I had never fully felt this power. I had searched for it through my own work as an oboist and composer, and I always believed I would find it, but it proved quite evasive.
Then came the invitation from Holly to attend an evening of music at Walker State Faith- and Character-Based Prison. I gladly accepted, knowing of Holly’s work in this community and intrigued by the prospect of maybe, just maybe, getting a true glimpse of music’s power.
That evening changed my entire life. The men at Walker heard things in that music that I had missed all along, and they named these emotions and experiences in ways that touched my core. They felt, in the most visceral way, the power of music, and in that room, I felt music doing all the things I’ve been searching for. I saw firsthand that music, when intentionally programmed and presented, can truly facilitate communication and healing in a deeply impactful way.
I’m so excited to continue to work with Holly and Arts Capacity as we bring music into spaces and to audiences that can be healed and rebuilt by the power of music.”
– Tyler Rand, President, Houston, TX, Board Member from November 2018 to Present
“As a composer, what struck me most the first time I participated in an Arts Capacity program was the equally profound experience that was had by both the prisoners and the performers. While it should come as no surprise that humanity is shared equally between all individuals, the opportunity to communicate on equal terms is not something I always expect when confronting my audience, and I certainly didn’t expect it when visiting a prison. Music itself certainly allows for communication with fewer barriers, but Arts Capacity is creating space for musicians and inmates to bring their diverse experiences together and create something new that is greater than any of them could have achieved alone. Sometimes new ideas and perspectives are the results of Arts Capacity’s sessions; sometimes, entirely new pieces of music are formed. What I can tell you, as a composer, is that my creative process is different now because of interacting with the inmates, and that is why I’m so excited to serve on the board of Arts Capacity.”
– Tim Hinck, Vice President, Chattanooga, TN, Board Member from September 2020 to Present
“Having been active as a mentor at Walker State Prison, I was excited to learn of Holly Mulcahy’s desire to bring music into the prison as a healing medium for the men there. It has been wonderful and moving to be able to attend every recital and witness first-hand the impact of these programs on the men. The music and interactive format has evoked emotion, memories of family and friends, and recall of times when they were free; it has had a healing and restorative impact that is beautiful to see. These experiences have helped restore a sense of dignity and humanity to individuals who have been experiencing hard times in their lives.
It has been a great privilege to watch Arts Capacity grow and evolve in its ministry to incarcerated people, and I look forward to seeing what lies ahead.”
– Dr. Steve Hawkins, Treasurer, Chattanooga, TN, Board Member from September 2017 to Present
“Arts Capacity was introduced to me on a beautiful summer day while walking with Holly through the mountains of Wyoming. I was captivated and connected immediately with her desire and vision to freely offer the gift of music to prisoners.
I’ve known Holly for more than two decades, and her enthusiasm to do something so unencumbered by any idea of self-adulation or self-benefit struck such a magnificent chord in me. That part of the musician who delves deeply into expression and vast emotion learns to be vulnerable to give to an audience, and I think it is that vulnerability that inspired me to join Holly to offer something that could open hearts, help heal wounds and build trust and love within the community and poignantly, to one that is incarcerated.
It has been overwhelming to play for the prisoners, to shake their hands after the performances, and have a few moments to share thoughts about art, family, music, and gratitude. It’s overwhelming, and I’m so grateful to be part of Arts Capacity.”
– Barbara Scowcroft, Secretary, Salt Lake City, UT, Board Member from October 2019 to Present
“I saw Holly and her colleagues invent live ‘interactive recitals’ as a powerful tool to remove barriers in prison settings. They replaced incarceration’s dehumanizing influences with ‘re-humanizing’ influences. Hurt gave way to healing, and despair yielded to hope. Early on, prisoners asked what was ‘in it’ for Holly until it became abundantly clear that Holly and her guests were ‘in it’ for the prisoners.
Relationships were established, and good works continued until the Covid pandemic forced all prisons into lockdown. It froze our young, charitable non-profit’s efforts to establish ‘chapters’ across the country. Arts Capacity capitalized on this downtime to envision and try our hand at new tools to bring life-affirming music and art to prisoners with ‘listening libraries’ and digital programming, instrument donations, and even music therapy, some of which could debut in the coming year.
Personally, I have a sense of a calling to consider the needy and outcast, comforting such persons facing affliction with the same comfort with which I myself have been comforted. Arts Capacity is a perfect outlet for me to help support and further good works as Arts Capacity’s amazing team devotes itself to bring rich, lasting benefits to individuals, families, and communities.”
– Alan Bonderud, Past President, Chattanooga, TN, Board Member from September 2017 to Present
“I first encountered Arts Capacity as a Department of Corrections Chaplain. Initially, I was hesitant to bring in the musicians because I feared the program would not resonate with the prison population. Could a lone violinist on a stage capture the attention of men that have been so far removed from culture and normalcy? Could Arts Capacity provide something of value to the prisoners and staff? The answer to these questions was a resounding yes.
Arts Capacity and Holly Mulcahy exceeded all my expectations and put all my fears to rest within 15 minutes of the start of the program. Arts Capacity provided more than just a concert. The interactive program encourages prisoners to respond intellectually and emotionally to the music on a deep level.
During the program, I witnessed prisoners express emotions that are normally off-limits in the prison culture. I heard words like loss, hope, love, and forgiveness. I saw men with smiles on their faces and a few silent tears.
I chose to become an advocate and Board Member for Arts Capacity because I recognize the therapeutic and spiritual value of the program. I believe Arts Capacity’s unique interactive program assists the incarcerated by increasing their emotional intelligence, which improves institutional behavior and reduces recidivism.”
– Jeremy Stroop, Board Member, Rocky Face, GA, Board Member from September 2020 to Present
“I got involved with Arts Capacity after experiencing ‘freedom’ behind bars from previously taking church choirs to prison for worship concerts. Those times were unforgettable, and I was compelled to continue serving through understanding the biblical mandate to ‘remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them.’ We experienced joy together with prisoners sharing sacred music. The time of personal one-on-one conversation after the singing was transformative, seeing such joyful smiles, tears of gratitude, and hearing their stories. In those extraordinary hours, the bars disappeared, and we knew we were all family with the same fallible nature and needs for grace, forgiveness, and soul freedom. I learned profoundly that it is indeed level ground at the foot of the Cross.
Arts Capacity’s program appeals to me in much the same way. Musical arts are excellently presented, and we enjoy personal interaction with the prisoners. The impact is two-way as they find benefit from the programs, and we ourselves benefit from meaningful interaction with them. ”
– Kelly Stultz, Board Member, Hixson, TN, Board Member from September 2020 to Present
I became involved with Arts Capacity after attending a recital at Walker State Prison. The experience was a profoundly moving one. I was struck by the natural rapport that Holly and Tim shared with the prisoners. Using the music as a conduit for compassion and genuine relationship, the performers and the prisoners were able to interact with ease. I’ve never seen music in a concert setting put to such a direct, immediately useful purpose.Afterward, I had the opportunity to speak with quite a few of the prisoners. The music immediately gave us something in common and made the conversations simultaneously easy and meaningful. It created a level playing field for all, despite everyone’s current circumstances.I believe in Arts Capacity’s mission and work, because I’ve seen it happen. The more people we can involve in this, both prisoners and performers, the better we will be, and I am excited to see where it goes!”
-Jack Wilds, Board Member, San Marcos, TX, Board Member from September 2021 to Present
“As incarcerated people prepare for reentry into society, they are given tools. These tools sometimes include training in a trade or learning how to succeed in job interviews. But often, the most important tools are overlooked in preparing people’s return to society. With Arts Capacity, my vision is to share tools that allow people to access their own emotions, creativity, and humanity that will empower them and help them succeed as free citizens. By sharing music and culture, the goal to help people find a coping mechanism or emotional outlet is a powerful way to re-humanize a population that will eventually be our future neighbors.”
– Holly Mulcahy, Founder & Executive Director, Chicago, IL
“During a dinner conversation with Holly, we learned of her interest in the healing power of classical music. Later, we had the opportunity to attend her recital at Walker State Faith and Character Prison, in which she played violin and invited prisoners to respond with their thoughts. The responses to Holly and her music were inspirational. In follow-up conversations with Holly and others, who are now Board members, we learned of the desire of other musicians to bring their music to people in need of healing. By our participation in Arts Capacity, we hope to support Holly and other musicians to realize their vision to use their music as a healing medium.”
– Bill McDonald, Former President, Chattanooga, TN, Board Member from September 2017 to August 2020
“When my dear friend Holly first described her experience at Walker State Prison, I knew immediately the initiative was something I very much wanted to be a part of. Giving of my time and talent has always come easily, so it seemed natural to want to share the gift that was given to me.
But why would I want to share my music with those who were incarcerated?
That was exactly the question that was posed at our last (and my first) recital at Walker. An inmate approached the microphone as we concluded our presentation, asking, “Why do you come here? We are outcasts, despised, and forgotten by society. Why would you want to come here when you could be anywhere else?”
For more than one reason: These men reveal emotions and a vulnerability in an environment that discourages such displays. Exposing these men to ‘high art,’ giving them coping mechanisms and new ways of processing their feelings, will be instrumental (!) to their futures. Many of these men will be returning to their various communities with tools to create better lives for themselves and for their families.
The greatest privilege? Being able to restore a man’s sense of humanness, even if just for an hour, is its own reward.”
– Mary Corbett, St. Petersburg, FL, Former Board Member from September 2017 – August 2019
“I am involved in Arts Capacity because I saw, firsthand, the impact music had on the prisoners at Walker State Faith and Character Based Prison. I saw them respond to the beauty and emotion of music, the questions it raised in their minds, and how it brought the outside world into their very inside world. As much as I think they got out of it, I got just as much – if not more – seeing how expressive and articulate these men are and how much goodness and compassion exists here.
‘Arts for All’ is a very popular concept in the art world these days. While most organizations point to rural or inner-city areas, the prison population may be the most underserved we have. Art is not just a luxury. Art is a necessity that helps define humanity. It is clear that the music Holly brings helps these men feel a part of the world, part of the human race. It offers them hope – something I suspect may be a rare experience in the prison system. I’m both humbled and excited to be a part of it and look forward to seeing what the future brings as we expand this amazing program.”
– Kimberly Gavin, Chattanooga, TN, Former Board Member from September 2017 – September 2020