Elvera Voth, Founder
After a notable career in choral music, Kansas native Elvera Voth left Alaska and returned to Kansas City to fashion her retirement and begin her third act. She determined that after spending her career making music for those who could afford to enjoy it she would most like to bring music to those who did not have the same opportunity. A friend suggested the prison in Lansing and a choir was born.
With the support of facility staff Elvera formed the East Hill Singers, a men’s choir in the minimum security unit at Lansing Correctional Facility. Eventually, she brought volunteer singers from the outside into the facility with her to provide vocal support to the inmate singers. Of course this coupling provided not only musical harmony but also a much needed connection to the outside world for the inmate singers. By 1996 the choir was traveling outside the prison walls to perform concerts in Kansas City, Topeka, Johnson County and Wichita.
Additional programs were added to the Arts in Prison portfolio and soon there were Arts in Prison classes offered in all units at the prison. In 1998 Elvera recruited her friend Robert Shaw to lead a sing along at Bethel College in Newton, KS to raise funds to incorporate and grow Arts in Prison. Maestro Shaw passed away a few months later.
Elvera saw the arts as a way to bring humanity to a place where little is thought to exist. The arts could be a way up and out for some. “I just didn’t want to give them one more failure in life. Why not invest yourself in other people’s lives? Why keep everybody at arm’s length?” “You know”, Elvera said, “they are coming home sooner or later. Do you want them to come back with hate in their eyes or hope in their hearts?”