How the Abolitionist Nonprofit People’s Pottery Project “Helps to Heal”

The cofounder of the LA nonprofit, Ilka Perkins, explains why participation in Frieze Los Angeles has been so instrumental in its mission to help formerly incarcerated creators

BY Chris Waywell in Frieze Los Angeles , Interviews | 09 FEB 24

People’s Pottery Project is a Los Angeles ceramics studio with a difference. Although part of a proud tradition of female Californian ceramicists, it was founded by and helps the formerly incarcerated across both making and business skills. Since 2019, the nonprofit has campaigned for prison abolition and creative empowerment, and employed formerly incarcerated people, foregrounding women and the queer, trans and nonbinary communities. As PPP returns to Frieze Los Angeles’s program for 2024, co-founder Ilka Perkins explains how its twin initiatives to make and to advocate are amplified by its presence at the fair.

Chris Waywell: Why is making important for individuals who have experienced incarceration?

Ilka Perkins: When we are creating our products, we start off with a piece of slab that looks rough around the edges. As we work with the clay, we feel the layers of transformation in texture or after firing. Creating something beautiful is one of the most therapeutic and healing things we have ever done. To be able to share this process with others is to share our fingerprints.

CW: What is it about pottery in particular that is empowering?

IP: Pottery is so empowering for us because we can make beautiful products with hands that society see as violent. Pottery requires financial, physical and creative skills that impact our ability to support ourselves and each other. Once our products are done and people want our work, this process helps us heal and recreate our own narrative of how we view ourselves as something beautiful and accepted in the community.

We make beautiful products with hands that society see as violent.

CW: How important is your inclusion in Frieze Los Angeles and how has it helped your project?

IP: Our inclusion in Frieze has been instrumental in helping share our stories and highlight our mission and work that we are doing, and to be able to position ourselves within LA’s artistic landscape. As a small non-profit that doesn’t get much notary, being included in Frieze has helped PPP gain more momentum in our mission to help change the narrative of how society has viewed the formerly incarcerated for years, and build out our support network. Our participation in the fair has opened opportunities for important collaborations with artists, restaurants, and more, and an influx of donations and sales which were critical to our yearly budget and ability to support our work.

CW: What do you want to bring to the fair in 2024?

IP: We want to bring some of our new products that have been in development over the last year and which we only offer to the restaurant industry. It is also important to us that PPP will be able to bring in new participants that will get to experience a new group of support, and share their truth to help continue changing hearts and minds on how support systematically impacted individuals in dire need.

People’s Pottery Bowls. Credit: Heather Rasmussen
People’s Pottery Bowls. Credit: Heather Rasmussen

CW: You were awarded a grant by the LA2050 initiative last year; could you say something about that?

IP: LA2050 has been a long-time funder and awarder to People's Pottery Project. They are so amazing at celebrating and helping non-profits dedicated to making change in the communities, we have had such a great support system through them. LA2050 is making a difference in highlighting those organizations that normally don't get any recognition due to their size.

CW: What’s good and bad about Los Angeles from your perspective?

IP: LA experiences and celebrates an incredibly diverse community and we have experienced the ways these communities want to grow and change. In the same vein, there are several barriers to support the systemically impacted which can make these communities more estranged. As a city with one of the biggest influxes of the systemically impacted, we see there is not enough support—from jobs to housing to shared space. LA’s biggest strengths can be further supported by addressing all of its characteristics as interconnected.

CW: Are there other LA social projects and initiatives you’d like to give a shout-out to?

IP: Fair Chance Initiative, which we hope goes on the ballot; rent control.

CW: What are the next steps for PPP?

IP: PPP is in the process of moving and expanding our studio, team, and operations. We will continue to work with restaurants and artists in LA and beyond, and support more of our community including youth, educators, and other organizations.

People’s Pottery Project is participating in Frieze Los Angeles 2024.

Frieze Los Angeles 2024

Frieze Los Angeles returns to Santa Monica Airport from February 29–March 3, 2024.

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Main image: People’s Pottery Project cofounders Ilka Perkins, Domonique Perkins and Molly Larkey, 2022. Photo courtesy of People’s Pottery Project

Chris Waywell is Senior Editor of Frieze Studios. He lives in London, UK.