U-M opens the 27th Annual Exhibition of Artists in Michigan Prisons


“Even in the Dark There’s Beauty” by Daniel Teribery

By Aaron R. James, Guest Contributor

Three hundred sixty unique artists inside 25 Michigan prisons are collaborating with the University of Michigan’s Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP), to showcase 645 pieces of art including paintings, three-dimensional creations and drawings. The 27th Annual Exhibition of Artists in Michigan Prisons runs March 21st—April 5th at the Duderstadt Center Gallery. This exposition is the world’s largest display of its kind, where underground art meets academic exhibition.

A community of often unheard artists partnering with U-M facilitators and curators radically form what late PCAP founder and English professor Buzz Alexander called “our bridge.”

“State of Mind” by Christopher Stark

Prices of art vary greatly and each artist receives their full asking price if their work sells. This reinforces that their art is an “extension of someone,” Emily Chase said. As PCAP’s Arts Programming Coordinator and an art therapist, Chase believes “art expresses something subjective about experience that quantitative research cannot.”

Chase describes feelings of polarization on selection trips inside prisons meeting artists. “I feel joy in connection while my heart is breaking. Mutual change happens through that connection.”

Masters of Social Work student Sarah Hebert-Johnson shared that engaging with incarcerated artists “challenges the dominant narrative of punishment. The deep conversations with talented people make me rethink society.”

For some, like artist BEE, this rethinking reminds society that, “Some people are already in prison, and they will never step a foot inside a prison.” He says this about his juxtaposition-themed painting, State of Mind.

After her first selection trip inside, such liberation awareness encouraged undergraduate student Suzy Moffat to add Art and Design to her Anthropology major. She’s been on 13 eye-opening trips to correctional facilities this year. “My thinking has become less cut and dry, more understanding and empathetic. Art is already a medium for that. Without going in and talking [to the artists], I don’t think I would have added Art and Design.”

Working directly with artists both presently and formerly in prison, PCAP Community Engagement Specialist Sarah Unrath speaks personally. “It gives me goosebumps walking in the gallery, that precious arena that exudes the whole gamut of emotions of what it means to be human.”

Unrath calls PCAP interactions authentic. “It’s something you just can’t shake. Whether that’s through revelations that happen during workshops and undergraduate courses, the powerful experiences of art selection trips, or the radical community of Linkage, PCAP seeps into the fibers of your being and changes the way you do life.”

The exhibition is presented with support from the Michigan Arts and Culture Council. It’s held at the Duderstadt Gallery, 2281 Bonisteel Blvd. on U-M’s North Campus in Ann Arbor.

The eclectic Opening Celebration and reception kicks off on March 21 at 5:00 p.m., with the Ceremony starting at 6:30 p.m. in the Duderstadt Basement. It features speakers from U-M, the Michigan Department of Corrections, artists from previous exhibitions, and exhibition co-founder, Janie Paul. Early releases of Paul’s new book about the exhibit, Making Art in Prison: Survival and Resistance, will be available on opening night.

After March 21, gallery hours are noon-6 p.m. Sunday and Monday; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

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