University of Michigan's annual exhibition gives prisoners creative outlet

"3 Dodo Birds", Acrylic. Image credit: Darryl Rattew

The University of Michigan Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) is kicking off its 26th annual, Exhibition Art by Michigan Prisoners.

2020's exhibition was canceled due to the pandemic, and 2021 was virtual, so the PCAP staff and volunteers were excited to reconnect. 

"There was no greater joy I experienced this year than visiting artists in prison," said PCAP Director Nora Krinitsky. "Despite everything, PCAP artists have persevered and they continue to create works of great ingenuity, nuance, thoughtfulness and playfulness. I’m humbled by it."

The free, public exhibition highlights the work of 392 artists from 26 state correctional facilities in Michigan. It features 714 paintings, drawings, and three-dimensional works.

Artists range from men and women, ages 18 - 80, from across the state, coming from a variety of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. They feature a broad array of artistic media and subject matter, such as landscapes, prison scenes, and political statements. Most pieces are for sale, with proceeds going directly to the artists. Last year's exhibition sold close to half of the 823 pieces, generating $28,945 in just two weeks.

"Many artists chose to respond visually to several topics that currently dominate the news and public discourse," said curator Charlie Michaels. "They include emotional and thoughtful reflections on isolation and COVID-19, on the American political landscape, and personal perspectives on race and the Black Lives Matter movement."

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Senior curator Janie Paul started the Annual Exhibition in 1996, along with her husband Buzz Alexander, who is the PCAP founder. Paul, a community-based artist, and retired U of M professor, have been bringing art from prisons across the state to campus each year.  

"We were just mind-blown by the work," Paul said. "We discovered it was such an important event both for the artists inside and for the community. It brought us all together."

Going on now, until April 5, the exhibition is being showcased at the Duderstadt Gallery, 2281 Bonisteel Blvd. on U of M’s North Campus. Gallery hours and information can be found on the Duderstadt Center Gallery website.