Creativity: Artwork by prisoners spans a wide spectrum

prev
next

By Cynthia Price
Legal News

Often incarcerated people turn to creativity, including fine arts, to express the conflicts inherent in being locked up – and, sometimes, in having committed a crime.

The University of Michigan’s 24th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners, held March 20 to April 3 at the Duderstadt Center Gallery in Ann Arbor, demonstrated this with a spectrum of exciting works – everything from a crocheted motorcycle, to pencil drawings, to an amazing sculptured steel robot painting on an easel. Some addressed their situations directly, others took a more oblique approach, and some just seemed to revel in the ability to create.

One opening-day visitor, former prisoner and U of M honor roll student Justin Alexander Gordon, promoted his own book of poetry, while another talked about a U-M curriculum project which will incorporate hours of video interviews with and about incarcerated people.

On opening day, with sales not beginning until 6 p.m., there was already a line  at 4 p.m. Last year’s exhibit resulted in half of the over 600 works sold, to the tune of $26,000, with proceeds going directly to the artists.
The exhibit, a project of the Prison Creative Arts Project, was started in 1996 by PCAP Director, Buzz Alexander, and his wife Janie Paul, a U-M emeritus professor.
That year, the couple traveled  to 16 prisons across Michigan and chose the best art. The program now visits all the prisons in the state, and staff makes an attempt to meet with each prisoner/artist in person, according
to Program Coordinator Graham Hamilton.

For the 2019 exhibit, there were 2,215 pieces submitted, and 670 chosen for display. The artists are from 18 to 85 years old, from a variety of backgrounds.

This year, PCAP benefited from a $50,000 grant from the Art for Justice Fund, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. PCAP is using the money to spread the stories of incarcerated artists and bring their expertise to events and classrooms, as well as to strengthen programming for people released from prison.

PCAP has hired new staff members including Cozine Welch, Jr., a writer who has been published in PCAP’s Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing. PCAP Director Ashley Lucas, who teaches two courses with Welch, says, “...We have seen that having a formerly incarcerated person partnering with PCAP faculty and students in a leadership role dramatically deepens both student learning and the trust and engagement of our community partners in prisons and reentry communities.”

Lucas says they were delighted with this year’s turnout. She explained the visual arts are only one aspect of the program, which also includes theater (Lucas’s specialty), writing, dance, photography, and music. Staff and students hold weekly workshops in the prisons (and also with re-entering citizens), but the visual arts workshops only take place in four prisons around the state.

More information is available at www.prisonarts.org/exhibits.

Comments

  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »