Ingenuity, nuance, and playfulness
The 26th annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners is the largest of its kind in the world. U-M’s Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) curated the free, public exhibition, which highlights the work of 392 artists from 26 state correctional facilities in Michigan. View the artwork in person at the Duderstadt Gallery, 2281 Bonisteel Blvd., through April 5. PCAP was founded in 1990 by Buzz Alexander, professor of English at U-M. Learn more about the program.
Artist: James Tinker
The show features diversity of both artists and artistic choices. Artists range from 18-80 years old; they are men and women from across the state with diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Most pieces are for sale, with proceeds going directly to the artists.
Artist: Cody McCauley
In 1996, PCAP received permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections to visit prisons in the lower peninsula of Michigan and select artwork for a show. Buzz Alexander and his partner Janie Paul, a visual artist and professor at the Stamps School of Art & Design, saw that people in prison were developing artistic practices to express and assert their identities. The rest is PCAP history.
From Anger, Hope
Artist: J. Blakie
By mounting the exhibition every year, PCAP provides a sustained support system for the artists inside — something they can count on going forward into the future with them. The goals of the exhibitions are to provide validation and support for the growth of each artist and to provide a way for the public to witness the humanity of incarcerated people through their art.
Backgammon on the Beach (Leisure Time)
Artist: Oliger Merko
After a few years, the project expanded to include artists at every state prison in both peninsulas of Michigan. PCAP students and community volunteers joined the project, attending art selection trips and helping to organize, photograph, and exhibit the work in Ann Arbor.
Artist: Tou Lor
Though the incarcerated artists cannot attend the shows, their families and other loved ones are invited. Artists also are included through communications throughout the year that bring them validation and connection.
Artist: Nino Tanzini
Funding to support the annual exhibitions has come from loyal patrons, and from the Washtenaw Council for the Arts, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, the Kellogg Foundation, and a Rockefeller Pact grant. In 2003, a National Endowment of the Arts Access Grant funded the first full-time administrator for PCAP at U-M.
Debots of the Soul
Artist: Roemello Boseman
In 2013, the University funded three full-time positions for PCAP staff, including a full-time arts programming coordinator for the annual exhibitions. Today, the curator group also includes formerly incarcerated artists.
This Is Why Kids Are Afraid of Clowns
Artist: Ande Woolworth
PCAP has enjoyed a collaborative relationship with the Michigan Department of Corrections since its founding decades ago. Throughout the 26 years of the annual exhibition, MDOC administrators, wardens, and staff have continued to support the project.
Artist: David Forbes
The annual exhibition is now the largest curated exhibition of art by incarcerated people in the world. The first exhibition included 70 works by 50 artists from 16 prisons. This year there are 714 works by 392 artists from all 26 state prisons.
Artist: Christopher A. Levitt
The exhibition includes portraits, tattoo imagery, landscapes, fantasy, and wildlife as well as images about incarceration and visions that are entirely new. Browse all artwork in the show, read artist statements from the contributing artists, and, if you like, make a purchase. All proceeds, minus necessary taxes and fees, go directly to the artists.
Artist: Phillip Crowley
The artwork you see here is a testament to the resilience of artists and the life-giving power of art under the most difficult of circumstances — incarceration, isolation, and unimaginable loss. It is an important reminder of the connections that sustain us all, in the free world and behind the walls.