The 23rd Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners brought the work of 582 incarcerated artists to the public realm during its two-week run at the Duderstadt Center Gallery. The show’s 658 artworks included two-dimensional and three-dimensional pieces in a wide range of artistic styles. Artists were encouraged to submit work that comes from their unique experiences, that is unexpected, and that has not been seen before. They responded with sculptures of robots, serene landscapes, portraits of family members, and abstract designs.

One goal of the Annual Exhibition is to encourage prisoners to become artists. The increasing number of artists participating, 230 more than in 2017, is one measure of success. Another is how artists are pushing themselves to take on creative challenges. As one artist writes, “I feel like a new man this year. I ventured out of my comfort zone of pencil sketches to the vast depths of acrylic painting. I’m happy to say that my old confines are completely destroyed. I hope to destroy and create every day, from now on, myself willing.”

The Annual Exhibition also aims to humanize prisoners in the eyes of the general public and to connect them with the effect of mass incarceration and the power of art as a sustaining force. Gallery attendants counted 3,697 individual visits to the exhibition, including 16 tours that brought university students, high school students, and faculty to the show. Gallery visitors take in artists' messages from artist statements, a panel discussion of formerly incarcerated artists, and the artwork itself. Visitors complete the communication loop by sharing their thoughts in the guest book and critique letters. These often reflect an acknowledgement of the artist's humanity. As one student wrote, “I don’t know what battles your heart has seen, but I admire your self-reflection and bravery in creating such beautiful art, and I am so grateful you shared it with me.”

Planning is underway for the 24th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners, March 20-April 3, 2019, in the Duderstadt Center Gallery. Volunteer registration is open for artwork selection visits to prisons, gallery installation, and gallery docents. No prior art experience is needed and all are welcome to apply. To stay updated on the exhibit and other events, sign up for the Prison Creative Arts Project email newsletter

The 23rd Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners is supported by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.