On December 2, 2023, The University of Michigan Prisoner Creative Arts Project (PCAP) put on a beautiful event in the Michigan Union titled the 2023 Art Auction which raises funds to support the 28th Annual Exhibition of Artists in Michigan Prisons. For anyone not familiar with what PCAP is and what the art auction is all about, the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) was founded in 1990 and has grown to include undergraduate courses, exhibitions, publications, a prison reentry arts program, and events that reach thousands of individuals each year.
PCAP keeps incarcerated participants involved in programs such as theater, creative art, and writing workshops. The auction consists of beautiful acrylic paintings, sculptures, watercolors, oils, and paper mache awaiting to be admired and bought.
I walked into the Michigan Union and was greeted by two smiling faces at a table set up where you checked in. I was shocked yet impressed at how long the line was of people wanting to come into this event. There was a 50 percent increase in attendance, totaling 153 people!
The scenery was a sight to see. It looked like an upscale art gallery. Everyone was very warm, friendly, and welcoming when granted access inside. The tables were decorated with light blue tablecloths with realistic electric candles and vases filled with vibrant and colorful arrangements of flowers. It gave off a very intimate setting. Food was served on white tablecloth tables. The food that was served was delectable, upscale, and exotic. The menu consisted of: Mezze Platter, Tabbouleh Salad, Hummus, Pita Bread, Basmati Rice, Moroccan Vegetable Stew, Shish Tawook Chicken, and Samosas.
PCAP members, Tore and Shelly, were the wonderful hosts and auctioneers that kept the event uplifting and light. They introduced the start of the silent auction, which began at 6:30pm. There were so many tables covered with art created by currently incarcerated males and females and Linkage members. I was in awe at how much time and effort was put into these uniquely crafted works of art. Every artist was so deserving of having their work bought. At 7:30pm I had the privilege and honor of being entertainment for the night and performing a cover to Colbie Caillat’s song “Try”, changing the lyrics to resonate with all the guests in attendance letting them know that you don’t have to try so hard to be amazing and feel like you have to prove yourself to others because you are already great. Many were touched by the heartfelt and encouraging song.
Once the silent auction was over, the live auction began. It was so exciting to see people bid on the art being displayed all thanks to the lovely donating artists. There was a lot of friendly competition with people really wanting to purchase different works of art. Tore and Shelly did a fantastic job with auctioning off the art. Thirteen more pieces were sold this year compared to last year and PCAP made record history by selling a piece by artist Oliger Merko for $1260! There were a lot of guests in attendance at this auction who got to experience what this event was all about for the first time: activism, visual art, community engagement, awareness, criminal justice, diversity, inclusion, mass incarceration, and other prison issues/concerns.
I had the honor of doing multiple interviews with guests asking them what they thought of the art auction, the food, and purpose of the event. Isha Venkatesh stated how this was one of her favorite events and enjoyed seeing the amazing art and pieces. She loved that so many people came together and it was such a feel-good event and very cultural this year with the food. Nghi Nguyen felt that it was very interesting to have this event at U of M and the vibe was very relaxed. She thought it was great to give prisoner artists this platform and great exposure. Houda Tarraf loved that prisoners got to express their creativity and she liked the food a lot. Kera Hill thought the event was uplifting and gives a platform to see where you can go once you leave prison. Cassie & Derek said,
This event was awesome! Really great cause. Very interesting messages from the speakers that I needed to hear. They spoke about how hard it was to get art supplies and that was very touching.
Sabrina Wakefield thought it was such a great opportunity for people to understand incarcerated people at a different level. She stated that it was very empowering for those who have been incarcerated and are incarcerated.
I hope that this event encourages people to donate, advocate, and help bring awareness to the prison community and the talented and gifted artists who are part of that community. I also hope that this event encourages PCAP/Linkage Community members to continue to keep creating and not stop believing that you are more than enough; your voice deserves to be heard. I highly encourage people to attend this event next year and to bring a friend.
Marjani Abdur-Rahman is a 34-year-old licensed nail tech, nail instructor, and supervisor for Rite-Aid. She is a senior at U-M Dearborn, majoring in social work with a concentration in substance abuse. She is an active member of PCAP's Linkage Community. Her art and story can be seen in author Janie Paul's book, "Making Art In Prison: Survival and Resistance." She loves to sing, dance, paint, and do theatre. She loves to share her experience and testimony with others about overcoming prison and to help others who are released in any way that she can by providing the resources that she has found and used.
Article is made possible by the Linkage Community Journalism Initiative.
Photography by uptown24studio.com