ANN ARBOR—It is a major milestone for The Prison Creative Arts Project as the Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners celebrates its Silver Jubilee this March. In 25 years of history, it has become one of the largest exhibitions by incarcerated artists in the world.

As the public health crisis accelerated in the weeks before the opening, the show had to be postponed, but an online preview, with a limited number of works, is now available to the art community. PCAP is also exploring several options to reschedule the show at a later date.  

"We take the health and well-being of our community very seriously and made every attempt to hold the show with accommodations and changes to our normal procedures," said PCAP Interim director, Nora Krinitsky. "But in the end, it was simply not safe to mount the exhibition. I shed many tears over that decision, and I am heartbroken for our exhibiting artists and their families."

The Annual Exhibition curators also expressed their sorrow on the show cancelation, but also their excitement about all the new artists and the work they put together persisting in their excellent art practices. 

"This year there are many new artists and artists who have exhibited for a few years and are achieving new levels of excellence. It is a continuous process that keeps the exhibit fresh and exciting," said senior curator Janie Paul, who started the annual exhibition in 1996 with her husband and PCAP founder Buzz Alexander.  

It is a long journey to piece the show together

About 40 University of Michigan volunteers, led by Graham Hamilton, PCAP's Arts Programming Coordinador, drove 3,800 miles to 26 prisons in the state in search of the best works of art created by prisoners.

"I am always so impressed with what the artists bring to share—and always so enlivened by what they have to say," Hamilton said. 

During their travels through the western side of the Upper Peninsula each year, Hamilton said, they are always reminded of the “incredible work done on behalf of the Michigan Department of Corrections employees.”

"With their support and encouragement we are able to visit directly with incarcerated artists no matter what facility or what level of security the artists may find themselves at a given time," he explained. "There are many obstacles and situations to work through together across organizations—no doubt. This collaboration across state agencies is something I will continue to promote and improve upon whenever possible."

The 25th Annual Exhibition recognizes diversity of both artists and artistic choices with a curated exhibit featuring a broad array of artistic media and subject matter.

Artists cherish their art materials and find inventive new ways to work with them. With only recycled materials Robert Holliday created Truck and Cars. He used cardboard cracker boxes, toilet tissue wrapping, small pieces of fabric and potato chip bags, among others mediums.

Artists cherish their art materials and find inventive new ways to work with them. With only recycled materials Robert Holliday created Truck and Cars. He used cardboard cracker boxes, toilet tissue wrapping, small pieces of fabric and potato chip bags, among others mediums.

"I can use pretty much all the materials that can hit the garbage can. This way I can help save the landfill and the environment as well. I just keep everything the best I can," he said. "This show allows us to get a break from the dreary environment we're in. There is nothing compared to getting mentally free. And mentally, we're not here when we're working for this exhibition." 

For the last few years, recreation director Brad Budzynski of Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson has watched a growing level of commitment from incarcerated artists. 

"This gives these guys something to look forward to every year. It's keeping them doing something positive and out of trouble," he said. "They put a lot of hard work and dedication into it. It's not just a simple image. They totally put their hearts into these projects."

Artist Bryan Picken was released this January, after 16 years of incarceration. Last fall, he had two pieces selected that will be featured in the show. He used acrylics in both of them: a bird warrior woman and a samurai. 

"I find it therapeutic to scrub my thoughts, insecurities, hopes, and fears into my pieces. Everything I feel influences what gets created," he said. "I hope my art can reach into a person's soul, speaking to an untapped portion of themselves, a part they don't yet have words for."

Q&A with Nora Krinitsky - America's prisons and social distancing

Podcast Michigan Minds - Prisons and Social Distancing 

PCAP