During our countdown to the digital 25th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners, which opens March 16, let's take some time to celebrate our team of curators. They are the crew who has been crisscrossing the state to assemble one of the largest prison exhibitions in the world.
Before COVID-19 hit the world last March, our curators saw almost 2,000 pieces of art created by some 660 incarcerated artists. About 800 of these pieces will be featured in the show, which recognizes a diversity of both artists and artistic choices and portrays a broad array of artistic media and subject matter.
Hamilton was introduced to PCAP about 15 years ago while working as a Director of Exhibitions at the University of Michigan School of Art & Design. During that time, he was supporting art faculty, graduate students and advanced undergraduate students to exhibit their art publically. Not long after, Hamilton began to attend PCAP curatorial trips to correctional facilities and says he was immediately "taken by the remarkable interactions with the artists responsible for this amazing show." Currently Hamilton works for PCAP as an Arts Programming Coordinator and curator and works creatively to manage our visual art programming.
What joy do you find in your work at PCAP?
Hamilton: It has been about seven years that I’ve worked as an Arts Programming Coordinator for PCAP. I'm always interested in working with artists. It's a very rich place to find yourself each day.
I am also very excited about where we're going with our curator group. We've got focused curator groups working on multiple projects. Some big museum exhibits, some international exhibits. We've also got a group working on creating video content for our inspirational videos and instructional videos that we hope to send into all of the correctional facilities.
It's really fun to watch those groups work together, trying to support each other's experiment. it's almost as if this year has opened up the time for that to happen. Normally, we travel around the state for about three or four months on those beautiful trips, but this year—without having that occur—we've been able to focus on some things that we've talked about for years and try some things a little bit differently. I've been really encouraged with what I've seen and what everybody is producing. It's pretty extraordinary.
Are there any challenges?
Hamilton: I think the one thing that gets challenging is just the volume: the volume of interaction, the volume of content, visual database organization, and scheduling. Again, you're always working across pretty large groups of very bright creative people, so it has this beauty about it that nourishes you but it's also pretty complex. There's one thing I find I have to do sometimes, is navigate my role because it changes to with different people. It's this constantly dynamic world that is exhilarating and pretty challenging, there's no doubt about it.
What is your personal curatorial intention?
Hamilton: It's always that fine line between trying to keep the bar high artistically and include everybody. My two focuses are to keep it real and high quality and at the same time include as many people as we can. We have expanded our numbers, which means more artists and more art. Sometimes we'll get criticism from artists that we sometimes include too many now, but what's the trade off? The trade off is more people are involved. And again, through this next round of trying to enhance our engagement with visual artists, we're hoping to bring more information, more techniques to help people get better if that's what they want to do. This is our mission.
What do you see for the immediate future?
Hamilton: With so much uncertainty, I definitely don't see us going [inside prisons] in the summer and probably not in the fall, as well. But it's been interesting through this last year. Our work has not gone away. It's still as strong as it ever was. It has changed a little bit, but everybody in the organization has figured out ways to make it work and is dedicated to trying to find ways to make it better. I believe we will get back to in-person visits, which includes curatorial trips for the art show. I think that model in itself is a significant model, so if we could return to that it would be beautiful. A lot of people depend on that. But for the next year or two, if it's still tricky, we've already initiated further enhancement through video and correspondence. I think we're, like the rest of the world, trying to make it work as best we can. It certainly has some shortfalls but maybe there's some gains that come out of change too.