U-M opens the 27th Annual Exhibition of Artists in Michigan Prisons

by Aaron R. James
Chris Levitt, The Weight of Time, 2022 “I wanted to paint the figure in a way where it is not clear if he will get back up, because I often feel like I’m not able to get back up and continue on,” -Chris Levitt
BEE, State of Mind, 2022 Buzz Alexander also spoke to this dilemma of perspective saying, “We move between two problematically parallel universes, prisons and what prisoners call ‘the world’…”

ANN ARBOR—Three hundred sixty unique artists inside 25 Michigan prisons are collaborating with the University of Michigan’s Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP), to showcase 645 pieces of art including paintings, three-dimensional creations and drawings. The 27th Annual Exhibition of Artists in Michigan Prisons runs March 21st—April 4th at the Duderstadt Center Gallery. This exposition is the world’s largest display of its kind, where underground art meets academic exhibition. 

A community of often unheard artists partnering with U-M facilitators and curators radically form what late PCAP founder and English professor Buzz Alexander called “our bridge.” 

Prices of art vary greatly and each artist receives their full asking price if their work sells. This reinforces that their art is an “extension of someone,” Emily Chase said. As PCAP’s Arts Programming Coordinator and an art therapist, Chase believes “art expresses something subjective about experience that quantitative research cannot.”

Chase describes feelings of polarization on selection trips inside prisons meeting artists. “I feel joy in connection while my heart is breaking. Mutual change happens through that connection.” 

Masters of Social Work student Sarah Hebert-Johnson shared that engaging with incarcerated artists “challenges the dominant narrative of punishment. The deep conversations with talented people make me rethink society.” 

Albert Krakosky III, A Patient Man, 2022 “Making art is not only fun for me, but it’s a form of meditation. I love seeing a piece come together. I feel calm and at peace, excited to see how my five siblings, parents, and other relatives will react to my artwork.” - Albert Krakosky III

For some, like artist BEE, this rethinking reminds society that, “Some people are  already in prison, and they will never step a foot inside a prison.” He says this about his juxtaposition-themed painting, State of Mind. 

After her first selection trip inside, such liberation awareness encouraged undergraduate student Suzy Moffat to add Art and Design to her Anthropology major. She’s been on 13 eye-opening trips to correctional facilities this year. “My thinking has become less cut and dry, more understanding and empathetic. Art is already a medium for that. Without going in and talking [to the artists], I don’t think I would have added Art and Design.”

Working directly with artists both presently and formerly in prison, PCAP Community Engagement Specialist Sarah Unrath speaks personally. “It gives me goosebumps walking in the gallery, that precious arena that exudes the whole gamut of emotions of what it means to be human.”

Jeffrey Hoaglin, Don’t Wait till it’s too Late, 2022 “Don’t wait till it’s too Late. If you’re putting off something, do it before it’s too late. We only get so much time.” - Jeffrey Hoaglin

Unrath calls PCAP interactions authentic. “It’s something you just can’t shake. Whether that’s through revelations that happen during workshops and  undergraduate courses, the powerful experiences of art selection trips, or the radical community of Linkage, PCAP seeps into the fibers of your being and changes the way you do life.” 

The exhibition is presented with support from the Michigan Arts and Culture Council. It’s held at the Duderstadt Gallery, 2281 Bonisteel Blvd. on U-M’s North Campus in Ann Arbor.

The eclectic Opening Celebration and reception kicks off on March 21 at 5:00 PM, with the Ceremony starting at 6:30 PM in the Duderstadt Basement. It features speakers from U-M, the Michigan Department of Corrections, artists from previous exhibitions, and exhibition co-founder, Janie Paul. Early releases of Paul’s new book about the exhibit, Making Art in Prison: Survival and Resistance, will be available on opening night.  

After March 21, gallery hours are 12:00 - 6:00 PM Sunday and Monday; 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM Tuesday through Saturday.

Learn how curators piece art shows together

Aaron James resides in Ann Arbor, MI, and is a writer of many genres including poetry, pieces, and scripts. He’s a member of and has been published by PCAP at the University of Michigan. He has a degree in Arts through Ohio University and has an affinity with surrealist art styles like Henry Miller, David Lynch, and Jim Morrison. His dream is to direct movies while publishing his many undiscovered works. 

Article is made possible by the Linkage Community Journalism Initiative.


Fernanda Pires, fpires@umich.edu
Sarah Unrath, saraheve@umich.edu

Release Date: 03/08/2023
Tags: Prison Creative Arts Project