We Bear US

International debut at Ann Arbor Art Fair of unique UK and US prison art exhibit.

In the depths of the covid pandemic lockdown, 31 people isolated in prisons in the UK and US produced extraordinary artworks exploring personal experiences of incarceration.

Artist Faye Claridge sent each participant a letter inviting creative responses to the Warwickshire symbol of the chained bear. She paired two folk art paintings from the two countries1, showing different treatment of captive bears. These, as metaphors, provided inspiration for the remarkable artworks presented in We Bear.

“Incredible artwork – so beautiful, emotional and in depth. The atmosphere is incredible. So much talent.” ~ Exhibit visitor

Ann Arbor Art FairJuly 21-23, 2022

The We Bear artworks were made in the most difficult of circumstances, in the middle of a global pandemic, and communicate sincerely a range of experiences of being incarcerated.

They were created for a one-off exhibition in the UK, with Coventry Biennial, and attracted a staggering 52,068 visitors. Engagement from audiences and everyone involved has been astonishing, participants said they grew from the professional feedback and personal development in the opportunity and the results they produced are breath-taking.

In response, Arts Council England has extended project support, allowing We Bear to travelto the US and be showcased at the hugely popular Ann Arbor Art Fair.

The Prison Creative Arts Project, based at Michigan University, has been a partner in the project from the start and is now collaborating as co-curator for the Art Fair exhibit. Its team will also be running workshops and events within the fair program, for visitors to find inspiration and take part, thanks to support from The Guild of Artists and Artisans.

Global Reach

Online events are also planned, to reach a global audience, and to connect with Novus, the prison education provider who partnered to support UK participants through lockdown.

In addition, an online StoryMap is being created by Faye Claridge so Art Fair visitors and audiences from elsewhere can experience the project in depth, with behind-the-scenes documentation, correspondence with participants and additional insights into each of theparticipants’ artworks.

“I hope this can give a glimpse into the creative minds and talent that reside in prisons and impart some insight into the effects of mass incarceration on our populations.” ~ Darryl Rattew (Cooper Street Correctional Facility)

Image Credit: Files included in the kit are labelled with We_ Bear_ Artist’s Name.jpeg format.

US artists:

Parker Ayers
Susan Brown
John Gaik IV
Samuel Hendley
Jacob Mann
Destrey McCoy
Duane Montney
Theo Moss
Daryl Rattew
Alvin Smith
Serge Tkachenko
Amber Wilson
Andy Wynkoop

Supported by Prison Creative Arts Project
(University of Michigan, USA)

UK artists had to remain anonymous and were from:

HMP Altcourse
HMP Askham Grange
HMP Buckley Hall
HMP Cookham Wood (YOI)
HMP Hewell
HMP Hull
HMP Humber
HMP Isis
HMP Leeds
HMP Liverpool
HMP Oakwood
HMP Pentonville
HMP Stafford
HMP Thorn Cross

Supported by Novus: Foundation For Change
(prison education, UK)


Further information can be found at: www.prisonarts.orgWe Bear is a Coventry Biennial Commission made possible thanks to UK City of Culture 2021, Arts Council England and Art Fund.

Follow: Twitter/Facebook/Instagram @fayeclaridge, @umichPCAP/@prisonarts #WeBear #3Fairs1Event #AnnArbor #AnnArborArtFair #GuildFairs

For more information, images or interviews please contact: Sarah Unrath, saraheve@umich.edu, (734)649-0508

For local media inquiries please contact: Sarah Unrath, saraheve@umich.edu, (734)649-0508

We Bear is dedicated to the family of participant Robert Schoonover and all others grievingthe loss of loved ones to Covid-19.

Release Date: 05/18/2022
Tags: Prison Creative Arts Project