The Prison Creative Arts Project presents the “24th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners,” one of the largest prison exhibitions in the world.
The free, public exhibition, which opens at 10 a.m. March 20, highlights the work of 574 artists from 26 facilities in Michigan. It features 670 paintings, sculptures and three-dimensional works.
“It is a curated show. We don’t take all of the work that we see,” said Graham Hamilton, PCAP arts programming coordinator. “We show good work and we highlight the talent and the emotion of people inside.”
The show features a diversity of both artists and artistic choices. Artists range in age from 18 to 80, men and women from across the state with diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. There is a broad array of artistic media and subject matter, including landscapes, portraits, prison scenes, and political statements.
“We accepted art with all themes and ideas, but our focus is to explore the experience that is lived inside, to share those voices for the outside to witness,” said Hamilton.
Samantha Bachynski created “Crocheted Motorcycle” by crocheting each part of the bike and then assembling them all together. Not knowing anything about motorcycles when she started, Bachynski studied books and magazines to understand the bike’s structure.
In his painting, “Evening Yard Crew,” Oliger Merko elevates the simple gestures of shoveling snow into a radiant moment of glowing light and color. “In The Painter: A Portrait of Prison,” Christopher Levitt gives us a glimpse of life inside. Two artists sit at a table in the day room making art, while other people walk the corridor talking, listening on headphones and gesturing to each other.
Most pieces are offered for sale, with proceeds going directly to the artists. Last year, half of the 630 pieces were sold, generating $26,000 in two weeks.
Senior curator Janie Paul started the annual exhibition in 1996 with her husband and PCAP founder Buzz Alexander. Paul, a community-based artist and U-M professor emerita whose primary focus is the capacity of visual meaning-creation as a vehicle for social change, has been bringing art from prisons across the state to campus each year.
For the first show, Paul and Alexander traveled to 16 prisons in Michigan to collect art.
“We were just mind-blown by the work,” Paul said. “We discovered it was such an important event both for the artists inside and for the community because it brought us all together.”
The exhibition is on view at the Duderstadt Gallery, 2281 Bonisteel Blvd. on U-M’s North Campus March 20-April 3. Gallery hours are noon-6 p.m. Sunday-Monday and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
The opening reception at 7 p.m. March 20 features a performance by the U-M Chamber Choir and members of vocal ensemble Exigence, as well as guest speakers from the university and the Michigan Department of Corrections and artists from previous exhibitions.
The exhibition is supported by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Art for Justice Fund, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.