16th annual exhibition of art by Michigan prisoners held

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

"I first took part in a writer's workshop, which was transformative for me," said one of the former prisoners displaying her work at the 16th annual exhibit of art by Michigan Prisoners held recently at the Duderstadt Center Gallery, University of Michigan North Campus, Ann Arbor. "The class gave me something outside of myself and kept me alive."

She then took a visual arts workshop. "I started drawing different things and took them back to the Unit. People were interested in my work, which was a rare commodity to have someone interested in what you were doing."

When the call came to enter work for the exhibit, she submitted and was accepted.

In response to questions, she said that surprisingly, "It was hard to find time, peace and space to work. I worked on my bunk. It would seem that we have nothing but time, but it is such a regimented schedule that it is hard to find spare time. It was also hard to find space to store things."

Gary English, a prisoner on parole whose work was on display but was not allowed to attend the exhibit, wrote, "My paintings helped me by making the time go by quicker and also provided me with a skill I could use in the future. I wasn't wasting time but had something of value to show for the 22 years spent in prison."

English wrote of the difficulty obtaining art supplies. "One security level allows a variety of supplies while another facility would restrict you to twelve two ounce bottles of paint. So I tried to get some palette cups to mix colors and I was told no."

Over the past 16 years, this nationally recognized show has grown to be the largest exhibition of prisoner art in the country.

This year's exhibit included more than 300 works of art by over 200 artists, shedding light on the talents to be found behind prison walls and encouraged the public to take a second look.

With limited resources, prison artists create work in a range of styles, mediums and themes. "There is little abstract art," said Mary Rousseaux, a Detroit Artist.

"The majority of the work is representational. It is interesting what they can do without extensive training. Some of it shows real promise."

Some of the work reflected prison life, other showed pastoral scenes while others delved into the world of fantasy.

There were some pieces of sculpture such as motorcycles and riders made from 'mixed media.'

Prices for the works ranged from $50 to a few hundred. The prisons get a percentage of pieces sold.

This year's exhibit was curated by Professors Buzz Alexander, Janie Paul and Jason Wright. The work comes from over 30 prisons throughout the state.

The curators, Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) Administrators La Shaun Phoenix Moore, and Sari Adelson, along with various volunteers traveled to 46 prisons to hand select the strongest work from the artists.

As a result of this annual event, the amount of art created in Michigan prisons has increased dramatically, and Michigan prison artists have become national leaders, inspiring others to create art behind bars.

The PCAP, founded in 1990, facilitates hundreds of Collaborative Workshops in theater, creative writing, art, dance, music and video, each culminating in a final performance, reading or exhibit.

PCAP is committed to original work in the arts in Michigan correctional facilities, juvenile facilities, urban high schools and communities across the state.

Published: Mon, Apr 18, 2011