The University of Michigan ’09 Prison Art Show opens today


For the next two weeks, in the University of Michigan’s North Campus Duderstadt Center Gallery, the folks from the Prison Creative Arts Project will be presenting their 14th annual exhibition of art by Michigan prisoners. This year’s collection includes nearly 400 pieces, pulled together from dozens of prisons scattered across the State. I had the pleasure of seeing the exhibition this evening, and I highly recommend it to any of you in the audience who value art as a means of personal expression.

[For background on the project, and some insight into the controversy surrounding it, I’d recommend that you check out the interview I did last year with curator Jason Wright, and the comments left afterward.]

The show runs until April 8, 2009. The gallery is open to the public from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Tuesday – Saturday, and from 12 p.m. – 6 p.m., Sunday – Monday. And there are associated events taking place around campus during the entire run of the show.

Bill Ayers is speaking tomorrow at the Rackham Amphitheatre on “the role of the arts, education, and activism in shaping our collective destinies.” And, on Friday, at the Michigan League, University of California, Davis professor Malaquias Montoya, a celebrated Chicano artist, will be presenting his work, “Premeditated: Meditations on Capital Punishment.”

[Ayers was at the opening tonight. He was in front of me in the line for the small cubes of cheese. To my knowledge, he did not terrorize anyone.]

And, here, in closing, is a short note from Jason Wright.

You asked if there was anything that stood out about selecting the art for this year’s show…

I guess the thing that sticks in my mind the most this time around was a particular artist who submitted work at one of the thirty or so prisons that I was able to visit this year. He was a really sweet kid who, at least the way it seemed to me, had some kind of mental disability issues. I say “kid” knowing that for him to be in with the regular population he would have had to be at least 18, but he couldn’t have been much more than that. The art he submitted consisted of some fairly rudimentary drawings of cartoon characters holding up “no war” signs. Even though his work was not selected for the show, he stands out most to me as emblematic of what this show does so well: reminds us that behind the term “prisoner,” or “criminal,” there is an actual person, each with a story. A past, a present, and a future.

I think that the final tally on artworks that we ended up with this year was 398, so yes, plenty of stories to be found on the walls of this year’s show…

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  1. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    Dang. Has it only been a year since the last convict art post? I think still stand by my comments then … but where has egpenet gone? And has the dude, EOS, BA and others really only been with us that long. I’m losing track of time.

  2. Stella
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    I went. There was something amiss. I guess I’m really bummed that there was no new Frankie Davis. I waited all year.

  3. Paw
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I’m in the same camp as OEC. I think that inmates should just lift weights and look at porn. Who wants criminals exploring their “emotions” on the tax payers dime?

  4. Posted March 25, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    If you read OEC’s comments from last year, that is quite different from what he said. Calling people who are in prison collectively “criminals” in that dismissive way is far from accurate. In fact, one in 27 people in the state of Michigan is under correctional supervision. Not every one of those persons is a “criminal.” We have attempted to replace the manufacturing industry in Michigan with the prison industry — which requires prisoners. Thousands of those people are mentally ill, targeted for discrimination, poor, sometimes simply unfairly incarcerated. Even if guilty of a crime, our “corrections” system is corrupt and broken.

    Many of the women in prison are mothers. Monday, April 6th at the Rackham Assembly Hall from 7:30pm-9:00pm, there’s a special panel on women prisoners called “Invisible Women: The Crisis of Incarcerated Mothers.” In collaboration with the Exhibition, two incredible women will speak about the intersections of motherhood and incarceration. Silja Talvi is an investigative journalist and author of “Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System” and Melissa Radcliff is the Executive Director of “Our Children’s Place,” a residential facility in North Carolina where incarcerated women are able to stay with their children from birth through preschool. Please come and hear from these women about all of the incredible work that they do.

  5. Posted March 25, 2009 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    I thought there was more good work this year than bad. There were four in particular I wanted to purchase, but alas my check wouldn’t allow it.

    I especially liked the house that one prisoner built out of pebbles and cardboard.

  6. maryd
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    With shrinking state budgets, thinking about prisoners differently is not only right it is cost effective. Lisele is right when she talks about the populations in prisons and the same is true of incarcerated youth. Thinking we can just store these people away and forget about them isn’t humane nor sensilbe. Education holds promise and art, music and poetry is a balm to the soul of all individuals. Check out

  7. Posted March 25, 2009 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    I liked how familiar a lot of the pieces felt. Every once in a while, I’d see a piece and I’d be reminded of a similar piece last year. And it would occur to me that it was probably by the same artist. And I’d think about all that’s happened in my life over the last year, and how this person was still there, in his or her cell, painting. And the thought didn’t depress me as much as it made me happy. I liked the thought that these people had survived another year, and were still creating.

  8. Kranston
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    His shirt in the photo above is cropped. The whole thing says, “We got 99 problems, but Obama aint 1”.

  9. Posted June 1, 2009 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    to comment on Paws ignorant remark about better to let them lift weights and not spend the tax payers money. If they had weights they would use them.
    We as tax payers pay $40,000 a year per prisoner, and if we do not afford them art in corrections in some form when they also are limited on education, then who will they be when they are released back in to your neighborhood Paw?. would you rather have a educated art conscious self healed prisoner or a monster committing a crime back on to you to get back in when they lack a skill. Mostly they are more educated than the regular American schooled kid who now doesn’t take life for granted but learns everything possible to be a better human being than our neighbor.

  10. Prison Creative Arts
    Posted February 3, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    This year’s show starts March 22 and you can find an article about it at La Prensa.

  11. Samuel List
    Posted March 22, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    This year’s show opens today.

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