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From behind prison walls

By Sari Adelson

This year’s exhibit opens March 23 at the Duderstadt Center Gallery on U-M’s North Campus.

From behind the walls of Michigan prisons, many inmates turn to art as a means to express themselves. For the past 15 years, the University of Michigan has hosted an exhibition of the varied and oft-times revealing works of the incarcerated presented by the Prison Creative Arts Project

The impact from the exhibit goes well beyond the state’s art community.

Through a series of educational events, the exhibit has inspired a dialogue between the state’s inmates and the community at large. Proving, as organizers contend, that fostering creative work can lead to a broader, fertile discourse on the myriad issues of crime, punishment, recidivism and rehabilitation.

"Blood Red Sky" by Daniel Valentine

“Blood Red Sky” by Daniel Valentine

This year’s exhibit opens March 23 at the Duderstadt Center Gallery on U-M’s North Campus (2281 Bonisteel Boulevard). The exhibit has grown to become the largest exhibition of prisoner art in the country.

More than 300 art works created by 200 artists will be on display with a special thematic emphasis this year on artists’ response to social impact of the state’s dire economic situation.

“The program gives the public a glimpse into the type of things that inspire even the most downtrodden of us all” writes an artist, whose work is in the exhibit. “When people see our work, for a few moments, they forget that this work was done by a felon, but by another human being.  A human being who has the same thoughts, emotions, and inspirations as they do, and for that one moment, a major social and political barrier is shattered.”

The exhibit is curated by U-M professors Buzz Alexander, Janie Paul, and Jason Wright.

Each year, the PCAP staff travel to more than 40 state prisons to select work for the exhibit. Each year since the inception of the exhibit, the number of works has increased. So, too, has attendance. Last year, more than 4,000 people attended the exhibit.

"The Valley" by Darrel Vela

“The Valley” by Darrel Vela

EXHIBITION EVENTS (complete listing — download by clicking link below)

Opening reception — 5:30-8 p.m. Tuesday, March 23 at Duderstadt Gallery.  Those attending include U-M Provost Theresa Sullivan, exhibit curators, Patricia Caruso, director of the Michigan Department of Corrections. Formerly incarcerated artists will also talk about what the exhibit means to those artists in prison.

Symposium — March 26 with keynote address by Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project.

Panel discussion — Noon-6 p.m. Saturday, March 27, including panelists Judith Tannebaum, Phyllis Kornfeld, Leslie Neal, and members from PCAP.

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