Visit the 28th Annual Exhibition of Artists in Michigan Prisons

Art made by prisoners in Michigan.
"Days Gone" by Aaron Rose.

The 28th Annual Exhibition of Artists in Michigan Prisons runs March 19-April 2 at the James and Anne Duderstadt Center Gallery at 2281 Bonisteel Blvd, Ann Arbor.

The exhibit is offered by the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) at the University of Michigan and includes work by men and women from 24 state prisons in both the upper and lower Michigan peninsulas (23 men’s prisons and 1 women’s prison).

PhD and PCAP Director Nora Krinitsky said this year’s art exhibit’s variety and depth of expression makes this year special.

“This year viewers will see a range of interpretive themes in the gallery that help to understand the art better,” Krinitsky said. “These themes emerged from discussions among PCAP curators, students, faculty and volunteers. They help viewers to get a deeper understanding of the art and come away from new ideas about the power of art for social change.”

The depth and breadth of the exhibit is also impressive with a total of 746 pieces by 479 unique artists.

A painting of a lady blowing a bubble.
“Bubblegum” by Jill Day.

“Most pieces are paintings or drawings, but the show also includes works with repurposed materials, fiber, wood and paper,” Krinitsky said. “Topics include nature and landscapes, portraiture, images of incarceration, connection and family and political perspectives, among others.”

According to Krinitsky, there were 2,210 individual visits to the exhibition in 2023 and 1,365 visits to the digital exhibition as of May 2023.

There is much to learn from these kinds of expressions from the incarcerated.

“We can learn about the power of creativity, especially how crucial it is when we are facing the most difficult circumstances,” Krinitsky said. “The inventiveness of the artists in the exhibition shows us the possibilities of human expression and meaning making.”

Not only is the viewer of the art inspired, but the creator is also helped in the creative process.

“There is something about incarceration that compels many people to create art,” Krinitsky said.  “It offers a chance to exercise individual agency in a place where there are almost no other opportunities to do so. Art making is a chance for people to articulate visions of themselves, often visions that are very different from the ones that are imposed on them by the criminal legal system.”

People also have misconceptions about the incarcerated that can be at least partially dispelled through art.

A painting made by prisoners.
“Days Gone” by Aaron Rose.

“The biggest misconception about people who are incarcerated is that they have nothing of value to offer our communities,” Krinitsky said.  “Actually, incarcerated people are very much part of our communities with valuable perspectives on identity, belonging, justice and other crucial ideas that we struggle with every day.”

Sales of the art go toward efforts to sustain the artistic creation.

“Most pieces are priced between $25 and $150 with some pieces commanding much more,” Krinitsky said.  “Artists set their own prices and the proceeds of the sales (minus taxes and mandatory fees) go back to the artists themselves. Artists typically use the proceeds of the sales to purchase new art supplies or other provisions that they need in prison.”

The Prison Creative Arts Project was founded in 1990 with one theatre workshop in a women’s prison.

“As faculty and students continued facilitating creative arts workshops, they met many visual artists and organized the first exhibition of art by incarcerated people in 1996,” Krinitsky said. “The first exhibition featured seventy works of art by fifty artists. Artists as well as visitors were incredibly enthusiastic about the exhibition, fueling its growth and success over the last 28 years.”

For more information of the exhibition, visit their website.

RELATED: Prisoner Creative Arts Project Holds 2022 Auction


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Donna Marie Iadipaolo is a writer, journalist, and State of Michigan certified teacher, since 1990. She has written for national publications like The Village Voice, Ear Magazine of New Music, Insurance & Technology, and TheStreet.
She is now writing locally for many publications, including Current Magazine, Ann Arbor Family, and the Ann Arbor Independent. Her undergraduate degree is from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she graduated with an honors bachelor’s degree and three teacher certificate majors: mathematics, social sciences, English. She also earned three graduate degrees in Master of Science, Master of Arts, and Education Specialist Degree.