REVIEW: The Prison Creative Arts Project Gallery Show

The Duderstadt Gallery on North campus recently featured the art of prisoners from around the area who engaged in 2D work in pencil, paints, and other mixed media, to even 3D sculpture work. The art show itself is an annual event recognized nationally. The show has featured in the past over 500 pieces of art and around 250 participating artists. The art work features those both in and out of the prison system, or those who have connections to the prison or criminal justice system.

This year’s art show was up from March 25-April 8. The work was on a more prolific scale than I thought coming in. Art work was installed from floor to ceiling, and skill levels were on a similarly large scale. Something that stood out to me was that members of PCAP would come and engage in workshops with prisoners but all supplies for the art had to come from the artist themselves. Without any precedent except for a call for submissions, the content of the art ranged from scenes of prison life, to more abstract images, to mythologically-based images. Many of the 2D works featured faces, either portraits or faces of other people.

I was also surprised that most of the art had the little red dot sticker indicating that the piece had sold. Prices ranged anywhere from in the $40 range to $400. Not only was there a red sticker, but a yellow sticker indicated a communication or letter had been written to the artist by someone either interested in purchasing the art or simply interested in giving feedback on the work. I thought that this was the most unique part of the show. It opened a form of communication between artist and viewer that normally doesn’t occur, in a gallery setting but also between prisoner and non-prisoner.

Leaving the event I looked up more information on the PCAP website. As a result of this engagement with prisoners, the amount of art made in Michigan prisons has greatly increased, and sometimes prisoners are engaging with fellow inmates to encourage art-making. I found the show to be a really eye-opening experience to just how much talent there is outside of formal art education, and how great an opportunity something like the PCAP art show provides for viewers but also the artists as well.