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The University of Michigan’s Prison Creative Arts Project

Updated: Apr 27

Lauren Sellman, Arts & Entertainment Editor

“Moment by Moment”. Photo//Chris Dankovich, Prison Creative Arts Project. 

The 28th Annual Exhibition of Artists in Michigan Prisons took place on March 23, displaying 746 pieces of artwork created by 479 incarcerated artists. This exhibition, organized by the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) which was started by UM-Ann Arbor’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, stands as one of the largest prisoner art exhibitions in the world. 

PCAP’s primary objective is to create a sense of community and provide a creative outlet for prisoners through art classes in collaboration with U of M undergraduate students. Since its creation in 1990, PCAP has been empowering inmates to learn new skills and express themselves artistically, often for the first time. 

The Annual Exhibition, initiated by the Residential College in 1996, has become a platform for displaying the talent and creativity behind prison walls.

“Coltrane in Motion”. Photo//Curtis Chase, Prison Creative Arts Project.

The selection process for the exhibition involves an evaluation by multiple PCAP curators, students, and volunteers. Each artwork is judged based on its uniqueness, originality, commitment, and personal expression. The chosen pieces are then prepared for display with most available for sale. The proceeds from this go directly back to the artists. 

Aside from 2-D art, PCAP offers a variety of workshops in writing, dance, music, and plays. Creating a variety of opportunities for collaboration and learning between U of M students and incarcerated individuals. 

The Linkage community is a subgroup of this project that creates a space for formerly incarcerated artists to learn alongside U of M students. This community still gets access to the resources offered behind bars through workshops, support groups, and gallery opportunities.

PCAP’s core values emphasize the belief that everyone is capable of creating art, and they prioritize the importance of community and connection in rehabilitation. The project is committed to reforming social justice through the arts and welcomes anyone interested in joining its efforts.

The success of the Annual Exhibition and the PCAP’s ongoing initiatives show the major impact of art in rehabilitation and community building within the prison system.

“Bonsai Tree”. Photo//David Lester, Prison Creative Arts Project.

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