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University of Michigan features extensive inmate art exhibition

Mar 23, 2017

A new exhibition opening this week at the University of Michigan aims to demonstrate the creative and intellectual ability of many of Michigan's incarcerated individuals. 

The 22nd Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners features 550 works of art by 450 artists, making it one of the largest exhibits of inmate artwork in the nation. Curators selected work from incarcerated artists in 28 prisons in the Michigan Department of Correction system. Visitors may purchase most of the art on display, with all proceeds going to the artist.

Ashley Lucas is the director of the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP), the campus organization that assembled the showcase. She says the exhibition shows the humanity of inmates too often characterized by the number on their uniform.

"We tend to think of prisoners as people who are all defined by the very worst thing they ever did," Lucas said, "We want people to know something else about them, to give a fuller picture of who these people are in their human complexity."

"We hope to find the very best of what's going on with people in prison and show it to the outside world, and to help the folks inside know also that we do see them for things besides what sent them to prison," said Lucas.

Selecting the work wasn't easy. Curatorial teams from PCAP spent last year viewing over 1,500 separate works of art in order to choose the final 550. Lucas explained part of this selectivity was due to the amount of space available, but also to ensure that work of the highest quality was presented to the public.

"We really only want the very best of the art because we want to show the people in the outside world that this is a really great, quality exhibition," said Lucas. "We want the work to speak for itself and to show the world the immense talent of people inside."

The exhibition is free to the public and runs until April 5th at the Duderstadt Center Gallery. The hours are 10AM-7PM Tuesday-Saturday and 12PM-6PM on Sunday and Monday. PCAP expects over 4,000 people to visit the gallery over its duration. 

A previous version of this article said the exhibition featured work from artists both currently and formerly incarcerated. That is incorrect. Artists created all of the work while in confinement, though some have been released since their work was selected. The previous article also stated that the exhibit features work from all 31 Michigan state facilities. The actual number is 28.