Annual Exhibition of Artists in Michigan Prisons

The Annual Exhibition of Artists in Michigan Prisons has been running since 1996 and has grown considerably over the years to include hundreds of pieces by artists from all Michigan state prison facilities.  The exhibition is organized by the PCAP staff, curators, students, community volunteers, and recently released artists. The planning begins in the late summer, when a letter goes out to all incarcerated artists who have previously participated, inviting them to submit work for the current year’s show. An announcement is also posted in each correctional facility to reach new artists. During the fall, our Arts Programming Coordinator plans a visit to each state prison in Michigan, coordinating with the Special Activities Director at each facility. The curator group coordinates their participation in the visits to be sure there are at least two curators at every facility. The visits occur between October and January. PCAP volunteers, students, and staff are also welcome to attend art selection visits; anywhere from three to ten people attend each trip.

What happens during an art selection visit?

  1. A small group of curators, students, and volunteers travel to each facility.
  2. Artists set out their work in a gym, classroom, or other space. The PCAP group talks with artists about their work. The artists then leave the room or move off to the side.
  3. The PCAP group looks at all the work and selects pieces for the first round of curation.
  4. Artists return. PCAP group members talk with each artist about why their art has been chosen to advance to the next round of curation or not.

What happens to the art after the selection visit?

  1. PCAP takes artwork back to Ann Arbor. It is photographed, electronically catalogued, and organized.
  2. Curators hold the second round of curation. Curators review each piece and decide what artworks to include in the exhibit and how to display them. Some work selected at facilities may be cut in the second pass and not included in the exhibit.
  3. Artwork is prepared for installation. It is matted, sealed, or otherwise prepared depending on how it will be displayed.

Art Selection Criteria

The general criteria that PCAP consider when choosing art pieces are:

  • Originality: Does the art piece show original ideas, images, or use of materials? What do we learn about the artist from the work?
  • Uniqueness: Are the ideas, images, and materials used in ways that are unique or new? What might the piece contribute to the exhibition that no other piece does?
  • Commitment: Does the art piece show that the artist is committed to an idea, style, their growth as an individual or as an artist, and/or mastery of materials and media?
  • Personal Expression: What attempt has been made for expressive depth? Does the piece express something that matters to the artist? What meaning does the piece hold for the artist?

The following are not selection criteria:

  • Technical skill: Although PCAP appreciates a high level of technical skill, it is not used as selection criteria. PCAP exhibits a wide range of skills, from novice to expert. The criteria above can be used for any art piece, not just those that show a high level of technical skill.
  • Number of times an artist has exhibited with PCAP: PCAP welcomes exhibition veterans and first-time applicants. Each piece will be evaluated alone, not based on an artist’s other work.