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Janie Paul Co-Curates "Free Your Mind" at MSU's Broad Museum

Painting shows prisoners in blue and orange uniforms engaged in various activities at tables while guards patrol.
Rafael De Jesus, The Way It Is, 2014. Cour­tesy the Prison Cre­ative Arts Project, Uni­ver­sity of Michigan. 

Stamps Pro­fes­sor Emerita and Senior Cura­tor of the Prison Cre­ative Arts Project Janie Paul presents Free Your Mind: Art and Incar­cer­a­tion in Michi­gan, a new exhi­bi­tion on view at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­si­ty’s Broad Museum through Decem­ber 122021

The exhi­bi­tion, co-curated by Paul and Broad Museum Senior Cura­tor Steven Bridges, fore­grounds work by incar­cer­ated Michi­gan artists about Michi­gan’s extremely long sen­tences, and the prob­lems with the incar­cer­a­tion of women and youth in particular. 

Mak­ing art can be a trans­for­ma­tive expe­ri­ence. It helps us to con­front and address some of the most press­ing issues of our time. Art has the power to shift the way we see and under­stand the world around us, and the worlds within us. Free Your Mind: Art and Incar­cer­a­tion in Michi­gan invites us to con­sider these qual­i­ties of art, while also grap­pling with the carceral sys­tem and the many ways it affects the lives of all of us.

Cur­rently there are approx­i­mately 2.2 mil­lion peo­ple incar­cer­ated in the United States, and in Michi­gan, there are roughly 33,000 res­i­dents cur­rently serv­ing time in the prison sys­tem. Work­ing together with a coali­tion of more than a dozen orga­ni­za­tions and Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity units and depart­ments, Free Your Mind explores the inner worlds of incar­cer­ated indi­vid­u­als and the fun­da­men­tal issues that shape con­ver­sa­tions around incar­cer­a­tion today. The exhi­bi­tion cen­ters on four key top­ics of inquiry: Michigan’s length of sen­tenc­ing and over­crowd­ing in pris­ons; the impact of incar­cer­a­tion on women; youth incar­cer­a­tion; and the dan­gers of COVID-19.

The exhi­bi­tion fea­tures artists, poets, and sto­ry­tellers of great achieve­ment. The major­ity of these artists are either cur­rently or for­merly incar­cer­ated. Their works on view invite us to con­sider the role art-mak­ing plays in pris­ons as a lib­er­at­ing force, and offer unique per­spec­tives on the expe­ri­ence of incar­cer­a­tion. The works also invite us to approach the sub­ject of incar­cer­a­tion with an open mind. Free Your Mind aims to cul­ti­vate a greater sense of empa­thy for those directly impacted by incar­cer­a­tion and an under­stand­ing that their growth as indi­vid­u­als is linked to the greater health of the soci­ety we all live in, together.

Free Your Mind: Art and Incar­cer­a­tion in Michi­gan
August 28 — Decem­ber 122021

Eli and Edythe Broad Museum, Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity
547 E Cir­cle Dr. East Lans­ing, MI 48824

Hours: Wed — Sun­day, 10am — 6pm