SIDNEY – Montcalm Community College’s “Art From the Inside Out” exhibit features artwork created by inmates in Michigan correctional facilities. Located in MCC’s Instruction North Building Art Gallery on the college’s Sidney campus, the display is open Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., now through March 27.
Having another inmate art show at MCC “fulfills MCC’s mission” and “provides a window into a part of humanity that few of us are in contact with,” according to MCC Visual Arts Coordinator Carolyn Johnson and Visual Arts Instructor Debbie Bell. “MCC is a liaison to link both worlds together to learn. Inmates can learn from our feedback while students and those in our community have the opportunity to analyze artwork and its content from someone in a restricted environment.”
Jonathan Chapman, an inmate sculptor whose work is included in the show, creates his pieces from whatever materials he can salvage, buy or recycle within a maximum security prison. In a letter Chapman submitted with his artwork he wrote, “I want to spend my idle time doing something positive that can help others.”
Chapman, who goes by Danny Johns as an artist, created “Jonny’s Wagon,” a red wagon made out of recycled paper materials, which resembles a small version of a childhood toy, and “Time Consuming Keepsake Box,” a gazebo-like piece made out of paper.
“I know I am getting better with every project I do,” wrote Chapman, “by the instant reaction I get from those that know what I have to work with and where I’m at.”
His artwork is among about 100 pieces created by inmates that are displayed in cases or line the walls of the art gallery. Some show struggle and confinement, but they are all beautiful and full of vibrant creativity.
Regardless of the emotion portrayed within the artwork, there is a lot of value for both the creator and the viewer, Johnson and Bell said.
“The value for the inmates is the fact that it gives them the ability to have a positive outlet as they have so much time on their hands,” they said. “They are able to release pent-up expressions through a creative process and stay busy practicing, which leads to the improvement of their skills, even with limited resources. The artists are also able to receive feedback from reflective papers written by our students. This will help them to improve and see how others may be observing/interpreting their artwork.”
As for the students, “It promotes great discussions psychologically and artistically,” they added. “Students really enjoy trying to interpret the art by finding the meaning or message within it.”
Community members also can reflect on the display.
“The community is able to compare art by inmates with art by free artists. We have a great deal of judgment and criticism against people in prison. This exhibit helps to put a vulnerable human face on this often shunned group of our own culture,” Johnson and Bell said. Many of the displayed creations capture an outdoor scene, with or without various animals, or a person who seems to be on the “outside.” Ducks, skulls, and pairs of various kinds are also repeated throughout the artwork, even though the artists are all different. Most of the artwork is available for sale, but some pieces are already sold. The prices range from $5 to $195, based on the piece’s size and the artist’s experience. There are four poems on display, as well, but they are not for sale. Once a piece is taken out of the prison, it cannot be returned to the artist.
Visit MCC’s Instruction North Art Gallery on the college’s Sidney campus to view and/or purchase pieces. A ballot box in the Art Gallery allows visitors to vote for their favorite artwork, and People’s Choice Awards will be given to the artists receiving the most votes at the end of the show.
Contact MCC Visual Arts Coordinator Carolyn Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 989-328-1248 for more information.