New Beginnings: The Prison Creative Arts Project and the University of Michigan

21 Feb

Those of you who know something about the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) might recognize at least one of the very silly people in this picture.

Buzz & Ash

Buzz Alexander–the taller of us–founded PCAP in 1990 at the University of Michigan, and in the years that followed Buzz built this extraordinary program into the largest organization in the U.S. (and perhaps the world) that links university students and incarcerated youth and adults through arts programming.  PCAP sends undergraduates into Michigan prisons, juvenile detention centers, and urban high schools to facilitate arts workshops.  PCAP also hosts the Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners, which displays over four hundred works of visual art from every prison in the Michigan Department of Corrections.  PCAP’s annual literary review publishes writing by Michigan prisoners, and the organizations many workshops host dozens of performances each year.  In fact, last week PCAP celebrated the performance of its 600th play.

Now I have the honor of succeeding Buzz in running this incredible organization.  As of January 1, 2013, I am a new Associate Professor of Theatre & Drama at the University of Michigan and the Director of PCAP, and I am deeply grateful to Buzz and to Janie Paul (the other long-serving member of the PCAP faculty and Buzz’s wife) for the years of preparations that went into the process of getting me hired at Michigan.  Many other people worked very hard to get me to Michigan, including Priscilla Lindsay, chair of the Dept. of Theatre & Drama; Dean Christopher Kendall of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre, & Dance; and Angela Dillard, chair of the Residential College.  Half of my faculty appointment at Michigan is in Theatre & Drama (the field in which I was trained), and the other half is in the Residential College (RC) where PCAP will soon be moving.

PCAP has long lived in Michigan’s English Department because that’s where Buzz founded it.  Though PCAP will maintain connections to the English Department through Buzz and my husband Phil Christman, who will be teaching as a lecturer in the first year writing program in English, the PCAP’s administrative operations will move into the RC in Fall 2013. The PCAP staff–Sari Adelson, Shannon Deasy, and Vanessa Mayesky–and I will all have offices in the RC, while Buzz and Phil will be the PCAP faculty with offices  in English.  I also have an office in Theatre, and Janie, of course, has an office in Art & Design, which gives PCAP a strong presence on North Campus as well.

Buzz is considering retirement in the coming years but has not set a date for his retirement.  We hope to have a few semesters or years of working together before he stops teaching, though he will never truly leave PCAP or stop participating in its activities. (Thank goodness!)  Though I will undoubtedly do many things differently than Buzz has in the past–because I could never hope to fill his shoes completely–I endeavor to honor the incredible work that he has done and continues to do with hundreds of students, volunteers, and incarcerated people.  Buzz’s main purpose in bringing me to Michigan, and mine in coming here, is to protect PCAP’s sustainability so that this organization can thrive for twenty more years and beyond.

My husband Phil–a writer and former lecturer at North Carolina Central University–will play a significant role at PCAP as well.  Starting with the 2014 issue, he will be the editor of PCAP’s annual Review of Literature by Michigan Prisoners.

We have taken up residence in Ann Arbor, though neither of us will start teaching until Fall 2013.  Though we already miss many friends and colleagues at UNC, we are very happy to be at Michigan and plan to be here for years to come.  The PCAPers, colleagues at Michigan, and our neighbors have done much to welcome us and make us feel at home here. We are grateful for all the good will and kindness that is being shown to us, and we look forward to meeting all of the current PCAPers and to teaching our first Michigan students in the Fall.

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