We Bear US

International debut of unique UK and US prison art exhibit at Ann Arbor Art Fair.

In the depths of the Covid pandemic lockdown, 31 people isolated in prisons in the UK and US produced extraordinary artworks exploring personal experiences of incarceration. 

Artist Faye Claridge sent each participant a letter inviting creative responses to the Warwickshire symbol of the chained bear. She paired two folk art paintings from the two countries1, showing different treatment of captive bears. These, as metaphors, provided inspiration for the remarkable artworks presented in We Bear

Incredible artwork – so beautiful, emotional and in depth. The atmosphere is incredible. So much talent.” ~ Exhibit visitor 

Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, Main Street & Liberty 

Thurs – Fri, July 21 & 22 – 10am – 9pm 

Saturday, July 23rd – 10am – 8pm 

The We Bear artworks were made in the most difficult of circumstances, in the middle of a global pandemic, and communicate sincerely a range of experiences of being incarcerated. 

They were created for a one-off exhibition in the UK, with Coventry Biennial, and attracted a staggering 52,068 visitors. Engagement from audiences and everyone involved has been astonishing, participants said they grew from the professional feedback and personal development in the opportunity and the results they produced are breath-taking. 

In response, Arts Council England has extended project support, allowing We Bear to travel to the US and be showcased at the hugely popular Ann Arbor Art Fair. 

The Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP), based at the University of Michigan, has partnered in the project from conception and is now collaborating as co-curator for the art fair exhibit. Join them, Thursday – Saturday, to experience the entire collection and leave your mark in the ongoing collaborative public art installation at the exhibit’s activity tent. And don’t miss their engaging live events just down the street, thanks to support from The Guild of Artists and Artisans. 

The Stage on Main, William & Main Street 

Thurs, July 21st – 2pm – 4pm 

Friday, July 22nd – 2:30pm – 4:30pm

At the Stage on Main, located at the corner of Main & William in the parking lot next to Palio Restaurant, hear first hand the captivating stories of artists who have created art inside prison, celebrate the spoken words of writers who are currently/formerly incarcerated, and be swept away by musical performances from the U of M Men’s Glee Club. 

Global Reach

To engage a global audience, an online event and StoryMap are being created so audiences near and far can experience the project in depth, with behind-the-scenes documentation, correspondence with participants, and additional insights into each of the participants’ artworks. 

We Bear: Behind the Scenes*

Thurs, July 14th – 2pm – 3pm

*registration required: https://myumi.ch/pZrA2

Here’s your opportunity to get an exclusive look into the makings of the compelling international collaboration, We Bear

Hear from project creator Faye Claridge, the artist participants, along with commissioners Coventry Biennial, UK prison education provider Novus, and the director of PCAP. 

“I hope this can give a glimpse into the creative minds and talent that reside in prisons and impart some insight into the effects of mass incarceration on our populations.” 

~ Darryl Rattew (US Artist) 

Scan to add to calendar, register for virtual event, and/or for more exhibit information.

Follow: @fayeclaridge, @prisonarts, @annarborartfair, @Coventry2021, Hashtags: #WeBear #annarborartfair #CovBiennial2021 #prisonarts 

We Bear is a Coventry Biennial Commission made possible thanks to UK City of Culture 2021, Arts Council England and Art Fund, and Prison Creative Arts Project

1 The two folk art paintings inspiring participants’ responses are Man Feeding A Bear An Ear of Corn (1840, American Folk Art Museum, New York) and Bear Baiting (1830s, Compton Verney Art gallery & Park, Warwickshire).

As a past participant in the Prison Creative Writing Project I have a very high opinion of the work being done by The University of Michigan PCAP to bring attention to the reality of prison as seen through the eyes of the incarcerated. When I was approached about posting an advertisement for the art exhibit on my blog site I did not hesitate. When I got the chance to read my poem at a PCAP event I had the opportunity to view the art exhibition from 2016. The old adage is true that a picture is worth a 1000 words. It may be fair to say that these art works created by incarcerated individuals are worth a lot more. To experience the raw emotion and deep seated pain that is so apparent in the paintings says more than all my blog posts combined about the conditions of confinement. If you live in the Detroit Metropolitan area or in Southeast Michigan I would encourage you to check out this art exhibit. These artists truly belong at the Ann Arbor Art Fair.