An Interview with Dr. Nora Krinitsky, Historian, Researcher, and Interim Director of the Prison Creative Arts ProjectHistorians in the News
tags: historians, Prison Creative Arts Project
Dr. Nora Krinitsky is a historian of the modern United States who specializes in urban history, African American history, the history of racial formation, and the history of the American carceral state. She is currently working on a book, “The Politics of Crime Control: Race, Policing, and Reform in Twentieth-Century Chicago,” while working on research projects at the University of Michigan. She has been appointed Interim Director of the Prison Creative Arts Project—a program that seeks to provide artistic education to incarcerated individuals in the state of Michigan.
Special thanks to Dr. Krinitsky and PCAP for taking the time to speak with The Politic.
The Politic: Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about the Prison Creative Arts Project?
Krinitsky: The Prison Creative Arts Project is a program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. We are now in our 30th year as one of the oldest continuously running prison creative arts programs in the world. We do several different kinds of programming that directly impact people who are incarcerated in the state of Michigan and people who have come home or have been formerly incarcerated.
Every year we mount an annual art show featuring art created by incarcerated people, and that runs for two weeks in March and April—sort of the jewel in our crown if you can think of it that way. In addition, we run weekly creative arts workshops inside a nearby Michigan prison where we teach things like theater, creative writing, and visual art. All of those workshops are run by volunteers, most of which are undergraduate students at the university, but our volunteers also include graduate students, members of the community, staff members—I think last semester we trained nearly 80 or 90 new volunteers. It’s certainly one of our most popular programs. We also publish an annual literature review that solicits submissions from writers who are incarcerated in every prison in the state of Michigan, which is an important way that we stay in contact with people who are incarcerated far away from our location in Ann Arbor. We also run programming for people who have come home, called The Linkage Project, and this program also runs weekly workshops and other opportunities to engage with creative arts for those who have returned home and are trying to get back into their communities.
Those are really the highlights—I could say more about each of them—but there’s really a wide range of things that we do here at PCAP. At the core of each of our programs is an emphasis on human connection and engaging that through creative arts practices.
What inspires a program like PCAP? What inspires so many people to volunteer for your programs?
We have such a wide range of volunteers that of course I would expect a similarly wide range of motivations. I think at the center of it, however, is a real fundamental respect for human dignity, and the belief that all people regardless of their circumstances, mistakes they have made in the past, and communities that they’ve come from, deserve access to education, deserve the ability to make art, and deserve the ability to express themselves. I know for certain that’s a motivation that had brought me to this work, as well as it’s something that motivates a lot of our staff members and volunteers and community members.
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