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Michener Museum to receive $184,580 grant for project recognizing building’s past as prison


The James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown is receiving $184,580 from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage for its upcoming exhibition “Behind These Walls: Reckoning with Incarceration.”

At the Michener, a Bucks County jail turned into an art institution in the 1980s, the exhibition will transform the way the museum interprets and presents the historical significance of its site. A diverse advisory committee led by local community leader Marlene Pray will initiate this project by considering the legacy of the Bucks County jail alongside contemporary questions around justice, equity, and mass incarceration.

For “Behind These Walls,” the museum is commissioning an installation from jackie sumell, an award-winning, internationally-known artist whose work critiques incarceration by foregrounding and humanizing incarcerated people. sumell will collaborate with community volunteers to plant and tend a “solitary garden” designed in correspondence with an incarcerated person. The solitary garden will be the size and layout of a standard prison cell, but it will be overtaken by plants chosen by the incarcerated “solitary gardener.”

“We're excited to receive this significant support of The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage as we continue to evolve as a venue where the people of our region creatively explore local history and public engagement,” said Vail Garvin, Michener’s executive director.

The Michener award is one of The Pew Center’s 40 new grants and fellowships totaling $9 million, which will fund public events and programs that celebrate the diverse and creative contributions of local artists and tell personal stories of prominent Philadelphians. Several projects highlight the role of the arts in grappling with illness, healing, and caretaking—especially since the pandemic—while others focus on contemporary expressions of cultural identity.

The awards, which were announced today, include $8.1 million to 28 Philadelphia-area arts and heritage organizations for project funding, $1.3 million of which is provided as unrestricted general operating support. Plus, $900,000 in unrestricted funds will go to 12 Philadelphia-area artists as Pew Fellowships in the Arts.

This year’s project grants to cultural institutions range from $100,000 to $300,000, plus an additional 20% in general operating support, bringing the maximum award to $360,000. The funded works will engage communities and audiences across the region through contemporary visual art and historical exhibitions, films, music, dance, and theater performances.

“Behind These Walls: Reckoning with Incarceration” begins as the Michener celebrates its 35th anniversary year and furthers the museum’s commitment to acting as an inclusive and dynamic cultural hub for Bucks County that invites all people to participate in the creative legacy of the Greater Delaware Valley. The exhibition runs May 18, 2024 to Nov. 24, 2024.

A full list of grantees and funded projects is available at

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