Kansas City artist Benjamin Todd Wills has corresponded with thousands of prisoners over the years. When one sent him a paper airplane—its folds, textual content, and illustrations laden with messages both expressed and implicit—it inspired a unique project.

From an ever-growing collection of inmates’ paper plane submissions, Wills fashioned the exhibit Airplanes. The creations vary in size and design, some made from notebook and drawing paper, others from commissary lists, notices of denied appeals, and behavioral writeups. Their content and tone range from regret to hostility, from bravado to humility, each representing, according to Wills, “a vehicle of escape, missed opportunity, and in some cases rebellion for its creator.”

The exhibit also features Wills’ near-life-size depiction of a solitary-confinement prison cell, constructed according to sketches of those who’ve occupied them.
Making Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration
Thursday, January 31, 2019  6:30 p.m.
Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

Listen to program audio
Write a Letter to a Prisoner
Saturday, March 30, 2019  2 p.m.
Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

Artist Ben Wills leads a special letter-writing session in the Guldner Gallery in which the public can join him in corresponding with incarcerated individuals. “America's incarcerated population is growing, often neglected, and eager to communicate,” he says. “This event presents a positive platform for their expression.”


Related Reading

In conjunction with the Airplanes exhibit, explore a selection of book titles that tackle tough questions about today's prisons and the experiences of incarcerated men and women.

View the list in the Library catalog



Date & Location