Old Prison Turned Into Artist Apartments

Mar 3, 2014

Jackson, Michigan is the site of one of the most unique re-purposed buildings in the country—from prison to armory to 62 artist-friendly apartments.

Jean Weir moved from Kalamazoo to Armory Arts Village when it opened in 2007. 

“We try to get as many artists as we can, but we can’t discriminate that way,” says Weir.

A perk of being an artist resident is the use of shared studio space. Weir and artist Hector Trujillo collaborated on eight murals funded by a Michigan Humanities Council grant. In the lobby of the building, the murals show the history of the largest walled prison in the world when it was built.

When he couldn’t find a job, artist Louis Cubille was almost ready to move back to New York. Then, he heard about Armory Arts Village. He finds inspiration in living with other artists and has been busy teaching art classes since he moved in.

The 4 foot thick exposed-brick walls that insulate any sound from the outside remind Cabille that he is living in a former prison. Some windows still have bars on them and the arches in the ceilings reveal the dimensions of cells, 4 1/2 feet wide by 7 ½ feet long.

In a one-bedroom apartment with an open-kitchen plan, Joy Nelson looks out her windows to see high walls surrounding the building on three sides with turrets at the corners. Judy Gail Krasnow’s grown children thought she was losing her mind when she moved from Miami to an old prison in Jackson, Michigan.

“It’s an amazing piece of history like no other,” says Krasnow, a storyteller who has created a business called Jackson Historic Prison Tours.

Every apartment had to have some remnant of the old prison. Krasnow’s loft apartment has a very high brick wall, lined with three feet of woven steel.

“The whole idea of changing the vibes of those steel-lined walls into something that expresses human life with such beauty and talent is a wonderful thing,” says Krasnow.

Beginning on April 13th, the Armory Arts Village as well as the adjacent Art 634 building with studios and galleries will be open the second Sunday of each month from 12 p.m. to 4 pm. Jackson Historic Prison Tours begin again on April 1.