Works of art utilized for works of mercy.
The Currier Art Museum has started a new program, “The Art of Hope,” to help families who have been affected by the opioid crisis. In a joint effort with Partnership for Drug Free Kids, the museum will offer safe space to relatives and loved ones of those struggling with addiction to connect, support one another, and discuss their situations through an artistic medium.
The opioid crisis has been hard on the city of Manchester, New Hampshire, the most populous city in a state ranked third in the nation for drug overdoses. In 2015, the town of about 110,000 accounted for nearly a quarter of all overdoses reported in the Granite State and three years later the number has risen by 11 percent — although deaths as a result of overdose have dropped by more than a quarter.
Manchester has many programs in place to care for those grappling with addiction, like 24-hour Safe Stations to assist addicts who want help, but the opioid crisis has affected more than just those addicted to perscription drugs and illicit substances. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that over 92,100 children were removed from their homes due to parental substance abuse and placed in foster care, or sent to live with other family members, in 2016.
Recognizing the needs of the community, director of the museum Alan Chong suggested the program, and Lynn Thomson brought it to life. Participants gather at the Currier, in front of their fine collection, and find relevance to their lives in the works of art. They also take part in small art projects that provide coping mechanisms and outlets to mend broken relationships. One such project saw group members create stamps and cards that could be sent to estranged relatives.
“There’s blue out there beyond,” a woman observes at a recent group session documented by Shawne Whickham for The New Hampshire Union Leader. “It’s going from the chaos to sunshine and glory.” When asked by a facilitator why the people in the painting were so important to each other, one woman replied, “Survival. Helping each other. It goes to show when there’s some disaster, people do pick it up.” “It shows that just because you made it to shore, you may not be safe,” another person said while looking at Vernet’s menacing waves.
Thomson and her team use the Currier’s collection to connect with the experience of being a caregiver. Other works that “The Art of Hope” has utilized in this way include Glenn Ligon’s “Invisible Man,” a brightly-colored abstract landscape by Hans Hoffman, and bigger installations like Ethan Murrow’s “Hauling.”
Manchester’s drug troubles stem from the prevalence of illicit fentanyl, a substance that can be more than 100 times as potent as morphine and which can be altered to make even more powerful drugs. The epidemic of addiction has led to a shortage of beds at recovery centers, where many refuge seekers are on wait lists.
As the crisis continues, Thomson hopes that her program will be adopted by other museums to provide much needed care to families in need, nation-wide. She told Hyperallergic:
“We are helping the community by offering them a place of respite and a sense of hope. Art is a powerful way to engage people in dialogue.” She added, “We hear so much about those that are suffering from the disease, but then there are loved ones who are suffering in a different kind of way. The impact on them is also huge.”