BROCKTON — Beth McLaughlin, chief curator of exhibitions and collections at Fuller Craft Museum, concedes that the goals of “Human Impact: Stories of the Opioid Epidemic” may sound ambitious. But she also believes the crisis calls for nothing less.
“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we as a cultural institution develop an exhibit and programming that would use art as a voice of social awareness, as a means for healing and reflection, and as a way to help destigmatize addiction?’”
These questions inspired McLaughlin and her friend, Susan Friedman, a counselor at Quincy College, to form a small task force that also included the High Point Treatment Center in Brockton, Stonehill College, Brockton Hospital, and the Plymouth County district attorney’s office.
Together, participants brainstormed ways the museum might turn its gaze directly onto one of the most prevalent societal problems impacting the community in which it is located.
Fuller Craft Museum, founded in 1969 and dedicated to contemporary craft made by artists who work primarily with their hands in materials such as wood, metal, glass, ceramics, and fiber, put out a call to artists who wished to be part of what McLaughlin called a groundbreaking exhibition.
Seventy artists responded; the museum chose 11 to take part. The next step was to pair the artists with families directly impacted by opioid addiction, identified by High Point Treatment Center.
“Some had lost loved ones, some had family and friends in the throes of addiction, others in recovery, others working to support loved ones in long-term recovery,” said McLaughlin. After the artists attended a training session with counseling professionals on how to ask questions sensitively, the artists and families met.
“Everyone was nervous,” said McLaughlin. “We knew of nothing like this that had ever been done before. It was very intense and emotional.”
Ann Marie Rocheleau, an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Stonehill College, heard about the planned exhibition from a colleague and spotted a unique opportunity for her students studying drug abuse and addiction. Invited to sit in on the meetings between artists and families, the Stonehill students recorded the interviews, then wrote reactions to what they’d heard.
“It was a great experience for my students to be able to see and hear a family member or an actual user talk about their struggle with addiction,” said Rocheleau. “I can teach the stats of the problem, how the brain of an addict works, but hearing the families talk was a completely different experience.”
Though based now in Florida, ceramic artist David Bogus was intrigued when he saw the museum’s call for submissions. Having grown up in Somerset and Fall River and lost friends to the opioid crisis, he felt personally connected to the situation.
During the 45-minute interview, he heard from a young woman about her father, who died from a methadone overdose. “He had been lying on the floor for three days when his body was found,” Bogus recounted. “The pills he took were prescribed by a doctor who was known for prescribing pills to people all around the neighborhood. [His daughter] and I both thought of it as a murder, and that was what I wanted to communicate.”
Bogus’s installation, titled “Profits Over People,” shows a chalk body outline on the floor, filled in by oversized ceramic pieces shaped like pills, each one printed with the name of the deceased.
Sculptor Jodi Colella of Somerville was paired with a grieving mother who lost her son to an overdose just six months prior to their meeting. “It was very raw and painful for her,” Colella recalled. “We talked for over two hours, and she gave me a very palpable sense of what it was like to live through such a horrific event.”
Colella said several days passed while she absorbed the emotional impact of the interview before she could start working. She created a 12-foot-high tower of fabric flowers made from clothing and other repurposed fabric donated by people affected by the crisis.
“I made 3,600 poppies,” said Colella. “Poppies are for remembrance, and poppies are also where opium comes from. Each one represents 200 individuals who have died as a result of opioid-related complications.”
Said Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz, whose office is one of the museum’s partners for the exhibition, “The opioid crisis has really challenged our traditional norms as to how we can work collaboratively with our community to try to deal with an issue. “We’ve been trying to think outside the box for a while now. How can we communicate its impact to kids at a younger age? That takes more than police. By bringing in families affected by the crisis, the museum exhibit is helping people to share their stories, their pain, their suffering, and also the hope they have.”
Cruz said his office is hoping to secure funding for bus transportation so that more school-aged children will see the exhibition.
“I have always felt that the role of a museum is to mirror what’s happening in our culture,” said McLaughlin. “We need to look outside, not inside, to do that. With the political turmoil that has continued ever since the 2016 election, almost all museums are looking for ways to do more shows with social impact. As a small museum, we can take on these projects.”
“Human Impact: Stories of the Opioid Epidemic” is on view now through May 3 at Fuller Craft Museum, 455 Oak St., Brockton. For hours or more information, call 508-588-6000 or click here.
Nancy Shohet West can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.