The portraits at The Art of Being Me exhibit are larger than life, 3 ½-foot squares focused on the faces of 22 people in the Springfield community.
People of all ages, races and gender identities stare out, some smiling and some serious, but all of them drawing the viewer in as they share their stories about mental health.
“Mental health at one level or another pretty much impacts the entire world … but we look at it maybe with blinders and we think, ‘They’re fine. They’re not dealing with something,’” said artist Randy Bacon, who created the exhibit in collaboration the Burrell Foundation. “So the idea then is let’s show as wide a demographic as possible with people, as wide as far as types of stories — ultimately, if somebody else is dealing with something, they don’t feel alone.”
The exhibit will be open to the public at Randy Bacon’s Springfield studio, 209 W. Commercial St., starting June 4. It will be there through July, before embarking on a tour that includes Columbia and Louisville, Kentucky.
The Art of Being Me is part of 7 Billion Ones, Bacon’s “non-profit humanitarian story movement,” which embraces the idea that each one of the about 7.8 billion people in the world has an individual, important story to tell.
The exhibit — which includes video portraiture as well as still photographs — was created when Burrell Foundation’s Executive Director Gabrielle Martin approached Bacon. Martin wanted to start sharing stories of mental health and addiction, and “through those stories, start changing the narrative around mental health.”
“We want the community to know that we need to be talking about it,” Martin said. “That’s the biggest thing. We need to keep the conversation going, that’s how we’re going to help others. We want those that are struggling to know they are not alone, and that there is help.”
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Letting people know that help is available was the main motivation for Erin Hession to share her story. Hession was molested on multiple occasions by a babysitter’s husband from the ages 5 to 8, which led to a lifelong struggle with anxiety.
“I was 47 before I got any help, and I don’t want any other child to wait 40 years. I hope I can empower someone to know that there is hope and that there is help,” Hession said. “These things can be overcome — it’s a long journey — but you can find who you are and who you want to be and that’s what I hope to do for somebody.”
Martin hopes that the representation in the exhibit can help people realize that mental health is something that impacts everyone.
“(Part of) our mission says ’This is your brother, your sister, your friend, your colleague, your parent. This is me.’ And that’s where the whole concept of ‘me’ and ‘The Art of Being Me’ comes from,” she said.
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Hession had tried before to seek help for anxiety, but it didn’t pan out.
“That is one of probably the most important parts of my story: Not giving up on finding help because like I said, I did see a couple of other therapists. They weren’t the right fit for me, and (my therapist) and I — when we say what we’re thankful for at thanksgiving, my husband and kids always say they’re thankful for (my therapist),” Hession said. “Because I’m whole, and I’m a better mom and a better wife, and I can live my life happy and for a long time, I lived it in fear.”
Susan Szuch is the health and public policy reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow her on Twitter @szuchsm. Story idea? Email her at [email protected]