Powerful ‘What’s Left’ exhibit comes to Hibbing

Screen shot from John Bauer's Kickstarter video raising money for his "What's Left" project to open dialogue about mental health and suicide in our community.

Screen shot from John Bauer’s Kickstarter video raising money for his “What’s Left” project to open dialogue about mental health and suicide in our community.

The exhibit “What’s Left: Lives Touched by Suicide” will open at Hibbing Community College Monday and remain open throughout the month of April.

This multimedia exhibit intends to create a proactive community dialogue about suicide and mental illness with a goal of reducing the stigma surrounding them. The exhibit will located in the main entrance of the “C” building from April 4 through 29. Admission is free.

I wrote about the “What’s Left” exhibit and shared some of my experiences with the topic in a 2014 column. When I was in elementary school I lost my uncle to suicide, something that my family was unequipped to talk about at the time.

“What’s Left” an amazing piece of work by my Northern Community Radio colleague John Bauer. As a faculty member at HCC, I’ll walk through this exhibit every day to get to my office. My HCC colleague Maggie Holmes arranged to bring this exhibit to our college, and oversaw a companion exhibit “Taking Heart” by our students and community.

The opening reception will be held on Monday at 1 p.m. in building C. The event includes a round table discussion at 2 p.m. Speakers from Fairview Behavioral Health Clinical Program Development, Hibbing Police Department, Project Care Free Clinic, Range Mental Health Center, North Star Specialized Services, and Kind Mind Counseling and Mediation Center will share their knowledge and resources on mental health.

Suicide and mental illness are major health problems that affect everyone. The topic is often viewed as taboo, and family members left behind can feel stigmatized and unable to talk openly about their experience and grief. What’s Left provides a space for participating artists and the broader community to reflect on the impact of suicide and mental illness and explore the use of artistic expression in the process of grieving, healing, and expressing hope.

The project originated with Grand Rapids, Minnesota, resident John Bauer who lost his daughter Megan to suicide in 2013. Bauer’s experience in the aftermath of his family’s tragedy is what sparked the idea for an art exhibit as a way to encourage community conversation.

“Whether on the phone or on the street, most people just didn’t know what to say to me,” said Bauer. “How could they if they haven’t been through something so horrific. To develop a vocabulary for talking about suicide, we have to be able to talk about mental illness as well. Not in whispers or disrespectful laughter. We need a culture shift where we all take responsibility for addressing the stigma associated with suicide and mental illness. That burden should not be on me and my family alone, nor should it fall to other families who have come before or after us.”

Over 45 of Minnesota’s finest artists working in painting, poetry, sculpture, graffiti, glass, fiber, photography, and more have contributed artwork to the project. Audience members of What’s Left will also have the chance to listen to an interactive audio installation of stories from survivors.

What’s Left is a traveling exhibit with a goal of reducing the stigma surrounding suicide and mental illness and raising awareness about mental health recovery and suicide prevention. The exhibit is designed to be displayed in a wide variety of settings including community centers, art galleries, schools, and libraries and is available to travel to communities across the state through 2018.

In addition to the What’s Left exhibit, Hibbing Community College students will be exhibiting in a companion exhibit, Taking Heart, with work dedicated to the various forms of emotions, tragedies, and life events that lead to emotional issues and mental health problems. This work will reflect every day occurrences or major life changes, how we cope with those issues, and the ways we respond or find our happy place.

What’s Left is made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, thanks to appropriations from the Minnesota State Legislature’s general and arts and cultural heritage funds. Additional funding is provided by the Blandin Foundation, Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation, Miller-Dwan Foundation, Northland Foundation, Hibbing Daily Tribune, and many private donors.

I recommend you see this exhibit. “Powerful” is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but this piece of work deserves that adjective.

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