“Fences include and exclude. They can build unity, and they can be tools of tolerance. Fences are two-faced structures that draw people together and keep them apart,” begins section 4 of MoMS’ exhibit, “Between Fences.” And how true.
Sixteen local exhibitors surround the Smithsonian’s central show at St. Mary’s College in Maryland. Ranging from libraries to the Community Mediation Center to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, these diverse exhibitors present the way their groups help to tear down fences. Though each deals with different barriers, these groups realize that all borders touch, and they’ve reached across the fence to partner with their neighbors. “Everyone’s developing future programs together. The whole thing has avalanched and has run away from us! It’s spreading across southern Maryland,” says gallery director Mary Braun.
For others, the exhibit’s theme closes in on personal obstacles. Exhibitor Walden Behavioral Heath, a counseling and treatment center, embraces abuse victims, addicts, and those struggling with disorders. Often those who feel sectioned off—separate—are those who are facing shame, denial, and fear, the absorption of guilt, the cringe of social stigma. “These fences keep too many victims from asking for help, sometimes with tragic results,” says Laura Webb, Community Engagement Manager at Walden.
Walden headed two programs. “We See Recovery,” a voice-video project, features a few Walden alumni who testify to the liberation that follows embracing themselves as “recovering addicts” and embarking on a path of recovery. One, Linda M., says, “I would force myself to go to meetings [AA] but when I left, I felt like I had taken a vitamin. Eventually everything started to click. […] I firmly believe that I might not be alive if I had not gotten help.”
The second program, “Air It Out: A Clothesline Project,” encourages creative self-expression. This nationwide initiative hopes that making t-shirts will be one of the many steps that help abuse victims, mostly women, peel off pain and “hang it out to dry.” As Webb recounts, “In one art-making workshop this year, a participant came in and sat down in total silence. As she began working on her t-shirt the tears just rolled down her cheeks. She shook her head when anyone asked if she'd like to talk, was OK, etc. She silently took a tissue from me and kept creating. The very next day I saw her, and her face lit up when she recognized me as the lady who had brought in the t-shirt project. She wanted to finish her shirt, wanted to make a second one, was telling others standing there with us in the room all about the project. She was like a lighter person.”
Even the exhibit’s entrance, an arch comprising different materials, symbolizes “diverse barriers, obstacles, and dividing lines” in each person’s life, states the mission of the Facing Fences sculpture project. Attached, drawings and photographs by exhibit visitors of their “fences.” And hopefully others, too—regardless of exhibit, t-shirt, or drawing—are laying down brick upon brick, picket next to picket, to divide the hurtful past and a hopeful future.
-- Alexandra Charleston, Museum on Main Street, Washington, DC