Shirl Chouinard uses her art to educate public on domestic violence
A Cambridge artist has been selected as a 2012 Bush Fellow.
Through her fellowship, Shirl Chouinard plans to work with The Refuge Network and community members to develop a domestic violence prevention program for Chisago, Isanti and Kanabec counties using art.
“I would like to get out to the entire rural Minnesota area,” she said. “We have a lot of good programing within the Twin Cities metro area, but the further away you get, the harder it is to tackle the issues in communities, and I think this is one way we can start conversations.”
Bush Fellowships are a program of the Bush Foundation, which in 1965 began investing in individuals through fellowships in the belief these leaders would create broad impact for the communities in which they lived and worked. Since then, 2,200 Bush Fellows have been chosen and the foundation continues to select new fellows every year.
As a Bush Fellow, Chouinard said she’ll receive $75,000 in grant money over the next two years to develop her program with the Refuge, which has served over 25,000 women and children since 1986. The Refuge also recently received a grant to start a sexual assault service that started Oct. 1.
As October is domestic violence prevention month, Chouinard’s series “Unspeakable” was chosen for an art exhibition at the Northside Art Gallery at Parkway United Church of Christ in Minneapolis. She also received a grant from East Central Regional Arts Council, and her art will be on display in April for child abuse prevention month.
Chouinard, who works at Greater Twin Cities United Way, is an activist artist known for her reused, repurposed and recycled sculptural vignettes that center on child abuse and domestic violence.
She said she’s been creating art since graduating from Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1996, but has changed the medium she uses.
“I found what I liked the most was three-dimensional pieces and kind of settled into creating smaller works, but not really having a focus in my body of work,” Chouinard said. “When my mother passed away in 2010, that released the family secret of her domestic abuse and my child abuse, and I thought this was the perfect way to go about examining my life as an artist and educating the community using adult- and child-sized dolls using recycled and repurposed materials.”
The “Unspeakable” series has 21 pieces—11 with children and 10 with adults. Chouinard said they show moments she remembers from growing up, either about her mother or what she experienced personally. She said she was delighted and thrilled to have a solo show at the gallery, where 10 of the pieces are on display.
“My history has really shaped and inspired this work,” she said, explaining the pieces are not “in-your-face violent” so visitors could bring their children or grandparents, but they are layered enough so that viewers will understand the art represents domestic violence.
Women who survive domestic violence can suffer from post-traumatic stress and depression, among other things.
“I never realized the problems I experienced growing up could be directly linked to child abuse,” Chouinard said. “I was a high school dropout. I was always ashamed about it and eventually went on to get my master’s degree, but I’ve never really talked about the fact that this led to dropping out of high school, running away and eventually teen pregnancy.”
Chouinard said she hopes her art will help educate the community on domestic violence.
“I want to enlighten the public, especially those who do not experience violence because they don’t understand the depth of the problem,” she said. “And I want to validate those who have survived because there’s so much shame wrapped around it. The effects are far-reaching.”
Through her Bush Fellowship, Chouinard hopes her program with The Refuge Network will not only help illuminate the problem of domestic violence, but will work toward preventing it.
“I think artists are visionaries who are constantly practicing our art to get to that idea of how life should be or how life should look and we keep trying to strive towards it,” she said. “I would like to imagine our communities with a strong provide for the vulnerable, where the vulnerable could become empowered and where every kind of family could be safe and secure.”
View more of Shirl Chouinard’s artwork at www.mnartists.org/Shirl_Chouinard.
About Northside Art Gallery
The Northside Art Gallery is an outreach program of Parkway United Church of Christ located at 3120 Washburn Avenue N, Minneapolis, MN 55411. Through partnerships with organizations such as the Northside Arts Collective and artists known in the community, they have been able to present impressive exhibits throughout the year. Hours vary; please contact Parkway at 612-522-2982 for gallery times.