New Hampshire’s most populous city has a major drug problem, but the Currier Art Museum is here to help families affected by addiction. The Manchester museum’s education department created “The Art of Hope” program in partnership with Partnership for Drug Free Kids.
The purpose is to provide a safe space for relatives of those struggling with drug use to discuss methods of resilience, self-care, social connection, shame, and hope.
Participants spend a few hours each week contemplating the museum’s collection and completing small art projects meant to provide coping mechanisms, and healing tools meant to mend broken relationships between families and their drug-using relatives.
The focus of each session varies, but most begin with an introspective look at paintings like the 18th-century French painter Claude-Joseph Vernet’s “The Storm” (1759). Educators choose works that can speak to the tempestuous nature of drug addiction and the collateral damage it can inflict on loved ones. Accordingly, Vernet’s painting depicts turbid waters and a shipwreck, with scrambling survivors dragging loved ones ashore and a gloomy mountain-bound fortress in the distance.
“There’s blue out there beyond,” a woman observes at a recent group session documented by Shawne Whickham for The New Hampshire Union Leader. “It’s going from the chaos to sunshine and glory.”
When asked by a facilitator why the people in the painting were so important to each other, one woman replied, “Survival. Helping each other. It goes to show when there’s some disaster, people do pick it up.”
“It shows that just because you made it to shore, you may not be safe,” another person said while looking at Vernet’s menacing waves.
In 2015, Manchester, New Hampshire accounted for nearly a quarter of fatal drug overdoses reported across the state, which also has the third-highest rate of drug overdose death in the nation. Three years later, the city is showing signs of improvement. Statistics from 2017 indicate a 27% decrease in overdose deaths from 2016 (although nonfatal overdoses rose by 11%) and more people are using the city’s 24-hour Safe Stations built to assist addicts looking for help.