What’s Art Got to Do With It?— Addiction, social justice, and the opioid crisis in Maine

  • October 25, 2019

Summoning The Power of the Arts to Address our Opioid Epidemic— Playwright Michael Gorman to Present Work at First Annual Arts and Activism Conference.


Using the tools of writing, visual arts, performance, theater, and music, creatives, educators, interested people from all disciplines and sectors will consider the opioid epidemic through the powerful lens of creative expression in this 3-day event and conference presented by the Belfast Creative Coalition & R.A.W Restorative Art Works in partnership with the University of Maine Hutchinson Center.

The conference opens on Friday November 1 with an evening event that features a performance by playwright Michael Gorman and his production company The Forty Hour Club from their theatrical arts and advocacy model,"Chasing the New White Whale—Harpooning Addiction”—which serves to bring awareness to the issue of opiate addiction in the New England commercial fishing community and beyond. The performance will feature R.A.W. Players: True Lives/True Stories from those affected by addiction, whose stories and voices Gorman has incorporated into this work. “I want to create art about the chorus of invisible people whose stories are not told on stage. A voice in society, that’s something that’s been denied addicts and working-class people. I want to tell their stories,” says Gorman.

Gorman's work as a playwright and installation artist focuses on the economic, environmental and systemic destruction facing working communities and the paramount issue of sustainability, and for the past 2 decades he has been writing and producing plays about the opioid epidemic. His newest play, “Chasing the New White Whale”, recently premiered at The Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa in New York City, where Mike is currently the Playwright in Residence. The play explores the current National opioid crisis through the unique lens of the fishing industry, and draws inspiration from Moby Dick and Ahab’s obsessive pursuit of the Great White Whale.

Mike is currently working on an epic project "Chasing The New White Whale—Harpooning Addiction" — a new model of theater aimed at addressing the opioid crisis head-on, and one that Gorman plans to take on the road to working communities hardest hit by the epidemic.  Through direct engagement with the community, the project combines theater, performance, multi-media installations, and an arts & advocacy model that together address the opioid crisis that is taking place in those communities. Gorman will be presenting his work on this project at a panel discussion at the Hutchinson Center on Saturday November 2. at 12:30 p.m.

Gorman's vision and call for empathy and understanding has expanded beyond his own growing awareness of addiction as a disease rather than a moral shortcoming (the Playwright’s oldest brother, a Massachusetts commercial fisherman, died from a heroin overdose), to his concern for the families and communities impacted by the opioid epidemic. Says Gorman “this project is not simply about personal sadness and loss; it is about a regional and National health crisis and an artistic call to action.  It is not intended to be my plaintive voice but the echo of the over 70,000 lives lost to opiate addiction each year" 

In addition to the performance by Gorman, the conference will feature other artists and activists whose work serves to evoke change and foster social connection, including Keynote speaker Vijay Gupta, a violinist and social justice advocate, esteemed performer, communicator, and citizen-artist. A 2018 MacArthur Fellow, Gupta is a leading advocate for the role of the arts and music to heal, and is the founder and Artistic Director of Street Symphony, a non-profit organization providing musical enrichment and valuable human connection to the homeless, incarcerated, and other under-resourced communities in Los Angeles.

Gupta will perform and speak practically and tactically about how he uses his talent, skill, and passion, and that of his Street Symphony and Urban Voices, to impact the lives of people living on the streets or those incarcerated. Gupta will be joined by Maine dignitaries and special musical friends.

Belfast Creative Coalition Director, Larraine Brown. Brown conceived of the conference as a way for communities to summon the power of the arts to deepen healing and recover ourselves. The conference runs from Friday November 1st – Sunday November 3 2019.

For tickets, schedule, and more information visit: www.BelfastCreativeCoalition.org


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Donna Daly

639 Main Street— Steel House South
Rockland  ME  04841