Stoughton resident and artist Victoria Maidhof said that watching people experience mental health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic felt like watching tourists descend on her metaphorical hometown.

People who previously hadn’t experienced issues with their mental health were starting to experience symptoms she’d been struggling with her entire life, and talking openly about it, Maidhof explained to the Hub.

“The pandemic has broken down barriers that in the past made acknowledging a problem taboo,” Maidhof’s website for her latest art exhibit, titled “Collateral Damage,” states. “At this critical juncture, when we have all experienced some level of isolation and the inability to control our own worlds, Collateral Damage seeks to harness the momentum to continue the conversation.”

In order to harness the dialogues and to help destigmatize mental illness, Maidhof is collaborating with artist Kel Mur to curate the “Collateral Damage” exhibit that will open at Pyle Center in downtown Madison in May of 2022 during Mental Health Awareness Month.

Maidhof and Mur accepted two grants through Dane County Arts and the Madison Art Commission for the project and are seeking between 10-15 more artists to participate. The artists can work in any medium – performance art, sculptures, painters or photo-based art – to participate in the exhibit.

Maidhof said both she and Mur are very open to how the art relates to the topic of mental illness.

“It should be on the topic of mental health like whether it’s a struggle or recovery or basically anything to do with mental health,” she said. “We’re even open to people who don’t have a mental illness. Like you don’t have to have a mental illness, but maybe you had a really hard time during the pandemic and you made artwork through it. Maybe your artwork isn’t directly about mental illness, but it was something that helped you get through a difficult time.”

But one requirement, Maidhof said, is the artist has to be willing to speak out about mental illness, because the point of the project is talking about it and reducing the stigma.

Maidhof’s goal, she said, is to pay each artist $500 for participating. As an artist, Maidhof knows how hard the pandemic has been for artists financially, some even struggling to buy supplies she said. Maidhof and Mur started a GoFundMe page which can be found at gofund.me/628547b9 .

Maidhof said that the Collateral Damage exhibit came from a perfect storm of painful situations she’s lived through.

Since November 2019, Maidhof said she’s experienced a divorce, nasty break-up and a cross-country move away from her family. The first week in January of 2020, she was admitted to a mental health facility, and then during the next six months, she went through a series of hospitalizations and a 30-day program.

Eventually, Maidhof said she stopped self medicating with alcohol, got her bipolar depression medication correct and started to concentrate on her art.

The exhibit which is still nearly a year away is still in the planning stages. Some ideas Maidhof had is pairing artists talks with mental health professionals and interviews with artists. She hopes the exhibit can be annual.

To prepare for her portion of the exhibit, Maidhof said she would spend 12 hours a day in her studio working on a project where she manipulated the emulsion of polaroids.

“I made this big project, and it was really important to me but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it. But I wanted to do something now that I’m better. And I feel like I have a lot to say, and I wanted to do something bigger,” Maidhof said.

Contact Mackenzie Krumme at mackenzie.krumme@wcinet.com.

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