BAR HARBOR — More than a decade ago, Patrisha McLean and Liz Cutler would see each other at the playground of their coastal town and connect through their children, but that wasn’t the only thing they had in common; each was experiencing domestic abuse.
“There we were, week after week, not saying a word,” said Cutler in a recent conversation with the Islander. “I just left town and she didn’t really know why.”
Now, the women are asking other women in the same situation to speak up.
Through McLean’s nonprofit, Finding Our Voices, the project Let’s Talk About It is sparking conversations around domestic abuse.
“Domestic abuse is spiking during the pandemic,” said McLean, who was recently on Mount Desert Island putting the banners in the windows of more than 60 businesses. “We’re doing so many things to break the silence all around Maine.”
Made up of four feet by two feet banners, the project features 25 Maine women, all with a history of being in an abusive relationship. They range in age from 18 to 80 years old and include a prison guard, a prisoner, a health food store owner and a nurse.
“That’s the whole point,” said McLean, who was married for nearly 30 years to singer Don McLean, until their divorce amid allegations of abuse. “It can happen to anyone.”
In addition to the woman’s portrait, each taken by McLean, a quote from them about their experience is featured, as well as the phone number of a 24-hour helpline.
“When I first came up with this, I just wanted them to be big,” said McLean. “Women are calling the hotline because of the banners.”
When Cutler and McLean reconnected recently, Cutler offered to be one of the sponsors of the project on MDI through her organization, ArtWaves. Using the creativity and expression of art as a way to expand the scope of the project, Cutler and McLean are putting out a call to area artists for a Solidarity Art Banner project.
“If you see this, how would you want to respond to it?” Cutler asks about the Let’s Talk About It banners and the subject matter. “So many people have come forward and said, ‘that happened to me.’ I thought it was a really good way to get the word out and keep the conversation going.”
Although the banner project on MDI will be hung through July, the call to artists has no deadline at this point, according to Cutler.
“The reason I did it is because art is so therapeutic,” she said. “It requires thought and coming out of (your) comfort zone.”
Because of conditions surrounding the pandemic, the show will mainly be online at this point. Once it is safe to do so, there will be an art exhibit in a physical space, Cutler explained.
“They can submit up to two pieces, any medium, even recorded music,” she said. Cutler noticed people having a physical reaction to the banners when she and McLean were hanging them up around Bar Harbor.
“People have the option of being anonymous,” she said about art submissions. “A lot of people aren’t ready to publicly tell their stories. Right now, it’s starting on MDI and hopefully it will be going statewide.”
Mount Desert Island is the fourth area along the coast in which the Let’s Talk About It project has been exhibited. For McLean, the goal is to post it in as many Maine communities as possible. She mentioned having a map of the state using yellow to highlight areas where it has been, showing where domestic abuse has been brought out in the daylight.
According to Maine’s former spokesman for public safety, Steve McCausland, about half of the homicides in the state are domestic-violence related.
“The more people can recognize it as abuse and not violence, then we can really start talking about it,” said Cutler.
Outline of Solidarity Art Banner project:
1) Find a banner that speaks to YOU.
2) In solidarity with this “Woman in the Window,” create a poem, essay, short story, dance piece, song, photograph, painting, sketch, fiber piece or any other expression of what you are feeling, experienced or imagine about domestic abuse.
3) Email an image or video of this artwork to [email protected] or [email protected] by August 7. Organizers will be in touch to share this piece or pieces at an upcoming event that is a collaboration between Finding Our Voices and ArtWaves. You may submit up to two pieces.
Reference the banner that inspired you. Please include your contact information. Indicate if you wish your submission to be anonymous.