About the Milltown Tour Initiative

We come to these things backwards. At least in the beginning, the maps we draw are of the places we have already been. The discipline of finding a path ahead comes later. This project looks back, mapping a personal narrative of 26 years in the homes of addiction – my own homes and the homes of my loved ones, my family. I have been continually challenged by my ignorance and avoidance of this issue. I am still working on finding my way. This campaign is personal representing a chronicle of life loss beginning with my brother Reno’s heroin overdose death and the drug related deaths of two other siblings. By mapping a timeline, reconsidering my art through the lens of addiction, I’m hoping to draw connections between my loss and my art and begin to find paths to build community.

The process began with walking – literally step by step – in interstitial spaces, in Portland, Maine, in the 1990s. Though I wasn’t yet able to vocalize it, as I counted out the perimeters of parking lots and sketched their shapes on paper, I was taking the first steps to survey my grief on the edge of these open spaces. After several years of collecting the drawings, I began to paint these large emotionally charged abstract images on canvas. These paintings were not representational but more like tombstone compositions for my brother’s ashes. The markings reflected an empathetic madness and a peculiar resting place for my weary mind, finding calm between the ordered white lines of the parking lot.

My own struggle has been to nurture roots beyond my own, to recognize in my paintings of asphalt a desire to risk new family, to engage with a wider community. Part of that process has been to challenge some of our most basic assumptions about addiction. What I mean is that in order to understand addiction, we need to recognize and acknowledge the benefits and comforts of using. Heroin, considered as a chemical compound, fits perfectly on a molecular level in the love center receptors of the brain. Heroin creates a chemical sensation of love. Opium: A Comforter is an expression of this alienation and deep comfort, conveyed by a quilt I sewed in traditional log cabin design, with oxblood red center squares of stamped poppy pods, cut and oozing opium love.

As a society, how can we expect the user to give up a substance that makes them feel loved, if another love is not offered in its place? The health of a society is measured by how we treat our most vulnerable members. Am I willing to provide familiar support and love in order to replace the chemical love that heroin provides? The homes of addiction provide an opportunity for us to grow in compassion making pathways into community helping every member to find their own way.

 

The GET HIGH poster designed in the shape of the 3D chemical compound of heroin is intended to be provocative – to ignite public discussion – to get the city high – literally – above the usual platitudes about drug use. As a metaphor the hot-air balloon brings lightness to an otherwise heavy, stigma laden conversation about opiate addiction. The balloon as a beacon signaling empathy and community as antidote.

If your interested in supporting the Milltown Tour and LIFT please consider donating! (incorporate in the State of Maine as a nonprofit is pending)

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How would a community approach work?

First it is critical to understand that opiates are not the problem. It’s the addicts attempt to solve the problem of disconnection – his/her comfort method to remedy alienation. Recovery demands reconnections at every point and level – a mending of the very fabric of society and doing away with us versus them. We need a long-suffering love cure, which motivates us to ask more compassionate questions instead of using overly simplistic and ineffective responses.

This current opiate epidemic cannot be solved by professionals alone. Addiction is not a war that can be won. Professional responses often polarize remedies with punishment verses prevention or abstinence verses harm reduction. This rhetoric may help fund the correctional and treatment industries, but does not facilitate community involvement, which promotes connectedness and belonging.

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How and When Lift Started?

In 2014, I began this campaign with the desire to create public dialogue around the opiate epidemic. I presented a retrospective of my artistic work spanning 26 years through the lens of addiction. The name of the show is On Getting High: Mapping Addiction at Home. This multimedia presentation is both personal and professional – accompanied with an art talk – with an appeal to multiple audiences. I am committed to taking this traveling show to five milltowns in Maine.

When I started walking around the edges of parking lots, shortly after my brother Reno died from a heroin overdose in 1992, I never imagined that this experience of walking and counting my steps would eventually inspire the making of a full size hot-air balloon. In order to bring attention to the need for a new perspective, I started sewing a prototype of the balloon in the shape of the chemical compound of heroin. I was set up sewing in a public park as a spectacle to get people talking about this issue.

What is Lift?

LIFT is an expressive arts organization committed to research, education and community engagement addressing the complexities of addiction and other related social issues.

LIFT enables individuals to explore their own stories, and build new community awareness with outreach that includes all stakeholders. Art-for-social-change can develop community networks of support and shape a dialogue in which community-based arts can imagine new language and realities.

If your interested in supporting the Milltown Tour and LIFT please consider donating! (incorporate in the State of Maine as a nonprofit is pending)

Donate Now

Art for Social Change

Provoking dialogue on the opiate crisis that moves beyond ignorance, avoidance, ambivalence or disregard and facilitating engagement around the complexities of addiction.The balloon has multiple potential uses and symbolizes a new openness. As an art object, it is intentionally provocative and more subtly suggestive that heroin is not the problem. In the sky, it’s a beacon signaling lightness, empathy and community perspective – a new perspective, one in which community provides the needed “love cure” for the illnesses of isolation and indifference.

I believe that art can help the healing process by engaging the imagination and creating wonder.

Five Milltown Tour: I plan to start the tour in Lewiston with stops in Bangor, Biddeford, Portland and my hometown of Waterville. As the intro video depicts, the tour includes a deeply personal retrospective multimedia art installation accompanied by an art-for-social-change talk.

The hot air balloon as metaphor has brought me full circle – literally flying up in the sky – looking down at parking lots. I’m hoping to draw on my losses and art to make my own reconnections – and new connections – to and through community. Hot air balloons naturally attract crowds, direct their attention upwards and awaken wonder. This balloon is destined to fly over Maine milltowns as a metaphor and billboard for the message of community as antidote.

And now I’m turning to you – to offer this opportunity – to get involved. Help me to fuel connectivity and the fantasy of flight in building this full-size hot-air balloon. Lighter than air flight is best described as stillness in motion. During an apprenticeship in the fall (2017) in Vermont – with balloonist and balloon maker Brain Boland – I flew 21 flights and 5 solos. While in flight the only sensation of movement is the illusion of the ground moving beneath. Like addiction, I discovered that it is much easier getting high than it is coming down and you never know where you are going to land.

The purpose of choosing a crowdfunding forum to help finance the building of the balloon and the talking tour is to emphasize connection and the importance of community building, to better understand community connections as an antidote for addiction.

Biography: Michael Libby, NCC, LCPCc, CADC, earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting from the University of Southern Maine (USM) in 1992 and his Master of Science degree in Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling from USM in 2017. He is matriculated in a post-graduate Expressive Arts Therapies program at Lesley University in Cambridge.

If your interested in supporting the Milltown Tour and LIFT please consider donating! (incorporate in the State of Maine as a nonprofit is pending)

Donate Now

 

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If you are interested in supporting the Five Milltown Tour/LIFT (incorporate in the State of Maine as a nonprofit is pending) we have products for sale in our artist shop.
All proceeds help support LIFT and further community outreach.

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Contact Information

(207) 931 - 5438 (LIFT)

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