POTTSTOWN >> If you walked into Montgomery County Community College’s West Campus lately, you may have noticed some unusual decor.
Hanging from the ceiling of the college’s North Hall building, 16 E. High St., are thousands of glassine baggies that serve as a chandelier of sorts and as the centerpiece for the college’s temporary art exhibit. The installment is called “4642,” intended to represent the number of people who lost their lives to opioid or heroin addiction in Pennsylvania in 2016.
The art installment is part of a larger exhibition called The Art of Recovery, which features about 50 creations that were done by former prisoners and individuals in recovery from drug addiction associated with the Brush with the Law Program. The non-profit arts program aims to bring awareness and understanding of people who experience the effects of addiction and the criminal justice system.
“Brush with the Law started as a prison art organization. They would do art projects in Montgomery County Correctional Facility. The organizer is a Montgomery County alumna. It now works outside the prison walls all over the county and within the region with people in addiction recovery and re-entry,” said Patrick Rodgers, the gallery director.
As guests walk through the exhibit, they come across walls of art work of all different kinds. While some artists chose to express themselves through acrylic paints, others opted for collage work. At the end of one of the gallery walls is a board that displays hand written notes from those who have either struggled from addiction or known someone who has. The notes offer small glimpses of how addiction has made them feel or how it has affected their lives.
“We’re here to celebrate the works of people who have been struggling with addiction and incarceration with recidivism,“ said Maria Maneos, founder and director of Brush with the Law. “We’re trying to show their inner struggles and how perhaps art can help bring out in them what they may not even know they struggle with.”
Visitors took time to look at the artwork and read some of the personal stories that were posted alongside of them. For many, the exhibit was an eye opening experience that left a lasting impression.
“There’s one picture that’s a black field with a woman’s face in the middle with what looked like stripes,” explained Rodgers. “And when I first saw it I thought, ‘That’s a really cool collage.’ But what I didn’t realize was that the face was a collage and that the stripes that look like bars are torn up prison trash bags. So here is an artist who is in jail and she came up with this dark, simple, kind of haunting image just with stuff that she had in her trash can. And there’s just this desperate art making in this piece that I just feel drawn to every time I see it.”
The Fine Arts Gallery at Montgomery County Community College is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The gallery is closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
The exhibition began on Aug. 30 and will stay on display until Oct. 28.
“I hope they see the reality that’s out there. That people are struggling with this and it’s happening. It’s all kinds of people. It’s not just the ones that we place judgement in, assuming who it is. These are family and friends,” said Maneos.