Espresso Yourself Without Stigma

To conclude their second See Through Stigma (STS) Awareness Week, Axis UChicago and Active Minds teamed up to host a thought-provoking evening of visual art and performance.

Students+captioned+how+they+really+felt+on+Polaroids+in+the+Reynolds+Club.

Students captioned how they really felt on Polaroids in the Reynolds Club.

By Grace Hauck

“A couple years ago, she stretched her legs on the couch next to me and told me she had bipolar disorder,” fourth-year Rachel Harrington said. “I’m ashamed to say the first image that came to my mind was a clown.”

Friday’s first annual “Arts Coffeehouse” was anything but farcical. To conclude their second See Through Stigma (STS) Awareness Week, Axis UChicago and Active Minds teamed up to host a thought-provoking evening of visual art and performance in Hutchinson Commons, where students sang, strummed, and spoke to de-stigmatize dis/ability and mental health.

“I think it’s the perfect ending to the week—an informal setting to bring people together to celebrate difference,” said STS board member and fourth-year Alita Carbone. 

Robust Coffee Lounge catered Friday's Arts Coffeehouse.
Robust Coffee Lounge catered Friday’s Arts Coffeehouse. ()

The Robert J. Zimmer? band opened the showcase with a long, low trumpet solo that soon morphed into a selection of jazzy tunes, setting the tone for the evening: a complex cabaret exploring cycles of mourning, healing, and festivity. 

As guests—more than 100 throughout the evening—meandered around the room and snacked on pizza and pastries, Harrington and first-year Kelly Elizabeth Collins of UChicago’s Memento performance ensemble presented the first spoken-word poems of the night. While Harrington reflected on her role as a supportive friend, Collins spoke about her personal experience of abuse at home—a war that “drafted” her by circumstance. 

Undergrads Gaby Osirim and Jackson Mariotti perform at See Through Stigma's Arts Coffeehouse.
Undergrads Gaby Osirim and Jackson Mariotti perform at See Through Stigma’s Arts Coffeehouse. (Grace Hauck)

Words gave way to lyrics and rhythm as performers and survivors emerged from the audience to present a short story about pesky spiders, a haunting adaptation of Radiohead’s “Creep,” a “lullaby” poem, a guitar solo, and, finally, an original piano composition. 

Meanwhile, silent faces flashed on two large screens below presidential portraits as the student documentaries “Campus North North North” and “The Last Taboo” screened on opposite walls. Student drawings and paintings hung on either side, along with the culmination of STS’s weeklong Polaroid Project.

On one table, fourth-year artist Juliet Eldred showcased her two-part zine series on the impulse control disorder known as trichotillomania: hair pulling disorder. Eldred collages black-and-white images, altered text, and medical surveys to juxtapose the experience of an illness with clinical attempts to address it. A drawing of an enraged, Medusa-like figure is paired with a “Massachusetts General Hospital Hairpulling Scale” survey, filled out by Eldred herself.

Juliet Eldred created a two-part zine series.
Juliet Eldred created a two-part zine series. ()

While the performances and visual pieces offered attendees a chance to respond to and process mental illness and dis/ability through artistic channels, other groups offered different resources. Lean On Me UChicago, an anonymous texting peer support network founded last year, ran an information booth at the event. Elizabeth Gerald, a member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and founder of the Marcie Jonea Gerald Movement, spoke with attendees about her work, dedicated to her daughter. A third table provided an array of informational pamphlets and handouts on eating and anxiety disorders. 

Lean On Me UChicago, new this year, tabled at the event.
Lean On Me UChicago, new this year, tabled at the event. ()

“It’s a good opportunity for us to perform about something that really matters and creates discussion,” Harrington said.

It may not have been a laugh-out-loud affair, but, over the course of the two-hour showcase, Hutchinson Commons buzzed with intimate conversation. After five months of planning, board members Carbone and third-year Tom Carden were pleased with event attendance and audience response.

“I founded Axis four years ago, and then, it was empty. I’ve been thinking about how we first started—and how we were nothing,” Carbone said. “We’re definitely doing the Coffeehouse again next year.”

Students participated in the Polaroid Project throughout the week.
Students participated in the Polaroid Project throughout the week. ()
Marcie Jonea Gerald (MJG) Movement founder Elizabeth Gerald spoke at the event.
Marcie Jonea Gerald (MJG) Movement founder Elizabeth Gerald spoke at the event. ()
 
Active Minds and Axis UChicago offered a selection of informational pamphlets.
Active Minds and Axis UChicago offered a selection of informational pamphlets. ()
Active Minds and Axis UChicago provided pizza at the event.
Active Minds and Axis UChicago provided pizza at the event. ()
Marcie Jonea Gerald (MJG) Movement necklaces.
Marcie Jonea Gerald (MJG) Movement necklaces. ()
Students eat and chat in Hutchinson Commons.
Students eat and chat in Hutchinson Commons. ()
The student documentary
The student documentary “Campus North North North” plays in the background. ()
Lean On Me UChicago representatives run a table at Friday's event.
Lean On Me UChicago representatives run a table at Friday’s event. ()
Robert J. Zimmer? band performs at the Arts Coffeehouse.
Robert J. Zimmer? band performs at the Arts Coffeehouse. ()
Students drink coffee at the event.
Students drink coffee at the event. ()
Students fill Hutchinson Commons on Friday.
Students fill Hutchinson Commons on Friday. ()
Gaby Osirim sings
Gaby Osirim sings “Creep” by Radiohead. ()
Students watch performers in Hutchinson Commons.
Students watch performers in Hutchinson Commons. ()
Students watch Robert J. Zimmer? band perform.
Students watch Robert J. Zimmer? band perform. ()
A student reads Eldred's zines.
A student reads Eldred’s zines. ()
Fourth-year Rachel Harrington reads a poem.
Fourth-year Rachel Harrington reads a poem. ()
Lights line the room.
Lights line the room. ()
Students watch performances in Hutchinson Commons.
Students watch performances in Hutchinson Commons. ()