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Tracy Frank, Published January 01 2013

HerVoice: Fargo artist shares hat to inspire empathy

FARGO – Using a red hat and a camera, Heather Zinger is encouraging empathy and union.

The Fargo artist started her “Red Hat Project” in October and plans to have a photograph taken of her and at least one other person swapping hats and maybe even coats every day for a year.

The project is a series of photo performances. Its purpose is to empathize and unite with others by sharing concerns and clothes. Zinger hopes to display the photos in a travel-ing exhibit at the end of the year.

“I want the visual impact to be we’re all unified,” Zinger said. “We’re all human, and there’s this unity that can be seen by everybody wearing this red hat.”

On her Facebook page for the project, Zinger says her biggest concern is that society is losing its ability to empathize and seek unity with one another, which directly impacts our ability to work together to find solutions to our most pressing problems.

“The biggest threat to democracy is ourselves,” Zinger said. “If we don’t learn how to be democratic, meaning we can listen to people, we can empathize, we have tolerance for people who want different things from what we do, it’s really hard to have a conversation.”

In addition to the hat-swapping photo, Zinger also asks participants their biggest concern.

While not everyone Zinger approaches is willing to participate, she is finding those who do take part share a lot of common concerns.

“A lot of concerns, even though they’re specific to people, they’re so global,” Zinger said.

People are concerned about issues like humanity, violence and taking care of children, she said.

The weather has made Zinger’s project more challenging. There was one day when she asked seven people and they all said no, and Zinger questioned why she was doing the project.

But the project has also helped her connect with people in unexpected ways.

Zinger said she’s surprised by how willing people are to open up and share their concerns with a stranger.

She also met a man whose father used to buy hats just to trade them with other people.

The Red Hat Project isn’t Zinger’s first foray into performance art.

In 2009, she carried a skeleton around with her for a week as a way to raise money and awareness for multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system and causes problems like fatigue, tingling, pain, or numbness, problems with balance and walking, and impaired thinking, according to multiplesclerosis.com.

She raised $1,700 in the name of her older sister, who has multiple sclerosis, Zinger said.

Zinger moved to Fargo from Portland, Ore., in September and teaches art classes to cancer patients as the artist in residence of the Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center.

“The goal is to be a positive distraction while they’re there for very, very long hours,” Zinger said. “Art is fun and it’s colorful.”

She has helped people make paper flowers and snowflakes, paint, sculpt and create collages and button people ornaments.

“I’m almost like an art sales lady with a cart,” she said.

If people don’t want to work on any art projects, Zinger will just sit and talk to people or leave someone a paper flower or crane, she said.

“I’m just glad I can go in and even if I’m only with someone for 10 minutes, it can change their day,” she said.


www.heatherzinger.com, www.facebook.com/TheRedHatProject

Her Voice is a weekly article about women in or from our area and how they make an impact on the world around them. If you know someone SheSays should feature in HerVoice, email Tracy Frank at tfrank@forumcomm.com.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526