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Chris Linnares, Published October 16 2013

Women's Wisdom: Art’s power to heal, empower and ground

“Art in all its forms helps to empower, inspire and ground me. I am an ‘art addict.’ ”

This is what Colleen J. Sheehy said when I asked what empowered her to overcome the difficult moments of her life.

Director and CEO of Plains Art Museum, Sheehy has a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Minnesota and has helped develop our art community since she moved to Fargo in 2008.

This art advocate has led a community-wide project for the past five years called “Defiant Gardens for Fargo-Moorhead.” She has also initiated a series of both temporary and long-term public art projects known as “PlainsInsideOUT.”

Sheehy’s influence has led to civic conversations among artists, residents and city officials about public art and its role in creative place-making and urban improvements.

Before meeting Sheehy for our interview, I was feeling intimidated by her impressive list of accomplishments and knowledge.

In that moment I wished I had taken Art 101 in college instead of that boring research methods in social cognition class that always put me to sleep. Art would have definitely served me better for this interview. I don’t know the difference between true abstract art and finger paintings, and I didn’t want the former director of education at the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota to know that.

As I started asking questions (and masking my insecurities), something changed. Colleen shared her fascinating stories and passion for art in a way that made the video studio we were in disappear. Her inspiring words transferred me to a classroom where I was a new student of art, and my intimidation was replaced with a sense curiosity.

I felt like I was learning from my favorite professor in the class that always ended too fast.

It was for me as Pablo Picasso once said: “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

The dust of my insecurity was gone and inspiration became alive.

I invite you all to sit back and enjoy this inspiring class.

Q. In the story of your life, what was the most challenging moment you needed to overcome?

A. I don’t think it’s a matter of “overcoming” but coming to terms with or learning from it – that would be the sudden death of my beloved brother John Sheehy.

My working life has been full of challenges and that’s to be expected. John’s death came out of left field and left a hole in my heart and a hole in our family. He died in April 2012, and we are still adjusting. It’s been a life-changing experience that has made me re-evaluate a lot of things.

Q. What empowered you to overcome those challenging moments?

A. I feel that I’ve been developing a whole repertoire of sources of empowerment. I’m a spiritual and reflective person even though I’m not practicing a specific religion now.

Having been raised Catholic, I still have remnants of Catholic thought and belief. I consider myself a believer in Christ’s teaching in their radical, most basic sense – work for love and justice for all.

I also find nature to be an inspiring teacher and am very involved in studying evolution and also physics, trying to understand the universe. Science helps me to gain perspective. I am interested in what makes us human and in human capabilities.

Art in all its forms also helps to empower, inspire and ground me. I am an “art addict.” It helps me to consider questions, consider options, have fun and laugh, and to revel in human abilities and creativity.

I also am empowered by other people, my mother for one, mentors from over the years, people I work with who inspire or depend on me, artists who take on a really challenging path in life. I am empowered by people in history who have overcome tremendous challenges to persevere and achieve their dreams or to make the world a better place.

Q. If you gave the book of your life to your teenage self, what lessons do you wish she’d learn then that you know now?

A. Oh you can’t really do that. Youth have to learn on their own, and they don’t listen to their elders.

I really respect my younger teenage self and I feel I am still learning from the person I was then. She/I was very resilient and positive despite challenging circumstances. I’m in awe of my teenage self, to be objective about this.

Q. What advice can you give to empower another woman’s life story?

A. Go for it! Follow your dreams and don’t settle for society’s or men’s ideas about what you should be and what you can do.

Don’t let motherhood stop you from developing your skills, talents, mind and life. We have the potential for very rich and rewarding lives in all our aspects. You don’t have to settle.

Q. Share one useful connection that every woman should make.

A. Keep connected to your teachers. You will become their colleague and even friend, and they will be a continual source of advice and good conversation.

Q. How can women best impact the world today?

A. I don’t think there is one best way or path other than work from your own beliefs and convictions and passion.

Don’t let conventions and stereotypes hold you back. Work to break barriers. Keep the long view of the future of what we can become and can build together and the historical view to how things have changed for the better.

Chris Linnares is international author, psychotherapist and founder of Women’s Impact, formerly Diva Connection Foundation. Originally from Brazil, she lives in Fargo with her daughter and husband Bill Marcil Jr., publisher of the Forum. To suggest a woman for this column, email chris@womensimpact.org. For more information on Linnares’ work, visit www.chrislinnares.com.