Artist story: Millie Schulz

Published 04 October 2021 in Artist Stories

Please can you tell me more about how the overdose crisis affected you directly?

I have been personally affected since my brother Danny died by fentanyl overdose in 2014. Losing a family member. Losing friends and people I work with over the years, too many to even count. I also changed jobs to work as a harm reduction worker which I have been doing for a few years now.

The majority of my life up to this point I have been a person who uses drugs to cope with life and trauma. I also from very early on practiced some forms of harm reduction, even though I didn't know of that term at the time. This was all mostly in secret. When my brother Danny died from overdose in 2014 it made me truly realize the danger everyone was in. Street fentanyl seemed like an atomic bomb, in that there was no way of going back to how it was before it arrived. I started volunteering with Moms Stop The Harm, which was co-founded by my mom after Danny's death. Eventually harm reduction work, and more recently peer support became, and still is the major focus of my life. I am autistic and autistic people often have especially keen sense of justice, so all of these deaths (close friends, and many other wonderful people that I have worked with) were an overwhelming pain and injustice to me. The bright side for me has been that I get to help and work with amazing and genuine people, and I also get to be my genuine self without having to hide parts of me. I like that I can focus on helping people directly around me, because taking on the large scale of the crisis is beyond my ability to cope with.

What role does art play for you in terms of your experience?

I don't generally think of what I do as art, but I'm very much a creative person, and my mind is constantly generating new ideas and combinations of things that I would like to try. I react to what's going on in my life and sometimes my brain generates it into a visual image or the concept for a project, that I then try to make into something real. The actual creating of things, the process itself, is very cathartic. Specifically, painting is part of the stimulation I need as an autistic person to help regulate myself. I think this is why I'm drawn to bold colours. The imagery specifically comes from frustration around how to express myself about often having overwhelming empathy for people that are experiencing terrible or wonderful things.

What inspired you to create this artwork?

I work in a safer supply clinic, and we didn't have money in the budget to decorate, so I wanted to make something myself to display there that had relation to the work we were doing and the people we work with. There are a lot of thoughts and emotions that I wanted to express about being there, and I was feeling frustrated about how to express them, so this was also an outlet of that frustration. I think my creative energy often starts with a feeling of frustration.

What does this particular artwork mean to you?

This artwork reminds me that, in this reality we share, we need the darkness to appreciate the beauty in the world, and the reverse is also true. Good can also come from bad, and bad from good. Even though we all have different lives and experiences, this much still is true, so hopefully that can be shared in the viewing of this work.

How do you feel about sharing your art among the works of others affected by the crisis?

I'm intrigued to see all the different perspectives that people will bring

What does participating in this art show mean to you? What to you hope comes from this project?

Participating means being able to express who I truly am, where I'm at right now. I hope that this project can be healing. 

Link to artist bio and works

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