The interview below with HUG recipient, Andrea Downs, was originally posted on PeopleOfCLT.com on 1/18/19. The Biscuit is proud to say that Andrea Downs and the Airing Out the “Dirty” Laundry project was among the first recipients of a HUG (Helpful Unfettered Gift) micro-grant in 2018.
People of Charlotte, meet Andrea, Founder of Airing Out the “Dirty” Laundry, a collaborative, pop-up art exhibit of women’s stories. Through ongoing exhibits of visual narratives, women are given a space to unite through storytelling while building community. Andrea states, “There is nothing “dirty” about these stories, but we have been told by people and our culture that some people do not want to hear them.” Not anymore…
When did you realize that you had to “air out the dirty laundry?”
When I was in 8th grade, my English teacher encouraged me to write an opinion column for the school magazine. The column addressed the racial tension that was prevalent among my peers at my school in Westerville, OH. This was the first time that I used my voice and my privilege to affect positive change.
Fast forward to the first Charlotte Women’s March where the experience of marching with my then 9-year-old daughter, Bronwyn, gave me the courage to conceptualize this participatory project. I chose to become an activist that day, surrounded by and united with women across the globe who believe in equality and in our shared responsibility to create a more just world.
On the day of the march, a curiosity struck me: I wanted to hear and know, as well as understand, the stories of why women made the choice to march that day. Conversely, I also wanted to understand the stories of the women who chose not to march that day. I wanted to amplify their voices and stories by sharing them with people in our community to encourage dialogue about women’s stories and experiences. We all have a story to tell. And as women, our voices are often silenced.
When I invited the first group of 20 women to my house last February for the first Laundry Day, I realized very quickly that I have been getting ready to do this project since I was 12 years old.
What is your mission?
Airing Out the “Dirty” Laundry is a catalyst for women’s voices: a call to gather together, an opportunity to listen and to be heard, and an opportunity to foster the love and understanding that resists hate and injustice.
It takes strength and vulnerability to share powerful stories. Was there ever a time when you felt any trepidation?
Yes, but my hope for love, rather than hate, supersedes my fears.
How has this movement impacted your own daughter? What have those conversations been like?
I hope that I have been a real-life example of what it means to be a strong, feminist woman for both of my children. Although our kids are only 11 and 9, my husband and I have always believed in having real conversations with them. It’s extremely important to us that they have an understanding of the good and bad things that happen in our world if they are going to live up to the one expectation that we have for them: to be good people.
I am teaching my kids that change can start with them. By starting this project, I am giving them a solid example of what a call to action looks like, how one person can affect change.
How can others get involved?
Participation in this project is ongoing! People can create a piece that will become a part of all future installations—they are always invited to attend!
There are 3 ways to participate!
Contributors pieces will be united with the expressions of others on our clotheslines and installations.
People of CLT are invited to Laundry Days that I host at my house in Matthews or in spaces around Charlotte. All are welcome.
People can host a Laundry Day and bring or mail pieces (signed or unsigned) to me.
They can create a piece individually and drop it off on my front porch or send it to PO Box 1161, Matthews, NC 20106.
Can you share any powerful stories that have been shared with you? You can leave identities out.
I have realized that every woman’s story is powerful. I’ve realized that the stories that are shared verbally at Laundry Days are just as powerful, if not more that the ones that are shared visually in their pieces. Laundry Days are the part of the story that are difficult to share visually and through text on social media.
What has been the feedback from participants?
The most common response from women is that creating a piece and coming to a Laundry Day is “cathartic” and “healing.”
Where do you see your project in five years?
Spread across the country via Project Ambassadors! I hope to have stories from people living in every state in the US. This project will be successful when the stories represent a true intersectionality of women—cis women, trans women, trans-femme, and non-binary folx.
What’s have you learned since becoming the Project Coordinator for Airing Out the Dirty Laundry?
That women in our community need opportunities, spaces, and experiences to connect with each other, share stories, and be heard and understood.
How have men in the community reacted to this project?
I’ve noticed that men spend the most time interacting with and reading the stories when I have them installed in spaces, intentionally moving slowly down the clothesline. When I have asked men what they think about the project, most respond by saying something along the lines of, “I had no idea.” I’ve also had a lot of mothers of sons tell me that they want their sons to see the installation.
Event: BOOM Festival – whose mission is to transform the way art is created and shared, and how people connect to causes and community!
Restaurant: I love the coffee at Brakeman’s in Matthews!
Author: Rebecca Solnit
Book: “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant
Podcast: She Says (WFAE)
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