Women in the Workplace: Kate Vrijmoet

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Kate Vrijmoet is a curator, an artist and a passionate activist. She keeps a studio in Pioneer Square, a small business, but one that, although she manages to pay her taxes, she operates at a loss.  K-Vrijmoet-#3Col

As she points out, regretfully, there’s a big gap between male and female artists. The stats are grim: Although 60 percent of arts graduates are women, galleries display only about 25 percent of women’s work nationally. Seattle’s record at 39 percent is somewhat better. Less than 4 percent of museum collections are credited to women artists.

When asked why this is the case, Kate reflects that salary negotiation and having a family have been obvious barriers in her own art career. However, it is clear that this does not stop Kate from using her talents to shed light on her mission: to destigmatize mental illness.

Kate has joined with four other artists: June Sekiguchi, Holly Ballard Martz, Valaree Cox and Ezra Dickson. They currently are preparing a group art exhibit, slated to open for a month’s run at Seattle City Hall on Jan 9, 2015. Working title: “The Incredible Intensity of Just Being Human.”

Their goal is to pierce the silence surrounding mental illness, creating a space where we can talk about mental illness and dispel the stereotypes and stigmas.

Kate says that our silence has cost us dearly. The Center for Disease Control estimates that depression, which strikes one person in four — costs the nation some $200 billion per year. She argues, “No one is not somehow affected.” Yet the stigma is so powerful that most people not only don’t talk about mental illness, they don’t seek help.

Vrijmoet K 001Kate first got into the business of destigmatizing mental illness a couple of years ago when she connected with the curator of an exhibit she was a part of in Northgate. She says, “I discovered that both of us had children with mental illness.” This relationship led to a three-person show highlighting mental illness at the Seattle Center. During the experience Kate came into contact with many people who had stories of their own to tell. The exhibit served to open a door.

Since then Kate has contacted a number of people and community leaders. She believes the upcoming exhibit gives them a powerful platform to speak about the effects of mental illness on our society and on individuals. Among those she’s enlisted: the Committee to End Homelessness, Alliance for Pioneer Square, the Downtown Emergency Service Center, the Gay Seattle Business Association and Youth Care, as well as NAMI-Greater Seattle and NAMI-Washington.

Central to Kate’s work in the coming exhibit is a painting series that, Kate says, “gives voice to the un-screamed scream that demands to be heard.” Her paintings, produced in oils, are seen as if from underwater.

I’ve seen images of Kate’s work and I can see how it would provide context for discussions on mental illness. But I couldn’t help also seeing that the viewer, underwater looking up at the world on dry land, is trapped beneath a glass ceiling.