The next Artist Interview Project installment features Nicoelle Danielle Cohen, founder of the Healing Hearts Project Part 2. She is also co-founder of the Funky B Boutique and owner of Nicoelle Danielle Designs The first part of this post includes a student’s reflective summary. It is followed by the full interview transcript.
Learn more about the Artist Interview Project course assignment in Dr. Jenkins’ introduction to the series. You can follow the Philosophy School of Phish on Facebook, Twitter (@phishedu), and the course’s public website.
The Healing Hearts project vigorously explores the capacity for art to honor victims of gun violence and facilitate discussions about gun control. These are the aims of the Healing Hearts Part 2 project, which collects hand-made hearts and displays them in public spaces. With this project, artist Nicoelle Danielle Cohen strives to bring communities together with a shared activity and advocate for better gun control laws.
From our class readings, we explored the conceptual tool of “music as world” through which music is seen as a world full of existential meaning. As such, music has the power to influence many people. (Bicknell 90). Similarly, Nicoelle’s work has grown significantly since she began the project; this same theme has been used in her work. Making hearts are often used for decorations. In this project, however, the hearts have a very different significance. They operate in a “world” of their own, showing love to victims of gun violence.
Another conceptual tool explored in class readings is that of community (Bicknell 89). With this idea, art brings people together to participate in shared activities and communal values. Through Nicoelle’s artwork, different people from around the country are able to participate, creating the Healing Hearts community. The project seeks to address a problem that is shared concern among members of the community. In the future, Nicoelle also wants to install the hearts at community centers.
In the class readings, we also explored musical affect as a conceptual tool. Musical affect is the power bestowed on music to evoke strong emotions in its listeners. This is true of all art. Nicoelle’s project aims to create the affects of empathy and love towards victims of gun violence. This has been achieved because many people continue to participate in the project.
Besides your artwork, what motivated you to start the Healing Hearts project?
As an artist I had the urge to use my visual voice after hearing about the Las Vegas shootings and I started to paint hearts. Taking that step and doing something tangible made me feel peaceful and feel love.
As I was painting in my studio I had a memory of The Healing Hearts Project that my friend and artist June Ahrens created after 9/11. I worked for June as her assistant in NYC when I was in school at Pratt Institute and have known her for 17 years. I called June and she advised me on her process with The Healing Hearts Project. I thought this could be a project to revisit since many of us have been feeling broken hearted over these senseless shootings. But life happened, and we had to postpone it to evacuate for the hurricane.
So there I was after another school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, my alma mater. Like so many, I was in complete shock and totally devastated. I thought that this would a good time to recreate The Healing Hearts Project Part 2 with the intention of honoring each victim, sharing love with one another, attempt to heal our broken hearts and to raise awareness on gun violence and the importance of gun safety.
In what ways does Phish inspire your work?
Phish inspires me in many ways but in this project I wasn’t really inspired by Phish’s music as much as I was inspired by the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. These young adults took their horrendous situation and they used this anger and pain to try to make real changes happen. They are still out there. All summer many of them went on a bus tour around the country to help register people to vote. They are out there and so I thought if they can be out there I should be doing something too. And I decided using art was my best way to reach people. I am also a volunteer for Headcount to help register people to vote.
In a previous interview, you stated that you like to draw inspiration from nature. How has this been possible in the Healing Hearts project?
This project was inspired by human nature, so I think that there is that part of nature in it. I also like to display the hearts outside on the grass because the green really has nice contrast with the pinks and reds.
Does this project only affect Phish fans only or it reaches out to other people?
While this project was started without Phish or their fans in mind, some of the first people to send me hearts are part are of the Phish community. But the project started for the victims and the families of the shooting at MSD. I wanted them to know that people were thinking about them and sending them love. I wanted to help ease the pain of any sadness that we as a collective may be feeling during these senseless shootings. And for me, painting and sewing hearts was healing so I wanted to share that with others. Some Phish fans that I have never met in real life have sent me their handmade hearts. And I would love for more of them to join in. Many of them have children in school and I think that this is great project for families to do together. Some of them are teachers and they can do this project with their classes. I had many teachers make hearts with their students and tell me how much they loved making them. The students and children have to do these code red drills from PreK through 12th grade. They can imagine what these students at MSD (and too many other schools) went through. They are hurting as much as the rest of us over this. And this is just one way to help heal; it is a form of art therapy.
How exactly do people participate in this project? After creating the hearts and sending them to you, what happens next? What does the actual event entail?
People participate by buying the materials, making the hearts and mailing them to me. Labor Day weekend I will be going to Denver to see Phish at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. I am going to bring the hearts and set up an installation at the 16thStreet Mall. I am asking people to make hearts and bring them with them to add to the installation. The installation is the arrangement of all the hearts into the shape of one big heart. It is fairly big in size and you can walk around it and see all the different hearts that people have made. Some have words such as love, peace, MSD, and students’ names. They are different sizes, colors and even shapes. When people see the hearts and they ask about the Healing Hearts Project and this opens a dialogue to discuss gun violence and safety. I will include some photos so you can get a better idea of what it looks like.
When I made the post on Facebook, I didn’t know what to expect. [Read the post Nicoelle shared via Facebook the week after the MSD shooting.] I was hoping for 17 hearts for the victims. After I got 17 I thought it would be really amazing if I got 50 hearts. And by the first installation, which was a month after the shooting, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas for the March for Our Lives, I had received 422 handmade hearts. It was amazing! People I had never met before, some MSD alumni, children, teenagers and friends all made hearts. But it didn’t stop there. By the time I left for my road trip at the end of June I had over 800 hearts. And I brought them with me and set up an installation in Burlington, Vermont the City Hall Park. I now have over 900 hearts for the installation in Denver!
After the events if there are any, where do the hand-made creations of hearts go?
I am hoping to keep the heart installation traveling to different cities throughout the next two years and getting people to register to vote at the same time. Especially in places that have been and are impacted by gun violence daily. From the suggestion of a few friends I am going to set up a GoFundMe and see if I can get backers to help me make this happen. After talking to people who made all of these handmade hearts and the people who have seen the installation and the effect the hearts have had on them, I think it is worth trying to keep this going for as long as it can. We need to keep the conversation about gun control going, because it’s already out of the news cycle. Imagine if one day I have 2,000 handmade hearts!! I am talking with some galleries and museums to see if we can do workshops to get the community involved and they can add the hearts that they make to the installation. The end goal would be to make a large piece with all of the handmade hearts and have it displayed somewhere in Broward County.