Michelle Hartney is a Chicago-based artist whose work addresses a broad range of topics, from women’s health issues, to the concept of heroes, love, and the cosmos. She works in a variety of materials, including fiber, wood, found objects, community based interactive performance, and the internet. Her interest in using art to address social issues began during her graduate studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she was an Albert Schweitzer Fellow.
In 2015 she became the Chicago rally coordinator for Improving Birth’s nationwide Labor Day rallies. Most recently, Hartney joined Every Mother Counts as a running ambassador. With twenty-six years of distance running to draw from, including several marathons, triathlons, and running cross country and track for Purdue University, she is forming a team of men and women to race with and raise awareness about maternal healthcare issues.
Hartney founded the Women’s Health Collective in 2016, an organization dedicated to utilizing creative solutions to address women’s health issues by linking artists, designers, writers, musicians, technologists, healthcare providers, and activists to work collaboratively on socially engaged, community based projects.
How did you find yourself in the arts, or how did the arts find you?
I was always making things from a very young age. I loved to draw and make collages when I was a kid, and my mom is very crafty and taught me how to sew and embroider at an early age and I fell in love with it.
Who has been a big influence to you in your career?
There are so many creative people who have influenced me tremendously! My short list is Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Ina May Gaskin, Carl Sagan, T.S. Eliot, Henry David Thoreau, Sheila Hicks, Wangechi Mutu, Kiki Smith, Ellen Gallagher, Nick Cave, Doris Salcedo, Cheryl Pope, Judy Chicago, Carrie Mae Weems, Hank Willis Thomas. But if I had to choose one visual artist it would be Dario Robleto, hands down. He is a genius and one of the greatest artists of all time, in my opinion.
When you hit a creative block, how do you move forward?
I feel like my entire twenties was a big creative block! Since having kids and getting older, I have not really experienced a creative block. I’m going to jinx myself by saying this! My problem is I have so many ideas that I just don’t have the time to get them all out of my head. I do run into more process oriented problems, and should those come up I typically can solve them when I go for a run. I’ve been a distance runner since I was eleven, it’s a huge part of my life. I’ve also had a lot of ideas come to me during acupuncture sessions, or while meditating, or when I’m about to fall asleep, or if I’m alone drinking my morning coffee. I purposely wake up well before my kids do so I can have that time to myself, with my coffee and quiet and a clear mind.
What legacy do you hope your work creates?
My work right now deals primarily with maternal healthcare issues, so I hope it helps to raise awareness about the United States’ high maternal mortality rate, as well as America’s problems regarding human rights violations during childbirth.
How do you define success?
Success in life is having a lot of love in my heart. Success in the art world? Just thinking about that makes me want to bang my head against the wall.
Explore Michelle’s latest work at www.michellehartney.com.