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Taking Great Pains
With Their Work
the wash post

Style Section, New Years Day 1996

By Eric Brace

A Washington Post Staff Writer

If it's true that you have to suffer for your art, Michael John Coleman must think that enough is enough. A local fine photographer and artistic director of Alexandria's Principle Gallery, Coleman is a chronic migraine sufferer, and has helped mount a show to raise awareness of the affliction.

The exhibit is "Small Works," featuring more than 150 artworks by 15 artists, most of them local, including painters B.J. Anderson and David Corcoran, sculptor David Terry and Coleman himself. The participants are all either "migraineurs," as Coleman calls his fellow sufferers, or are "friends or colleagues of people who have migraines," he says.

They've all shown such great support of what Michael's doing," says Principe Gallery owner Michele Marceau, "and each artist is contributing a part of profits from works sold to MAGNUM."

The letters stand for Migraine Awareness Group: National Understanding for Migraineurs, an organization founded by Coleman two years ago. A string of serious migraine attacks had led him to give up his studio space in Alexandria's Torpedo Factory and file for disability with Social Security.

What he found out was that migraines were not on the federal government's list of recognized disabilities. "I approached Senator [Charles] Robb's office and he told me, `You've identified a serious problem, so you need to help us write legislation.' I worked with them on that, and since then I've talked to [House Speaker Newt] Gingrich and lots of people on the Hill to get it recognized."

Coleman says that "misinformation about the disease is the biggest problem for people who suffer migraines. Most people think migraine suffers simply have bad headaches and like to complain, so many people choose not to admit suffering from the disease." The workplace is often the hardest place for a sufferer, Coleman says. "People assume that you're a drug addict or an alcoholic based on your behavior. You get treated very poorly by non-sufferers."

Marceau and Coleman put together the show as "a chance to see great art, but also to come away with a greater knowledge of this disease, and maybe remove some of the stigma attached to it," Coleman says. Marceau says the gallery's plans and Coleman's plans for MAGNUM dovetailed perfectly. "Every year we do a show of local artists," she says, "and Michael's work on migraine awareness has brought us in touch with several very good artists, so this year we put it all together."

Interspersed among the artworks is information about the affliction, along with fact sheets on well-known artists who were migraine sufferers, such as van Gogh. ("He wasn't crazy," says Coleman. "It's very clear now that he was a migraineur.")

With his gallery work and his advocacy for migraine sufferers overlapping, Coleman has set up a small office for MAGNUM at the back of the gallery, where he can be reached at 703-349-1929. "Small Works" has been extended at the Principle Gallery (703-739-9326) through the middle of January.

The Washington Post 1996