Art helps sexual assault victims heal
A dictionary definition of what it means to heal will never encompass the complexities of the process for survivors of sexual abuse or assault.
With words alone, the beauties and pains of forced transformations and reluctant new beginnings can't always be captured.
So one suburban shelter and counseling agency is encouraging survivors to express their experience with healing through art.
In its third annual Survivors' Art Show on Friday, April 7, Mutual Ground in Aurora plans to display works of art created by sexual abuse or assault survivors and supporters whose pieces reflect the emotions of the healing journey.
"Healing is not really a linear process," says Amy Medlin, sexual assault program coordinator at Mutual Ground. "Our art show has that theme of the complexity of healing and how it can be a painful journey, with open wounds that scab over time. It can have beauty to the process, but it can also be a very painful process."
With free counseling services to anyone who identifies as a survivor of sexual abuse or assault -- whether recent or far in their past -- Mutual Ground is one source of help along the healing path, Medlin says.
The agency's sexual assault program last year served 270 people ages 4 to 65 as they processed the harm inflicted and forged new identities.
Healing involves forming a new world view and integrating the person a survivor was before the abuse or assault into the new person she or he becomes after it occurred, Medlin says.
She's learned through her work that survivors don't wake up one day and know they're healed. The journey is a two-steps-forward, one-step-back kind of route that often takes years, with pains resurfacing at different life junctures when survivors least expect them.
That's why art has proven a beneficial way for survivors to express their experiences, and to give back to the nonprofit that helped them cope.
Proceeds from a silent auction of artwork will benefit Mutual Ground. Last year, more than 400 people attended the show, which takes place during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The Survivors' Art Show also will include musical performances, poetry readings and clients sharing their healing stories from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Aurora's Santori Public Library, 101 S. River St.
The show coincides with one of the monthly First Fridays art and culture walks in downtown Aurora, which have been going on for the past three years.
April's First Fridays event will include a doughnut taste-off, art galleries at eight locations, music at three sites, performances of poetry, spoken word and a play, and open photo time in "Wayne's Basement," a set designed to look like the basement from the 1992 comedy "Wayne's World." Details and other activities are listed at auroradowntown.org.
Marissa Amoni, who handles events and community outreach for Aurora Downtown, said First Fridays have grown into vibrant showcases of an artistic community coming out to play, with fun for families in the early evening and entertainment for adults later on.
"It's a downtown open house to experience all there is in downtown Aurora," Amoni said.
The events even have helped lure at least one new business to the area, enticing AKA Dance Studio to open at 14 W. Downer Place, Suite 10, in June 2015. The studio is getting involved with April's First Fridays by hosting a free dance class from 6:30 to 7 p.m. and selling popcorn for $1 to benefit studio operations.
But the Survivors' Art Show is one of the highlights of the April activities, especially for its potential to increase awareness about the importance of healing for victims of sexual abuse and assault.
"It's complex to be a survivor," Medlin said. "There's not one way a survivor heals."
If you goWhat: Third annual Survivors' Art Show
When: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, April 7; during a First Fridays event in downtown Aurora
Where: Santori Library, 101 S. River St., Aurora
Who: Hosted by Mutual Ground
Cost: Free entrance; art for sale by silent auction
Info: email@example.com, mutualground.org or (630) 897-0084