Artistic Ventures: Art & Activism

Today’s post was originally published as a contributor piece on the Art of Women Foundation’s blog.  Please visit their site to read more about women and the arts. And be sure to visit the organization featured in my post, A Long Walk Home, which is doing amazing things to combat gender violence through art. alongwalkhome

Art and Activism: One Organization Walks with the Arts to End Gender Violence

I first learned about the global epidemic of violence against women and girls in high school. I remember my growing discomfort as week after week we studied different areas, cultures, socioeconomic groups, and ethnicities… and week after week, the story remained the same: The most vulnerable people in every situation – women and girls – were most frequently the targets of violence, abuse, sexual and emotional assault, and homicide. Impoverished and disadvantaged women and girls suffered the most.

Moved by what I learned, I decided to take a stand. I became active in several student advocacy and awareness-raising groups, both on and off campus. I began volunteering at a local shelter for abused women and children, filing papers, answering the phone, doing laundry, and sorting donations.

As a high schooler, I did not have any one-on-one contact with the women and children who stayed at the shelter or received counseling there, but I did hear their stories and see firsthand the aftereffects of domestic abuse and sexual assault. This experience fueled my desire to stay involved in this long, slow fight to end violence, and I have continued volunteering in the field to this day.

As an adult, I’ve worked for years as a crisis advocate and counselor at the local domestic violence and rape crisis center. Several years ago, I cofounded and ran a creative writing group for middle and high school girls. The program was designed to foster self-esteem, empowerment, and voice through the creation of a safe and supportive place in which to explore issues relevant in their lives. I’ve researched and written scholarly papers on the many forms of violence against women and girls, and as an artist and writer, I have a strong interest in how art can both heal past hurts and help prevent future violence.

So when I learned about A Long Walk Home – the self-reported “only organization in the country that uses art therapy and the visual and performing arts to end violence against women and girls” – my interest was piqued. And the more I learned about this amazing Chicago-based organization, the more impressed and excited I became. A Long Walk Home is creating and affecting change in some of the most violent areas in America, and it accomplishes this amazing change through art.

Read on to find out how A Long Walk Home uses art as a means to end violence, and visit their site today to find out how you can join the organization in its mission or to access valuable resources that could help you or the survivor in your life.

A Long Walk Home

Founded in 2003 by sisters Scheherazade and Salamishah Tillet, A Long Walk Home (ALWH) started with one sister’s desire to help her sister heal and recover after abuse. When Scheherazade learned about the rape and abuse Salamishah had endured, she photographed and filmed her story. Eventually, the sisters developed the story into a multimedia performance entitled Story of a Rape Survivor. Since that time, ALWH has grown to become a globally-recognized powerhouse in the fight to end gender violence.

Through strong partnerships with local and national organizations, A Long Walk Home provides programs, lectures, and workshops that connect art to advocacy with an aim at ending gender violence and fostering healing and growth. One wonderful example of their mission in action is the Girl/Friends Leadership program, organized by ALWH and implemented through partnerships with local schools. According to ALWH’s website, the Girl/Friends program “uses the multimedia and digital arts, yoga, dance, creative writing, theater, and art therapy to educate young women about sexual health and sexual and dating violence.”

This program reaches affected and high-risk youth by creating a positive outlet in the arts through which to develop their senses of self, voice, and personal stories. In addition, the program educates young women about sexual health, how to become an advocate for oneself and others at the micro and macro level, the power of self-care, and develops peer leaders within these at-risk communities. The goal is to prevent future violence by training peer leaders in these high-risk communities through drawing, painting, writing, and performance arts. Taking into account the impact that race and economics have on violence, Girl/Friends also explores what these mean to the girls. The program provides education through development of skills and language which enables the girls to advocate for themselves and their communities.

And this is just one of the myriad programs and workshops offered by ALWH.

The Art. Activism. Advocacy. workshop focuses on training domestic violence and rape crisis counselors and advocates on the use of survivor art as a means of empowerment for the survivor and education for the community. And ALWH continues to break ground with their Sexual Assault in the 21st Century: The Digital and Media Arts workshop, a program that uses new developments in art therapy to incorporate social media, digital photography, and video to both help survivors heal and to prevent future violence. This is just the tip of the iceberg – there are many other programs all with the same goal – heal the hurt, end the violence.

A Long Walk Home is dedicated to the transformative power of art and helps this power manifest through community programs. I encourage everyone to visit their website and become part of this impressive movement to end gender violence.

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