By Casey Crow
Special to The PREVIEW
On Sept. 29, Rise Above Violence will host the third annual Art Above Violence event to raise awareness around domestic violence and sexual assault. This innovative art activism project pairs incredible local artists with survivors of violence who share their personal story of overcoming abuse. These stories are then transformed into works of art using a wide variety of mediums, including visual, performance and photography, to name a few.
The theme of this year’s Art Above Violence project is “Voices Rise.” Every voice has an impact, but our collective voice is most powerful and holds the potential to end violence in our community.
The project highlights the hope, healing and transformation that survivors can experience, as well as helps those who have not experienced violence to understand the complexities of such trauma.
The ultimate hope for Voices Rise is that survivors find further healing by sharing their stories, individuals who remain silenced or at-risk realize they are not alone, and that the event will act as a catalyst for community solidarity and action.
While the event is moving, inspirational and seeks to provoke change, it is also a fantastic and entertaining evening. The artists showcasing their skills at this year’s show come from all backgrounds and artistic disciplines. There is truly something for everyone. Two such phenomenal artists include Paula Jo Miller and Carol Meckling.
Miller is a contemporary abstract artist who retired to Pagosa Springs from Texas where she previously worked as a nonprofit consultant. Miller comes from a long line of female artists who first inspired her to embrace creative expression. Though her family worked largely in oil paint and realism, Miller was instinctively drawn to the color and movement of abstract art. Miller showcased her work in the inaugural Art Above Violence event in 2016. The process has proven so rewarding for Miller that she continues to volunteer her time and skills to the project annually.
The event continues to show Miller what people in the community are going through.
“It opens my eyes to the trauma that so many people face, that I cannot even fathom. I feel this enormous sense of responsibility — but not in a bad way — to really capture their story and honor their story. It’s huge, it’s overwhelming and it’s emotional, but it is so incredibly rewarding,” she said.
One might wonder how an individual’s story becomes a work of abstract art. For Miller, the process often starts with images, identifying colors that resonate with the survivor’s healing process, and playing with feelings of courage or calm, for example. In 2016, the process was highly collaborative. The survivor conveyed that being in the trees and mountains was a healing space. Miller shaped the landscape and together they chose colors. One piece from last year included fiery reds and oranges, with an abstract figure of a mother and child rising from the flames. Miller’s work for Voices Rise is still taking shape.
“I’m excited about this next one. I have images swirling around my head. Nothing I’m ready to paint yet; I like to let it percolate,” she said.
In whatever way the piece comes to life, it is bound to move you towards hope. According to Miller, “This show is just all about hope. It’s not all the sad stories. You can’t deny history, but that’s a small percentage of it. The whole feeling is about the positive — the hope, the courage, the resilience — and you can’t help but feel good.”
Joining Miller in Voices Rise is Meckling. Meckling grew up in the Chicago suburbs, where she cultivated her creativity through school art programs from a young age and went on to study fine arts in college. At that time, it was difficult to build a career as an artist, which led Meckling to graduate school in counseling psychology. She merged her fields by studying expressive arts therapy. Three years ago, Meckling relocated from Seattle to Bayfield, where she dedicated herself to working as an artist full time. This will be Meckling’s second time participating in the Art Above Violence show, of which she is a tremendous supporter.
“Having worked in the mental health field, it feels so important to me to hear peoples’ stories and help them heal and process. This was a lovely way to participate in that, while doing what I want to do now. Art is so healing and such a good way to express difficult things. I get so much from that experience of hearing someone’s story. I’m always so amazed by peoples’ resiliency, their strength, their courage,” she explained.
Meckling works largely in acrylic painting, often inspired by landscapes, but also ceramics, mixed media and fiber art.
“This area is so inspirational,” she said, “the landscape, the colors, the big sky.”
Meckling is currently discovering a more spontaneous style and exploring abstract landscapes, as well as abstract art more generally.
For the Voices Rise event, Meckling’s work focuses on the question of how to get out of a violent situation. During her survivor interview, the individual recounted asking the question “How do I get out?” While people are quick to tell others when they should leave, there are far fewer answers as to how to leave. This becomes increasingly problematic when considering finances and children. Meckling’s work highlights this question, as well as portrays the transition from darkness — sadness, loneliness, fear — into light.
“Something shifts and the light starts to creep in,” she said. “I’d like to show that resiliency and that you can come out of that.”
Meckling sees this type of work not only as most fulfilling, but also as a powerful vehicle for connection.
“Art has a way of touching into peoples’ emotions. We have an emotional connection to art, but it is served up in a way that is less traumatizing than the news that is constantly shouting at you. That’s the power of it. Whether you are a Me Too Movement person or not, everybody has experienced pain, we all have that in common. It’s just different reasons and different degrees of it. When you see something that’s moving — visual art, performance art, something that connects to you — you are fully alive because you are connected to your own humanity,” she articulated.
Meckling encourages the community to attend, knowing it will be a positive experience.
“All the artwork, the whole evening, is about resiliency, beauty, connection and community — what we can do if we are a community. I don’t remember any piece that was dark or depressing or hopeless. What a variety of mediums, and they all had their own perspective. It was a really positive experience,” she said.
Art Above Violence: Voices Rise will take place Sept. 29 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts. General admission is $25 and VIP tickets are $45.