By Casey Crow
Special to The PREVIEW
This Saturday, Sept. 29, Rise Above Violence (Rise) will host its annual art exhibit and auction titled “Voices Rise.” The event is unlike any other in Pagosa Springs, joining together survivors of violence and local artists who interpret individual stories into moving works of art. The event aims to break the silence around domestic violence and sexual assault while promoting hope, healing and transformation.
Rise is the only organization of its kind in Pagosa Springs serving survivors of domestic and sexual violence. The nonprofit provides a 24-hour hotline, court advocates to help navigate the criminal justice system, emergency transportation to shelters and referrals to vital resources in the area. In addition, Rise facilitates support groups, violence prevention and educational programs for all ages, community awareness campaigns and bilingual advocacy services.
The annual event, Art Above Violence, is a critical fundraiser for Rise, which receives no public funding. The nonprofit runs solely off of grants, private donors and fundraising events. Despite being embedded in a rural location, Rise responds to staggering numbers of clients every year. As the need for services increases, so does the need for funding.
In 2017, Rise responded to over 400 hotline calls and served 371 clients in need of services related to domestic violence, sexual assault, child sexual assault and teen dating violence. This included men, women, children, Spanish-speakers and individuals with disabilities. Through the Youth Rise program, nearly 900 students were reached through classes and presentations on bullying, Internet safety and healthy relationships.
This year alone, Rise has responded to 196 cases of domestic violence and sexual assault, which is a 15 percent increase from the previous year. In addition, the number of children in need of services has doubled.
Rise truly aims to serve anyone and everyone in need of support in our community, but funding is crucial to continually fueling and expanding the work. By attending Art Above Violence and bidding on the art, your dollars will ensure that no survivor goes unserved and more progress is made toward awareness, education and violence prevention.
Art Above Violence not only makes an immeasurable impact in our community in terms of funding, but it also brings transformative healing to the survivors who participate in the show. According to Ashley Wilson, who has conceptualized and spearheaded Art Above Violence over the past three years, the exhibit is an opportunity for community members to accept survivor stories and share in their victory over abuse.
“The show for me is a way to have survivors witness the community accepting their story with no shame and with the protection of anonymity. We bring people to a space where they can view the story and share in the triumph,” Wilson explained.
There are abundant testimonies of transformation from survivors who found healing through the process of participating in Art Above Violence.
One example is Darcy Downing, who suffered severe sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse in childhood. Downing participated in the inaugural Art Above Violence show in 2016. Her portrait showed her with fiery eyes and a sword, representing her identity as an “overcomer” of abuse. Downing courageously and openly shares her story to demonstrate that healing is possible. She now serves as an advocate with Rise, helping others find their voice.
Other survivors began their participation in Art Above Violence as artists, but later shared their own stories of abuse. Heather Rose — a featured artist in this year’s exhibit — was chosen to capture Downing’s story in 2016, which proved to be a powerful experience for both women. Last year, Rose anonymously submitted her own story of being affected by childhood violence. The experience was so impactful that Rose chose to come out of anonymity following the event.
“I can say with confidence that viewing art inspired by my story was one of the most healing processes I’ve ever been apart of,” Rose said. “… I found the art to be pieces of beauty that celebrate the strength and grace in the life of the survivor. I have walked away from the event after feeling uplifted, inspired and empowered, knowing that there are so many within our community that want to do their part in preventing, healing and educating others.”
Sueyel Palma has also participated in Art Above Violence as artist, survivor and activist. Palma knows all too well how easy it can be to unintentionally find yourself in a harmful situation with a partner. Having suffered emotional and physical abuse, she explained that it is much easier than people think to gradually slip into a dangerous and manipulative relationship. Now having sought help and found healing from the past, Palma is a passionate advocate on behalf of survivors.
Palma believes that Art Above Violence is an important opportunity to shed light on the topic and empower survivors to reach out for help. She highlighted that Rise operates under strict confidentiality and has a vast network of resources for those who are experiencing abuse.
“There could be people there at the show secretly hurting and they need to know that it is just you and the advocate, no one else needs to know. There are so many people suffering in silence. Believe it or not, a lot of times the happiest person could be the one that’s hurting the most,” she said.
Having both shared her experience and created art from other testimonies of abuse, Palma sees all survivor stories as inextricably linked.
“I incorporate their stories in my artwork, but they are also about me. It’s also about my story because we are all the same — different circumstances, different situations, but it’s all the same feeling. That feeling of being in constant fear, even subconsciously,” she explained.
Art Above Violence is centered upon transformation. Palma echoes the voices of many other survivors when she articulates that the event lifts the weight of silence and reveals that people are not alone in their pain.
Reflecting back on her participation over the years, Palma said, “It was intense and healing and wonderful. The pieces were all amazing and beautiful. Some of the participants had been survivors and you could see the rebirth in their work, although they still showed the pain. It’s not either-or — total pain or total darkness — but it’s transformative.”
In light of the overwhelming scope of domestic and sexual violence, it is easy to feel paralyzed and unsure of how to help. According to Wilson, one of the most impactful actions you can take is to simply engage in the conversation. For many of the survivors, the power of Art Above Violence stems from watching the community acknowledge and accept their stories, and feeling free to share those stories without shame or judgment.
“Domestic violence and sexual assault silently touch the lives of everyone in the community whether we realize it or not, and a strong community works to the heal the wounds of those hurting. One way to do that is to join voices with survivors to honor the stories and the journey and not be afraid of the conversation,” Wilson explained.
We encourage you to engage in the dialogue on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts.
Visit https://artactivismdvproject.weebly.com/sponsors.html for event details and tickets. You can also purchase tickets by calling 264-1129 or at the door the night of the event. If you cannot attend, you can still bid on the artwork at https://www.charityauctionstoday.com/auctions/art-above-violence-2018-5743.
Bidding will open at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 29.
Art Above Violence is the kick-off event for Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October and will lead into many more events hosted by Rise.
On Oct. 2, there will be a county proclamation at the county commissioners’ meeting at 1:30 p.m., as well as a town proclamation at the town council meeting at 5 p.m. Additionally, the Clothesline Project will be on display at “Voices Rise,” at Town Hall from Oct. 1-12 and at the library Oct. 13-31.