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WBAA Arts: "Expressions: A Survivors' Gallery"

When YWCA Greater Lafayette first began hosting healing art workshops for survivors of domestic violence, a lack of funding and supplies threatened the future of the program. But the homegrown effort has since expanded, and now the restorative power of art is being showcased in the YWCA’s inaugural gallery event.

 It’s opening night, and Sharifah Thomas is showing off an acrylic painting that imagines her future.


“Basically, what I see in my mind: looking out the window, just the calm ocean waves with the sunset just to calm me down. A good way to soothe and relax and just unwind,” Thomas says.


Thomas is one of 25 artists featured in “Expressions: A Survivors’ Gallery,” the YWCA’s first-ever exhibition. It showcases over 60 pieces of art created by survivors of domestic violence and other trauma during weekly healing art workshops.


Leah Giorgini, Senior Director of YWCA’s Domestic Violence Intervention Program, says the workshops provide a way for trauma survivors to sort through their emotions and begin the process of healing.


“So, art means that you can express what you’ve been feeling—what you’ve been through—through metaphor. So, you can put it down in an indirect way and show, express, and release that trauma through the visual methods of art,” Giorgini says.


Expressions began as a low-budget program primarily fueled by the passion of its creator, Rachel Reynolds. She’s a case advocate for women at YWCA and the current coordinator of the healing art workshops.


Once Reynolds got the go-ahead from the YWCA board, she went in search of supplies to add to the program’s small stockpile of construction paper and crayons. She got some donations from local craft stores, but A Window Between Worlds, a nonprofit organization that provides training and art curricula for human service agencies, gave it a solid foundation. 


“That became the backbone of the program--kind of the structure--because not only did it mean that we could get an art supply stipend for money to purchase art supplies every year, but we also would have access to a database of over five hundred curriculum that we could pull from for workshops,” Reynolds says.


The Expressions workshops were originally offered only to residents of the YWCA’s emergency domestic violence shelter, but it opened to the public about a year ago. Reynolds says creation of art allows survivors of trauma to take the first step on the path to recovery.


“Creating something can be very empowering. Creating something makes it real—now it exists in space—and so then from there, it can be a step to, ‘I can do this in my life, I can create things, I can make things happen,’” Reynolds says.


YWCA student intern Alana Carta has attended nearly every Expressions workshop since she began working for the organization a little over a month ago. Carta says the process of healing through artmaking may be a better option for some people than traditional forms of therapy.


“I think with therapy it could be, for some, maybe awkward to sit down with a stranger and kind of talk about things, but the cool thing about creating your own art is that you’re leading it, and you’re exploring those emotions and maybe that trauma or that healing for yourself,” Carta says.


The show includes photos, paintings, pop collages and sketches, grouped together according to the workshop in which they were created. Sharifah Thomas painted her ocean scene during one called “Window Into My Future.”


Thomas says her ocean-side window serves as a calming reminder of the life she has ahead of her.


“That’s just a window of me saying I’m a survivor, and there is life out there past what I’ve experienced,” Thomas says.


Expressions art healing workshops take place at the YWCA on Friday evenings from 6pm to 7:30pm. The workshops are open to all survivors of any trauma.


Expressions: A Survivors’ Gallery will be on display in the Elm and Walnut Rooms at the West Lafayette Public Library until March 15.