On a sunny Sunday afternoon, the streets of Athens became an art gallery dedicated to honoring survivors of sexual and domestic violence and their resilience.
The Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program and more than 30 other Athens businesses and establishments partnered for the first-ever Turn Athens Teal Art Walk and Survivor Gala. Volunteers and participating entities chalked sidewalks, hung balloons, hosted educational and art exhibits or simply displayed teal in their establishments in support of survivors of sexual and domestic violence. Teal is the official color for sexual assault awareness, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
SAOP Executive Director Kat Wargo said she decided to incorporate art as a main component of the event because of an SAOP partnership with Passion Works Studio, which allowed for individuals to come together and learn how to use art as a coping technique.
“It was a natural progression for us to then work with artists from the community to be able to come together and to highlight some of the works that they have done and to show their resilience,” Wargo said.
Wargo hoped the event served as both a medium for raising awareness about sexual and domestic violence and as a celebration of survivors’ strength.
“We want people to understand that survivors exist, that our community supports individuals who have experienced trauma,” she said. “And we want individuals to know that they are welcome in our community, that they are supported by our community, and that growth and resilience are possible within our community.”
One of SAOP’s many partners in the Turn Athens Teal program was the Athens Police Department. The department offered participants information on the local domestic violence support network and on Marsy’s Law, which ensures that victims of violent crimes are treated with respect and dignity by the justice system.
Molly Burchfield, a victim specialist for APD, said she thinks it’s particularly important to raise awareness about the legal side of sexual and domestic violence.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that we actually have a program here that’s for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault (and) relationship-based crimes,” she said. “Just getting that information out is beneficial.”
One of the several visual art exhibits that made up the art walk was a rendition of the Clothesline Project. The Clothesline Project is a worldwide organization dedicated to raising awareness about the prevalence of violence and the availability of help and support for victims. Participants decorated T-shirts by sharing stories of personal encounters with violence, and the shirts were displayed on clotheslines in Howard Park on North Green.
“This project definitely is one of many that kind of gives a voice to the issues that continue to occur,” Hannah Osborn, a volunteer for SAOP, said.
Osborn, a graduate student studying psychology, said while she presided over the exhibit, several people approached her to ask questions about its purpose and the services provided by SAOP. One person gave her a hug and thanked her for being part of an event that brought awareness to such a prevalent issue.
“There is a lot less known about what services are available to survivors when they experience these things,” Osborn said. “But there are lots of things that people do every day ... to help them empower their own story and their own personal recovery. And doing it in a way that is survivor-centered and believing survivors.”