Filling the canvas: Steamboat senior’s ‘The Nova Project’ gives a voice to those affected by domestic violence and sexual assault
- Artwork will be displayed at the Steamboat Springs High School main gallery near the building’s entrance starting on Monday, Jan. 29.
- Voting: People’s choice voting will take place on Friday, Feb. 2 where students can select the piece that resonates most. Winner will receive $100 cash prize.
Editor’s note: Some of the images that appear with this article are graphic and violent in nature.
Underneath the juxtaposition of light and dark, the rigid contours and imprints, a stark reality remains.
No rose-colored glasses or sugar-coated verbiage can mask it.
“It was shocking,” said Diana Hernandez, a Steamboat Springs High School senior who interned at the Advocates Building Peaceful Communities this past semester. “It was hard to hear people I knew were victims of violence and abuse. But we never really hear about it. No one wants to talk about it, and if it is brought up, you’re told ‘that’s not appropriate.”
“Just because we’re surrounded by so much beauty, people tend to think we’d never have this type of violence, but we do,” Hernandez said. “It can’t be silenced anymore. It needs to be talked about.”
Through art, Hernandez sought to give victims and survivors a voice — one with many shades and interpretations.
In December, the idea for “The Nova Project” emerged after her internship with Advocates was completed and brainstorming her final school art project. She had the idea to hold an art contest, open to all Steamboat Springs High School students, prompting them to illustrate, through any medium of their choice, a representation or interpretation of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
“She was surprised, as was I pleasantly surprised, of the interest and the artwork itself,” said Diane Moore, who served as Advocates executive director for 34 years and resigned from the position Jan. 4. “Those of us in the field know that art is a great vehicle to heal. And although Advocates had tried similar programs like this working through art with SSHS students, for some reason, it took off this time.”
Whether the dedication of Hernandez’s hard work or the resonating experiences, young artists felt it was time to speak up.
“This is happening,” Hernandez said. “You can’t be quiet anymore. Quieting down is silencing the victims and survivors. I want people who have been affected by this to not feel alone. To let them know that we’re standing with them. To not be afraid to say what they’re going through to someone close to them. To let them know that they are safe.”
“I think we, as a society, silenced victims,” said Moore, who worked with Hernandez during her internship and helped get the project going. “And sometimes, we don’t believe them. What’s going on now, especially with the #MeToo and the #TimesUp campaigns, it’s giving survivors an OK, for both men and women, to say ‘It’s OK to talk about it, that we want you to and more so, we believe you.’”
According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, approximately 321,500 people in the U.S. age 12 or older are victims of sexual assault each year, which negates a person being sexually assaulted every 98 seconds.
“A lot of work has been done thus far,” Moore continued. “But, I don’t think our society understands yet how pervasive it is in Routt County.”
“Our community has been great about embracing the fact that violence and sexual abuse happens,” said Moore. “But, we still have a long ways to go in our community to embrace and believe there are sexual assault survivors.”
In 2017, the nonprofit Advocates based in Steamboat Springs served 22 victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment and typically helps an average of 300 people per year.
Advocates helps victims of family violence, intimate partner violence, sexual violence and stalking victims, with immediate crisis response, and hosts a 24-hour crisis response helpline.
Moore said the highest proportion of sexual assaults she’s aware of in Routt County occur within the 25 and younger range. However, many cases are left unreported.
And it’s not something a lot of people want to talk about.
“It was during the week before and after finals that I had asked people to submit artwork,” Hernandez said. “I had six people enter their work and more who didn’t tell me how much they loved the idea of the project and felt it should be continued because it shows the realities we face.”
Five of the entries are from friends and family members of victims and one anonymous entry is from someone who was a victim in an emotionally abusive relationship.
“You’re not alone in this — the idea we’re doing this is not only giving a voice to the masses but also giving a voice to those who have been personally affected by it,” said Finn Russell, Steamboat senior who submitted a piece.
The Nova Project artists:
Steamboat Springs High School senior
“Since I can’t personally say that this has happened to me – this is what it looks like from the outside and that’s not ok,” said Steamboat Senior Finn Russell.
In his piece that was left untitled he wanted to represent the abusive relationships between couples, and in his artist statement, he said, “I didn’t want to hold back from the physical bruises and cuts because all of that is too true, and not only does the physical damage show, but the heart is hurt – with the abuse that some may consider and still believe is love.”
“There are friends and family I hold very dear to me; they had to go through these pains throughout their lifetime,” Russell explained. “I hate seeing others go through this. I hope the people can see how big of a deal this is and how we can bring awareness to stop, because love shouldn’t bring you pain.”
Steamboat Springs High School senior
“I wanted to paint what I saw, looking at the person close to me who has been affected,” said Josie Seibel, Steamboat senior who submitted one of the pieces for the Nova Project.
In her artist statement Seibel said, “I wanted it to be a piece that was full of hope.”
The subject of her art is curled up in a fetal position, which Seibel said portrays fear and injury yet the symbolism also relates to new birth. The flowers emphasize the idea of growing from pain while also exploring the colors of bruises.
“Yes, she’s in pain right now, but she won’t stay down forever,” Seibel said. “She is letting herself heal. She is allowing herself to be vulnerable and show her scars so that she may heal eventually.”
The subject made of intentionally-placed stained glass also connotes her fragile state, which is what Seibel wanted to redefine through her art.
“I wanted to emphasize the importance of a victim’s life even when they feel the lowest in their life,” Seibel said. “The galaxy surrounding her is cold and lonely, as I’d presume it often feels in such a situation. I hope the intention in my art was clear and maybe resonated with someone else. The Nova Project is an amazing idea, and I hope others like it continue to occur.”
In the artist statement, the anonymous artist said, “For this art piece, my goal was to initially shock the viewer in order to reveal a reality to them that may not have realized in the first place. This piece was a challenge because it pushed me out of my comfort zone and was a different style than I am used to doing. Through the process of making this piece, the voice and message became more serious than expected. Therefore, creating this piece for The Nova Project allowed me to learn and become more aware of problems I had not fully grasped at the start.”
“The colors are really in focus here because the girl, who is blue, and the guy as red signify he is gaining all of the power,” said Hernandez about the anonymous artist’s piece. “The darker red he gets, the more blue she become as she loses her power to him. It shows the power struggle of this emotionally abusive relationship of the characters in the drawing.”
Steamboat Springs High School sophomore
Steamboat sophomore Corrie Holm said her art is a symbol of warfare and abuse. She said the weapons of this battle represent long-term damage, leaving scars and wounds on one’s heart.
The person in the middle of her piece has been belittled and set in a dark place to emphasize a lonely feeling. Words in the background list methods and causes of emotional abuse – lies, anger, deceit, harm, hatred – along with criticizing eyes that stare into the victim’s heart.
“The words are faded because sometimes it’s difficult for a person to see that they are being made a victim,” Holm said. “I felt it was important to base this piece off of emotional abuse, because I believe it can stem off of and connect to any other kind of abuse.”
Steamboat Springs High School senior
“I interpreted the prompt for the art project as political in relation to sexual abuse and violence,” said Taylor Kreissig, Steamboat senior.
In light of recent media with issues within the #MeToo campaign, this has brought to light stories of sexual abuse, harassment and domestic violence, which is where the inspiration for Kreissig’s piece originated.
“With everything that’s come up in the news recently and in the past year, I think it’s especially important now to show this and to show that sexual abuse and violence, is actually happening. That’s the reality.”
Steamboat Springs High School sophomore
Meant to encompass many different kinds of abuse and violence and how it affects the survivor, Madeline Sabin, Steamboat sophomore created the piece, titled “Survive. Live. Endure.” made with a solar plate on arsh paper.
“This is meant to show that even when silenced, either by the abuser or society, there is strength and perseverance in the act of merely surviving,” she said. “The defiance of enduring what was done, what hurt and the utter strength that it takes to do so, was what I tried to convey.”
“I know quite a few people who have dealt with many different types of abuse, whether sexual, physical, emotional or other, so rather than focusing on a specific type of violence, this piece is meant to involve all of them,” said Sabin.
The subject’s dark blue cheek, resembles bruising and is meant to be reminiscent of a starved face to represent that when violent acts are done to a person they deteriorate with the silence that is often placed on them, becoming starved for the sense of normalcy and safety that was lost.
The point of the imagine Sabin said is not to focus on the deeds done to the survivors “It’s to highlight the strength and the amazing ability to live after one has been hurt in such a detrimental way. This is my way to show that I stand with survivors.”
Voices in Routt County
Despite the resonating stories of the artwork, most victims remain silent.
“There are a lot of reasons why victims don’t report sexual assault,” said Marnie Christensen, interim director of Advocates. “Most of those reasons are a result of fear.”
Fear of being blamed – victim being inappropriately dressed or under the influence – or reversing the blame from perpetrator to victim. Fear of embarrassment, humiliation and harassment from those a victim might know or people they’ve never met, especially with social media. Fear of reliving the experience, one of the worst possible events one could endure.
“It’s critical for victims to know it’s not their fault, they were not ‘asking for it’ and most importantly, they are not alone and there is help out there for them,” Christensen said.
It starts with a conversation.
“I think it’s profound what this small project has started, and the impact it will have,” Moore said. “What these students have done on behalf of not just their peers, but for the community, is offer an opportunity for parents to have some of these tough conversations, to check in with their kids at the dinner table. It’s about raising awareness.”
Resources available to victims of sexual assault
- Routt County victims can contact their local law enforcement agency or they can call Advocates Building Peaceful Communities at (970) 879-2034.
- 24-hour crisis hotline number: (970) 879-8888
- Moffat County residents, call Advocates Crisis Support Services at (970) 824-9709 or
- Moffat County 24-hour crisis hotline number: (970) 824-2400
- Those looking for resources outside Northwest Colorado call: 1-800-799-7233.
- In an emergency, call 911.
Other online resources
- National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
- The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) at 1-877-739-3895, http://www.nsvrc.org
- Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656-4673 http://www.rainn.org.
Advocates offers these tips to people who know someone that may be in danger:
According to Advocates website
- Listen in a non-judgmental, supportive manner.
- Be supportive, regardless of the number of times they return to the relationship.
- Remind them that they are not alone and are not to blame for the abuse.
- Make referrals to programs that offer assistance to victims of domestic violence. Encourage them to make contact with a victim advocate to discuss options.
- Assist in developing a safety plan.
- If they tell you they are afraid, trust that there are good reasons for that belief.
- Tell them you’re concerned for their safety.
- Tell them that they deserve better than this.
- Be there for them even when you don’t understand their decisions.
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