‘In Our Shoes’ culminates in community event Saturday offering arts, connection, education

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — “In Our Shoes,” the two-month-long series investigating the issue of sexual assault in Steamboat Springs and Routt County, culminates on Saturday with a multifaceted event, open to all.

The series is an in-depth reporting project by Steamboat Pilot & Today, examining the issue of local sexual assault through a variety of contexts and lenses, including both data-driven articles and personal narratives of survivors.

Along the way, partner organizations — Advocates of Routt County, Steamboat Creates and Young Bloods Collectives — have hosted five open shoe art events — three in Steamboat, one in Oak Creek, one in Hayden — during which community members decorated a pair of shoes to express their experiences around or reflections about the issue of sexual assault. 

“When people do art, it’s easier for them to open up and talk about a sensitive subject,” said Lisel Petis, executive director of Advocates of Routt County. 

The shoe-decorating nights produced 40 pairs of shoes, covering a full range of emotion from the artist’s point of view in processing through a situation, and in artistic mediums. A pair of combat boots sprouts nails every which way and is packed with dirt, in which a flower grows, and another pair of cowboy boots is shellacked in Steamboat Pilot & Today articles from the series. Each pair is accompanied by written words from the artist about what they’ve created. 

On Saturday, these shoes will be on display to the public for the first time. 

The doors of Library Hall will open at 4 p.m., inviting guests to take in the exhibit at their own pace, with wine and appetizers available. At 5 p.m., community members will share their reflections related to experiences with sexual assault in the form of spoken word performances, including beat poetry, essays, poems and song. The belly dance troop IBI Brigade closes out the performances with a piece choreographed in the honor of a local survivor of sexual assault.

Following the performances, there will be a panel discussion at 6 p.m., moderated by Steamboat Pilot & Today Editor Lisa Schlichtman. Panelists include Steamboat Springs Police Detective Sam Silva; Advocates of Routt County Executive Director Lisel Petis; UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center forensic nurse Patty Oakland; psychotherapist Carla Portigal, who’s practiced in Routt County for more than 40 years; and Routt County District Attorney Matt Karzen. The panel will be speaking about sexual assault and questions from the audience will be answered.

If you go

What: In Our Shoes art opening and community conversation
When: 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, July 27
Where: Library Hall, 1289 Lincoln Ave.

“The event is going to be so powerful, and by the time the panel comes around, it will create an amazing, raw conversation for our community,” Petis said.

People are welcome to come and go as they please, but experiencing the full sequence of the event is encouraged.

“Showing up and acknowledging the impact of this series will signal to survivors that the community is serious about this,” Schlichtman said.

After their appearance at this event, the shoes will be exhibited in the Depot Art Center’s Baggage Room. The show will open during First Friday ArtWalk on Aug. 2. The month-long exhibit will be accompanied by weekly events bringing connection and education to the community. These weekly events will include: a book discussion on “Beartown” by Fredric Backman; a self-defense class; an introduction to a survivor support group; and presentations about healthy relationships for parents and kids.

Due to the emotional and potentially triggering nature of the subject matter, Saturday’s event and all other upcoming “In Our Shoes” events will have representatives from Advocates of Routt County present and available to talk and point anyone toward available resources. 

When August turns to September and the shoe exhibit is taken down, the In Our Shoes series will come to a close, but Schlichtman and Petis agree that aspects of the series will continue.

“We’ve already seen a ton of change,” Petis said. “So many people are talking about sexual assault in our community right now, and that’s never happened before.”

She noted that the conversations have been challenging for some survivors, many of whom have gotten in touch with Advocates for resources and support.

“I feel fortunate that they felt they were able to reach out to our office, and that we were able to help them,” she said. “The articles set the groundwork, and it’s exciting to see our community’s response to that.”

Schlichtman hopes the conversation that the series prompted within the community will continue.

“One thing that I think prevents people from healing is shame, somehow thinking that they were at fault,” Schlichtman said. “Journalism is so powerful in how we can pull back a veil on something that no one wants to talk about, and through reporting, education and conversation, shine a light on it. 

“When it’s dark, bad things happen. When a person is stuck in that dark place, it’s hard for them to heal,” Schlichtman added. “But when survivors know that our community cares about this issue, I think that should give people hope and strength.”

For more information and to read the full In Our Shoes series, visit

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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