‘In Our Shoes’ art exhibit encourages reflection, education, awareness of sexual assault

A pair of decorated shoes sits in the Bud Werner Memorial Library during the In Our Shoes art opening and community conversation on Saturday.
Derek Maiolo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — “In Our Shoes,” the collaborative project investigating sexual assault in Routt County, prompted the surfacing of complicated emotions, a wave of important conversations and a lot of people processing thoughts and feelings in different ways.

One of the ways community members were invited to participate in the series and last Saturday’s culminating event was to create shoes to express their experiences or reflections about the issue of sexual assault. Steamboat Pilot & Today, Advocates of Routt County, Steamboat Creates and Young Bloods Collective, who partnered on the “In Our Shoes” event and exhibit, hosted five decorating events, which were open to the public: three in Steamboat Springs, one in Oak Creek and one in Hayden.

At the beginning of the project, organizers were hoping to inspire a dozen pairs of shoes, said Young Bloods Collective’s Sarah Valentino. So, the fact that the events ultimately yielded more than 50 pairs was amazing.

“I was really struck by the diversity amongst the shoes — the people they came from, the stories they told, and the wide array of experiences people talked about,” Valentino said. “I think we all have this stereotype in our head of what sexual assault looks like, but really, it’s so much more diverse than that.” 

The shoes range from high heels to hiking boots, from tiny toddler-sized shoes to foot-long cowboy boots. They’ve been adorned with paint, marker, stones, glass and other objects. The artist’s statements that accompany each pair of shoes range from a few words to a few hundred words. Each piece shows an experience that will be part of the artist for the rest of their life. 

The shoe exhibit debuted at the July 27 “In Our Shoes” event at Library Hall, and it will be displayed in the baggage room of the Depot Art Center through the month of August, opening during the Aug. 2 First Friday Artwalk.

Each week, the space will also host related events, including a book discussion about “Beartown” by Fredric Backman; a self-defense class; restorative yoga and an introduction to survivor support groups; and a presentation about healthy relationships for parents and kids.

Valentino hopes the effects of the “In Our Shoes” series continue on outside of gallery walls.

If you go

What: In Our Shoes exhibit at the Depot Art Center
When: 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 (displayed through the month of August)
Where: Depot Art Center, baggage room; 1001 13th St., Steamboat Springs

“I think that, more than anything, I’d really want (guests) to walk away with more empathy, more questions and more of an awareness of how this (issue) exists in their lives,” Valentino said. “With more compassion for their family, friends and loved ones who might have been suffering in silence for a long time — a better awareness, so they can reach out. And to have more resources, to know where to go if they need them.”

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

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