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“Survivor to Thriver” Exhibit in Honor of April Being Sexual Assault Awareness Month

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“Survivor to Thriver” is the title of a very special art gallery exhibition planned in observance of April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, one that both honors and spotlights the incredible strength and courage of those who have survived the worst—to make the best of their lives. This exhibit represents a team effort between the Dawn Center of Hernando County and the Rusted Jade Art Collective, whose joint mission is to spotlight the voices of survivors through art.

The journey from survivor to thriver will be illustrated to grand effect through this one-of-a-kind exhibit, which will be displayed Friday through Sunday, April 26–28, and include a Dawn Center survivor reception on Saturday, April 27, from 5-8 p.m. Both events will be free and open to the public and will be conducted at the Rusted Jade Art Collective, 1142 W. Jefferson St., Brooksville.

Leah Stanton, the sexual assault program coordinator at the Dawn Center, is credited with the conceptualization of the Survivor to Thriver exhibit, a first for the agency. “This is a project I’ve been wanting to make happen for a while, and I’m so excited that we get to premiere it this year, with hopes of possibly making it an annual event,” said Stanton. “The idea was spawned from the opportunity to combine my passion for our work with survivors and my love for art.”

Artistic expression can be a valuable tool in any and all efforts to support sexual assault survivors, facilitating their journey to physical and emotional recovery. “As sexual assault advocates, we get the opportunity to support survivors as they navigate their healing journey, and we have often been able to use art and crafting as a way to help survivors express their emotions, tell their stories, and connect with parts of themselves that can feel shut off after experiencing trauma,” Stanton said. “The works that some of our program participants have created are just breathtaking and I felt that it deserved to be seen by our community too!”

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Stanton revealed that this exhibit will include a beautiful and diverse myriad of creative expressions, each of which represents and amplifies the voice of a survivor. “The art that will be featured in the exhibit is a range of mediums, including canvas pieces made with unconventional materials, poetry, graphic designs, decorated masks, and structural display pieces,” said Stanton. “All the pieces were created by survivors in our program. Some were done at home, but most were done in art support groups we have facilitated over the last couple of months. We are aiming for about 50 pieces of work in total for the gallery.”

“Survivor to Thriver,” the name and theme of this exhibition, holds great meaning and significance for organizers. “The theme for our gallery this year is ‘Survivor to Thriver,’ and we chose that because we felt it was important to show the hope and beauty that can come from healing after experiencing the trauma of sexual assault or violence survivors,” said Stanton. “Survivors often struggle with a myriad of emotions, not only from the assault experience but also with navigating new challenges and complications to their lifestyle, relationships and identity that is affected by the trauma.”

“We want to show that despite the pain, shame, fear, or anger they may face, there is still joy and life to be had,” Stanton said.

This exhibit is part of the Dawn Center’s ongoing efforts to educate the Hernando community about a vitally important topic. “Being that it is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we are trying to educate the community about this issue that is still considered taboo in many circles. The CDC just updated their statistics from the most recent national studies conducted in 2022, and we now know that half of all women and one in three men experience some form of physical sexual violence in their lifetimes,” said Stanton. “Hernando County is no exception, and we have many survivors in our community who may not have safe support systems to turn to for help. Dawn Center of Hernando is an open door for any survivor in our community, no matter where they are on their healing journey, to come to for connection and support.”

Rusted Jade Art Collective Owner/Artist Max Grey is proud to host the family-friendly Survivor to Thriver exhibition at her gallery. “Leah Stanton is one of our amazing clients who came to us asking if we wanted to be part of this profound event, and we immediately jumped at the idea with a huge yes!” she said. “Leah explained the purpose of this and how positive and healing art has been for survivors of sexual abuse, and showcasing their work in a safe, inclusive, & welcoming space would be a beautiful tribute to the work that has been done for these survivors. The title ‘Survivor to Thriver’ is absolutely perfect, and we are so honored Leah is including us in this.”

Grey feels that, beyond its inherent artistic value, the exhibit will have a valuable impact on the Hernando community. “We hope this will impact so much of the community in such a positive and uplifting way,” she said. “Again, extremely humbled to be involved and so very excited for the reception!”

Sample artwork from “Survivor to Thriver” exhibit. [Photo courtesy of Leah Stanton]
Sample artwork from “Survivor to Thriver” exhibit. [Photo courtesy of Leah Stanton]

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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