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domestic violence

HopeWorks – Healing Through Art

Michael Caine once chastised an actor who had delivered a particularly wooden performance by saying, “Acting is about emotions; why don’t you show some?”

Poetry is also about emotions. Last night I attended an outstanding poetry reading at the monthly meeting of the Howard County (MD) Chapter of the Maryland Writers’ Assn. The poems read had appeared in the Dragonfly Arts MagazineDragonfly mag, a publication of HopeWorks, Howard County’s sexual assault and domestic violence center. The poems are reflections on life, love, trauma and hope, and submissions to the magazine are open to anyone. They don’t necessarily have to be survivors. I felt it a privilege to be at this reading.

I am also impressed that HopeWorks would take such an innovative and visionary approach that goes beyond providing the usual services to people shattered by rape and domestic violence. HopeWorks uses the arts in three important ways to accomplish its mission: to support survivors in their healing; as a vehicle to increase awareness; and to imagine creative solutions to bring about social change. Dragonfly allows for artistic expression of the emotional response to savagery.

According to the HopeWorks philosophy, the creative arts as a way to help people improve and enhance physical, mental and emotional well being. The creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people in a variety of ways. When we create art and reflect on it, the processes increase self awareness, initiate awareness of others, and help us cope with stress and traumatic experiences. Creative expression facilitates ending or finding solutions to conflicts and problems.

The HopeWorks brochure quotes from a National Institutes for Health report that through the arts people can ease pain and stress and improve the quality of their lives. “…there is evidence that engagement with artistic activities, either as an observer of the creative efforts of others or as an initiator of one’s own creative efforts, can enhance one’s moods, emotions, and other psychological states as well as have a salient impact on important physiological parameters.”

The HopeWorks artistic programs are open to the public and include:

* Poetry N2 Wellness and Action Workshops use the power of words to encourage healing, community-building, cultural shifts, liberation and celebration. In a small group setting, topics such as stress, gender roles, trust, joy, justice, stigma, and relationships are explored through expressive activities like writing, collaging and music.

* The Women’s Circle is a roundtable activity group that often features arts-based workshops.

* I CAN We CAN Workshops are modeled after the national campaign called One Billion Rising. During the workshop, participants talk about what they can do to end violence at home, in the workplace, or at school. Then using their hands as a canvas, they create artwork to inspire peace and healing.

Victims of domestic violence

A friend of mine once called a man who was stalking and threatening her daughter and told him that she was going to New York to hire a hit man to kill him. He said, “You won’t do that. They’ll put you in jail.” She said, “That’s right, but first you will be dead.” They never heard from him again.

With so many women and men being murdered by violent spouses despite restraining orders and other apparently ineffective legal means, I’m looking for deterrents against such abusers that would be effective. What works when the legal system doesn’t? Ideas anyone?

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