KENTVILLE, NS – Painting a picture of what peace looks like was both a form of therapy and outreach at a Nov. 23 Chrysalis House event raising awareness for the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.
Flo Denney has worked at Chrysalis house for over 25 years, during which time art has become a huge part of the organization’s mission to help and heal women and children, many of whom have been touched by violence.
Women like Wanda Bennett, who painted several pieces at the event, use art as an outlet to not only spread awareness about the Sixteen Days, but also to work through their own challenges.
“I have PTSD, and painting has helped me heal. There’s no negative aspect. It gets me in that good zone, and the noise disappears,” she said.
A beautiful kind of therapy
Denney used art as a child to help her through tough times of her own – she was raised in a violent home, with a veteran father who drank to suppress his war memories.
Art was Denney’s safe place, and her mother always kept a steady supply of pencils and paper on hand.
“It was an outlet for me, and it was my escape. It meant so much, and now I’m able to carry that forward with my work here,” she said.
Denney and coworker Linda Lapierre, the house’s Children’s Outreach Worker, see similar changes in the women who took part in the Nov. 22 event, and the organization’s weekly art classes each Wednesday morning at the Kentville Recreation Building.
“You start seeing a difference in the women once they see art is a way to express themselves. People build confidence, and they then believe in themselves and that they really can make a difference,” said Lapierre.
Each painting created at the event features an information piece on its reverse about the 16 Days of Activism campaign. Participants were encouraged to gift them to anyone to help spread awareness and create a dialogue.
“We hope that people receiving the paintings will bring them to their workplace, or any space, and have a conversation about this. It helps create awareness, and also gives these women a voice,” said Denney.
The event has been a staple for many years, but this year was the first time it was open to the community to participate in the painting.
“Sometimes you feel like you’re working in isolation, and not connecting. It’s so important for these women to get to meet their community – the police, the mayor, mental health workers, everyone,” said Denney.
Looking forward to a bright future
Bennett has been attending art classes with Chrysalis House and other organizations for over five years. She says her art has helped her cope with her PTSD and has given her a renewed sense of confidence.
Bennett gifted one of her paintings at the event to Kentville Mayor Sandra Snow.
“I said to her, ‘this is something from my heart.’ She was so surprised, and so happy that I gave that to her,” said Bennett.
Another piece of art from the event features a large snowman holding hands with two smaller snowmen. It was painted by a woman as an artistic interpretation of herself and her two children.
“Painting this picture of my little family is making me feel so peaceful,” she said.
Denney’s grandson, Kai, painted his own interpretation of what peace looks like, featuring a house with the word peace and peace signs radiating into the skies above.
After seeing what her grandson created, Denney felt hopeful this was a sign of a younger generation with a conscience.
“We’re going to do O.K. in the future, because kids get it,” said Denney.
“If we’re going to bring the community together, it’s more powerful to focus on peace, and to project what you envision your ideal world looking like.”