Cultural Center exhibit to honor survivors


JASPER — Jasper Community Arts will have a new exhibit at the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center in April in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The exhibit, called “What Were You Wearing?” will be displayed with the help of Crisis Connection, a local nonprofit working to end domestic violence and sexual assault through crisis intervention, victim advocacy and prevention and education services. The exhibit will feature clothing to accompany stories of real survivors in hopes of ending the myth that revealing clothing justifies any sort of sexual assault or harassment.

“It's not just about the clothes,” said Talia Myrick, Crisis Connection’s sexual assault and education program coordinator. “If only sexual violence could be solved by changing the clothes.”

The “What Were You Wearing?” art installation originated at the University of Arkansas in 2013 and has led to similar exhibits and projects throughout the country. It was created by Jen Brockman and Dr. Mary Wyandt-Hiebert, who were inspired by a poem written by Dr. Mary Simmerling titled “What I Was Wearing.”

“‘What Were You Wearing?’ was always something that we saw in passing, and it was like, ‘Oh, this is so cool,’” Myrick said. “But we didn't know if we could pull off something of that size.”

When the COVID-19 shutdown happened last April, it allowed Crisis Connection and JCA time to plan and make sure the exhibit would be respectful to survivors. JCA Visual Arts Coordinator Emily Colucci Peak was a big part in setting it up, Myrick said.

The stories relating to the clothing in the local exhibit will be from student survivors at the University of Arkansas. One item of clothing, for example, will be a cheerleading uniform.

“It helps people connect with it more personally and be able to see, ‘Well, my daughter wears that uniform,’” Myrick said. “It just helps to understand that this can happen to anyone.”

But before anyone else, the exhibit is for local survivors themselves, so they can feel validated and know they’re not to blame for what happened to them, she said.

Normally, when survivors are asked what they were wearing in response to speaking up about sexual assault, it can be painful and demoralizing, even if that wasn’t the intent. This exhibit, however, will hopefully turn the question on its head and allow people to share their stories without fear of being blamed, Myrick said.

The exhibit will be open April 1 through April 18. During this time, advocates from Crisis Connection will be available at the Cultural Center periodically for those who may need it. At times when advocates cannot be available in person, the Crisis Connection helpline is available 24/7 at 1-800-245-4580.

The galleries at the Cultural Center are open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m.

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