‘I finally did something about me’: Violence survivors art exhibit to be held in Gainesville

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Orion Valegard says he has been practicing art since preschool in Gainesville.

In February, prompted by his therapist two months after he was a victim of a violent assault, Valegard, 23, started working on a series of artwork aiming to analyze his mental health. His paintings and sculptures resemble the stages of coping with physical trauma.

The part-time artist found inspiration for his art from his emotions, music and the journal he kept through years prior to his assault. He said the series is meant to portray things that people often are uncomfortable seeing or discussing.

“It’s like a study of my own mental health,” he said.

His artwork will be on display as part of the Survivors of Violence exhibit set to be held Tuesday through Sunday at the Harn Museum of Art.

The Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center will host the exhibit – featuring six artists and approximately 20 pieces of artwork – in recognition of April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Survivors of interpersonal violence from across north central Florida were invited to submit artwork for the exhibit. The agency also covers Bradford and Union Counties.

Cassandra Moore, its community education project coordinator, said the purpose of the event is to share the stories of those impacted by violence in the community through art.

“If this helps that one survivor, or if it helps the person who is walking through the museum,” Moore said, “our goal and hope is that it lets people know that they are not alone.”

This will be the fifth time the Harn Museum will host the event; the last was in 2019.

Paige Willis, the museum’s community engagement manager, said the exhibit will be located in “The Wall” education programming space. The space is dedicated to using art to inform and educate museum guests on a variety of different topics, Willis said.

“We feel it is our responsibility to educate the community,” she said, “and are committed to raising awareness by nurturing that individual and communal expression.”

The Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, the statewide, nonprofit assault coalition based in Tallahassee, serves as a governing body for Alachua County Victim Services. The council oversees 31 different victim resource centers across Florida and helps to provide funding, education on state policy changes and direction for survivors to local resources.

The council’s in-house campaign for sexual assault awareness month is the Survivor Letter Writing Campaign. As part of the initiative, the council will send letters from survivors of sexual violence to legislators across the state, to offer more tangible evidence of the need for more victim resources given the many diverse backgrounds of Florida residents.

“While he is blissfully unaware of the damage he has done, I am left to pick up pieces myself,” one survivor wrote in a letter published by the council.

Other letters from survivors can be found on the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence virtual campaign site.

“I think legislators will like seeing the personal stories and experiences of survivors,” said Nneka Abara, the council’s information and member services coordinator. “These survivors don’t have that privilege of going to the capital and explaining how their lives really are following an assault.”

Abara said the council is also focused during the month on highlighting its resources in different communities, and particularly in rural areas.

Though the perpetrator of his assault has not been arrested, Valegard said his art has helped him to process his emotions and begin to recover. One of the final pieces of his mental health series was his first self-portrait.

“I finally did something about me, for me, and studying myself,” he said.

About Cassidy Del Greco

Cassidy is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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