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Finding Our Voices helps sexual assault survivors express themselves through art 

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click to enlarge Finding Our Voices' creative art workshops offer a safe means of expression that goes beyond talk therapy. - T.BRODY
  • T.Brody
  • Finding Our Voices' creative art workshops offer a safe means of expression that goes beyond talk therapy.

One traumatic incident can completely uproot a person's life, and survivors of sexual assault know that the process of healing and rebuilding can span decades, especially taking into account the stigma they often face. Finding Our Voices founder Joyce Aubrey has been through that process.

For 23 years, Aubrey ran a successful business in Kansas, but in the '90s she left it and a 35-year marriage to come to Colorado and heal from her own trauma. "And I knew it wasn't for me alone," she says of her healing. "There's all sorts of literature today about how empowering it is to help other people, and that's been my experience."

Aubrey established Finding Our Voices in 2009, hoping to provide a platform for survivors of sexual assault to share their healing journeys through artwork. It began as an annual art show, still held every April at Cottonwood Center for the Arts (where FOV recently moved into its first official office space). Over the years she and a network of volunteers added art therapy workshops, now offered monthly at Cottonwood; occasional weekend retreats; and a currently defunct peer support group they hope to revive.

According to Aubrey, while some local organizations do intervention work and provide immediate assistance to rape and assault victims, it's rare to find long-term support in the area — support that can be life-saving.

FOV focuses on art therapy, a practice upon which board president Kim Griffis has built her career. Also a survivor, Griffis has used art to heal since memories of her own trauma resurfaced in her 40s. "It wasn't until both my parents had passed away that I started to have memories come up," Griffis says. "And with an art background, I just started to do my own thing. I just had to do something besides talk therapy." She found a safe means of expression in her art, and received a degree in art therapy from Boulder's Naropa University to extend that healing to others.

"[Art therapy] provides an outlet that goes right to the heart," Griffis says. "Talk therapy is fabulous and there's a lot of benefit in that. But for some reason the creative art therapies go deeper and faster, and help a person really open up to emotions that have been hidden. ... It's just a softer way to express."

During the workshops, survivors don't share their stories — "it's not the place," Griffis says, and it can be triggering to others — but rather they share the emotional and creative process that went into their artwork. Then, when it comes time for the annual art show, each participant may choose to write a statement about their trauma alongside their piece. "That's a way of letting the community know how this impacts life," Aubrey says.

The stories and artworks that result from the workshops and art show are as beautifully diverse as the healing journeys undertaken by these artists — artists made up of survivors and allies, men and women alike.

"It's very empowering to see a change, a shift happen," Griffis says, "sometimes for the first time in their lives. ... Sometimes [sharing your story] is the first step to really owning being a survivor."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to Kim Griffis as Kim Davis. We regret the error.

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