For victims of violence, art can help heal

Small Talk Children’s Advocacy Center curates art show by survivors


Small Talk is a children’s advocacy center, a place where children receive coordinated services and counseling in the aftermath of physical or sexual abuse. The staff is trained in a variety of methods to help survivors overcome trauma.

Small Talk’s “We Are Survivors” exhibition, featuring work by eight individual artists and two pieces by the community and Small Talk staff, is on view in the Lansing Art Gallery’s Mezzanine Gallery through Nov. 3. The exhibition aims to create a conversation regarding violence and provide a way for the artists to heal.

“After the shooting at Michigan State University, our staff felt there was something more we could do for the community,” said Small Talk Executive Director Alex Brace. Development Director Claire Redmer and Family Advocate Mya Trevino spearheaded the effort to put together a call for artists. They considered hosting an art show in the Small Talk office but decided to call around to local art galleries instead.

An abstract, “Suspend: Frozen Colors No. 3,” by Anonymous.
An abstract, “Suspend: Frozen Colors No. 3,” by Anonymous.

“It was basically a cold call to the Lansing Art Gallery, but it’s turned into a great partnership,” Brace said. “We want the community to know that they have support in the wake of a traumatic event.”

Of the eight artists who answered the call, seven are adults and one is a minor. 2022 statistics from the National Children’s Alliance paint a grim picture of the problem of child abuse in America. Of all cases reported to children’s advocacy centers around the country, 28% of child maltreatment victims were no more than 2 years old. While girls have a higher victimization rate, boys are more likely to die from child abuse.

Additionally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, child sexual abuse can have devastating long-term impacts. As adults, survivors are twice as likely to experience nonsexual intimate partner violence. Women who were sexually abused as children are 2 to 13 times more likely to experience rape or sexual assault in adulthood.

Trevino graduated from MSU with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in youth and society. As a family advocate, she connects children and families to resources they may need during the child abuse investigation process, like housing, transportation, financial support and legal assistance. While in college, she interned as a victim advocate for the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office and in the Michigan Department of Corrections’ Sex Offender Program, where she assisted psychologists in evaluating the risk of sexual offense recidivism.

Trevino has been working at Small Talk for just over a year. After the MSU shooting, she said, “I wanted to show our resiliency and show how strong we are.”

She doesn’t consider herself to be an artist, and she doesn’t practice art therapy with children, but she loves art and drawing.

“It’s my coping skill,” she said.

She believes that everyone is artistic in their own way, and she worked with Brace and Redmer to share the call for artists in the community through various channels like the Arts Council of Greater Lansing and the MSU Center for Survivors.

“I heard about the show from Priscilla Bordayo,” said Rachel Nanzer, an artist who’s exhibiting multiple pieces in the show. Bordayo is a local advocate who focuses on rehabilitation and restoration for victims and perpetrators of incest. She’s a motivational speaker and Christian faith leader.

Nanzer is an MSU grad who works as a social media strategist and administrative assistant at House of Prayer East Lansing. She said her deepest inspirations come from the Bible and that she likes to create artwork exploring the human heart, social issues and faith.

Nanzer has exhibited her paintings at Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize competition, Kalamazoo’s Black Arts & Cultural Center and House of Prayer, but she said her pieces in “We Are Survivors” represent a turning point for her.

“This is the first time I have shared these pieces with the transparency of my pain and trauma from sexual violence,” she said.

She grew up making art with her family, but she was always told that a career as an artist was unrealistic. In the past few months, however, she has been “taking a step of faith” and painting more often.

One of her pieces, “Promise,” explores kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. In her artist statement, she writes, “After I experienced sexual assault in college, I believed there would always be a part of me that remained broken. I didn’t believe in healing for myself, and I didn’t believe that I could become more beautiful or radiant after the experience than before. I am grateful that I was wrong. As I turned to Jesus, I experienced healing — not because of my faith in recovery, but because of his faithfulness and love toward me.”

Nanzer said she decided to share these pieces and her story because “experiencing physical or sexual violence of any kind can cause feelings of hopelessness that the pain or brokenness we feel will never go away. I’ve discovered this doesn’t have to be our stories. We are able to become beautiful and radiant people, and I’ve experienced this transformation through God’s grace and love.”

Next to “Promise” is a piece by Lansing artist Ryan Holmes depicting a Spartan helmet destroyed by bullet holes and the phrase, “Policy Change Now.” Holmes shared the piece on his Instagram account the day after the mass shooting at MSU with the caption, “Art helps me work through pain. Process. I hope it can do the same for our community.”

Other featured artists include Domonique Brace and Elizabeth L., and there are three pieces submitted by anonymous artists. The artwork is not for sale through the gallery, but interested parties can reach out to Redmer, who can contact artists on behalf of the public. Confidential support and healing resources for abuse survivors are available through Small Talk and the MSU Center for Survivors.


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