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Art Exhibit Connects Domestic Violence and Brain Injury

April 3, 2014

A traveling art exhibit is highlighting the connection between domestic violence and brain injury, as well as shedding light on what people with traumatic brain injury can accomplish.

Currently at Lyndon State College, the exhibit will be on display starting April 7 at the Vermont Center for Independent Living at 11 East State St. in Montpelier. VCIL recognizes National Crime Victims Week (which is April 6 through April 12) because people with disabilities are impacted by violent crime at much higher rates than the rest of the population, experience higher rates of victimization by persons known to them and report crimes less frequently.

The art exhibit is the brainchild of Mary Lou Webb, program coordinator for the St. Johnsbury Brain Injury Group. The support group meets monthly and offers resources, information and a safe place to share about brain injury. It is for survivors, family members, caregivers, friends and the community. The group is sponsored by the Vermont Center for Independent Living and the Brain Injury Association of Vermont.

The seed for the idea of the exhibit was planted several months ago when a member of the support group pointed out that people often don’t make the connection between domestic violence and brain injury.

“This whole thing is a voice for the voiceless,” said Webb. “The pictures are really a cry from the soul of these people.”

All but one work of art in the exhibit was created by someone with a TBI. The artwork depicts everything from shaken baby syndrome and elder abuse to a pregnant woman and a person in the military. Different types of paint, crayon, magic marker and even fabric from a baby bumper were used to make the art.

Kenny Smith of Hyde Park, a VCIL employee, described his creation this way: “I used water-based acrylics to paint a depiction of a faceless veteran in combat fatigues who has experienced traumatic brain injury and is living with an ‘invisible disability.’”

He added, “I was motivated by a passion for caring for our brothers and sisters who serve and then return home from combat—especially those with disabilities.”

Marie-Anne put a lot of energy into her piece about baby shaking. She got a lot out of making the piece and is glad to be a member of the Brain Injury Support Group.

“It means a lot to talk to people, to relate to someone,” said Marie-Anne, who has been abused by three different partners.

She said she would like victims to know that they do not have to live with a batterer, that there is always someplace they can go and talk to someone they trust.

She said, “Eventually, you hear a little voice that tells you, ‘There’s something wrong here.’ Batterers are way more dependent on you than you are on them. They need you, and not just for financial reasons.”

Signage that accompanies the exhibit shares messages such as “Domestic Violence Can Cause Brain Injury,” “From Hopeless to Hopeful” and “From Hurting to Healed.” The backs of the artwork contain information about where people can get help.

Webb said she thinks the art exhibit is going to open the eyes of a lot of people and clear up some commonly held misconceptions about people with brain injury, and it may also help people in domestic violence situations understand that they may be getting brain injured.

“There needs to be education and compassion. In our society people with brain injury are often portrayed in a negative light and as a drain on society and never giving anything back,” said Webb.

But, as members of the St. Johnsbury Brain Injury Support group demonstrate, nothing could be farther from the truth.

“I call this group heroes. They are out there in the community making it a better place,” said Webb, noting how they got out of their domestic violence situations and do amazing things like owning their own businesses, taking missionary trips to China and working with Habitat for Humanity.

The exhibit will be on display in the lobby of the Alexander Twilight Theatre at LSC through April 7. If you are interested in displaying the exhibit or in joining the St. Johnsbury Traumatic Brain Injury Support Group, please contact VCIL AgrAbility Specialist Tom Younkman at 802-888-2180.