Kentucky taps into arts to carry domestic violence message

Aug 14, 2007 at 6:34 pm

‘Once you know something, you can’t unknow it’
It would be difficult to prove scientifically, but it seems that about 99 percent of domestic violence discussions include statistics. Assertions such as one out of every three women will be a domestic violence victim or that sexual abuse occurs every 2½ minutes casually work their way into conversations on the subject and tell a stark story about violence against women.

But for the next two weeks, numbers will take a backseat to art as Kentucky plays host to its own version of the Until the Violence Stops Festival. Around the state, groups have organized dance performances, poetry readings and panel discussions to explore the issues and bring awareness about domestic violence to a broader audience. Eighteen cities across the state will host more than 80 events. Like the first UTVS in New York last year, the Kentucky version uses the arts to relay the domestic violence message.

“We followed the model Eve Ensler has used to use theater to shape our movement,” said Kentucky UTVS producer LeTonia Jones, who also volunteered at UTVS in New York. “We’re really looking at the infinite possibilities of arts to effect social change.”

Obviously there are myriad ways to approach the issue, and that’s part of the festival’s unique model. New York City hosted the first UTVS last year, the brainchild of playwright Eve Ensler and her V-Day organization. Aimed at making “New York City the safest city on Earth for women and girls,” UTVS inspired Jones, a training administrator for the Frankfort-based Kentucky Domestic Violence Association, to create something similar here.
She and KDVA worked with V-Day to help tailor the festival specifically to the entire state. The “UTVS: KY” event will serve as a pilot program, along with a similar event in northeastern Ohio held in June, to provide a model for other festivals around the country.

“The people in Kentucky have been truly phenomenal,” said Cecile Lipworth, V-Day’s worldwide campaign director. “They’ve really taken it to the next level with exposure and awareness.”

Much of the coming together process — organizations lending financial support, donating space and brainstorming programs — sprang from one person: LeTonia Jones.

But her involvement in the issue happened almost by accident. Working as a children’s activities coordinator, she saw the problems many mothers faced at home. That transformed her thinking and led her to KDVA. She hopes to bring the same life-changing experience to UTVS.

“I believe that once you know something, you can’t unknow it,” Jones said. “I want people to walk away feeling they have some responsibility.”

Included among the handful of Louisville UTVS events is Movement to Empower, a program of more than a dozen dances by Louisville-area choreographers that express themes of domestic violence and the unfair stereotypes women face. In one piece, dancers swoon around a couch, twittering while recordings of 19th-century philosophers authoritatively explain how women should behave in public.

Jessica Underwood, a dancer and grants associate at The Center for Women and Families, hatched the idea and worked with her employer to make it part of UTVS.

“There’s such a wide range of dance forms and performances, from ballet to modern dance,” Underwood said. “It’s everything from very real pictures of what domestic violence looks like to how dancers can express something beautifully without saying a word.”

Along with Movement to Empower, a panel discussion entitled “Women in Conflict Zones” and a concert for gender peace are scheduled during the next two weeks in Louisville.

The events won’t limit themselves to just women. Rus Funk, founder of the men’s domestic violence prevention group Menswork, will oversee a conversation with other men about how to curb domestic violence. Funk said that when men speak candidly by themselves, they don’t know how to respond when the topic turns to the stereotypical practice of victim blaming. He hopes discussions like “Speaking Against Violence Against Women” will help men find that voice.

Festival planners hope exposure and awareness will curb domestic violence in the area, something Tina Lentz, director of the Metro Louisville Office for Women, calls “a bigger problem than people realize.”

Lentz will represent Mayor Jerry Abramson at some events and has helped support some of the other groups helping to plan UTVS: KY, like Menswork, University of Louisville’s PEACC program and Metro United Way.

PEACC (Prevention, Education, and Advocacy on Campus and in the Community) will distribute information about UTVS on campus as students return for fall classes. PEACC director Sharon LaRue said women face increased risk of violence and abuse during the first few weeks of college, because of a variety of factors, including thin support systems, increased partying and the desire to fit in. At this time when women tend to let their guards down, UTVS will hold its program.

“With civil rights, it was only when everyone came together that changes were made,” LaRue said. “Will women live in safety or fear? That’s really what the focus is on for this.”

According to V-Day, more versions of UTVS are planned for Los Angeles, Paris and possibly Denver in 2008. Kentucky’s marriage of art and activism kicks off with a press conference on Friday in Lexington with Mayor Jim Newberry and continues through Aug. 31. For a complete schedule of statewide events, visit
If LeTonia Jones has her way, though, the effects on participants won’t end with the festival. “Expect to be transformed.”

Contact the writer at [email protected]

Until the Violence Stops: Kentucky
Aug. 17-31

• Open-Mic Poetry — Aug. 18, free, Expressions of You Coffeehouse, 1800 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd., 9:30 p.m.

• A Men’s Concert for Gender Peace — Aug. 23, $15, Bunbury Theatre at the Henry Clay, Third & Chestnut sts., 7:30 p.m.

• “Movement to Empower” — Aug. 25, $10, Ursula Theatre on the Ursuline Campus, 3105 Lexington Road, 7 p.m.

• Speaking Out Against Violence Against Women: A Conversation with Men — Aug. 27, free, Muhammad Ali Center, 144 N Sixth St., 7-9 p.m.

• Panel Discussion: Women in Conflict Zones — Aug. 30, free, Bellarmine University, Frazier Auditorium, 2001 Newburg Road, 7:30 p.m.