Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Events’ Category

Painting the stories of trauma and resilience

Steve Gordon found himself in the midst of the conversation about childhood trauma and resilience “quite by accident.” One year ago, the renowned artist and University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) art instructor tasked his students with a mural-painting project that explored issues of contemporary interest. The topic: the headline-topping opioid epidemic. But instead of having his students just read articles on the issue, Steve invited several “recovery advocates” to come to his class and share their life stories.

“You can talk about the epidemic generically but when you hear a personal story, you have more compassion for the struggle and the heroic effort it takes to get into recovery,” Steve shares. “Many of these people had childhood trauma and that made their addiction more understandable. It got me interested in the correlation between ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and addiction.”

For the next series of murals, Steve decided to have his class focus on ACEs, and the Resilience After Trauma: An ACEs Mural Project was born. Adverse childhood experiences are when children are exposed to toxic stress like child abuse, domestic violence, an incarcerated parent or intergenerational trauma. These types of experiences can impair the development of a child’s brain and body so profoundly that the negative effects increase their risk of experiencing many of the physical, social and behavioral ills our communities face today, like substance abuse, homelessness or mental illness. However, there is hope – by learning healthy coping techniques and establishing supportive relationships, children and adults can develop resilience, which minimizes the impact of ACEs on their lives.

“Here we saw what can happen if a child undergoes trauma and doesn’t get any help or learn any resilience strategies,” Steve explains. “If children don’t get resources on the front end, you could be paying to put them in prison on the other end. It’s tragic.”

For the ACEs mural project, Steve invited another group of recovery advocates to speak to the students, who asked questions, took notes and photographed the speakers. “To hear what happened to them as kids, and how they are fiercely working to help others now, it was inspiring. It was impactful for me and everyone involved,” Steve says.IMG_7080

Then came the hard part – figuring out how to visually convey the stories of trauma and resilience in a 6-foot by 10-foot mural. Students worked together in teams to create three murals, and Steve invited four professional local artists to create pieces as well. Two local organizations – Alaska Children’s Trust and Alaska Native Medical Center Auxiliary – provided grants that helped with the cost of supplies.

We were pleased to be able to support Steve and his students in this unique and collaborative effort to raise awareness of adverse childhood experiences and the power of resilience,” says Trevor Storrs, president/CEO of Alaska Children’s Trust. “That’s exactly what our community investment grants were created for. By working together, we can create real change and turn the tides on child abuse and neglect in Alaska.”

Once the murals were completed, the class invited the speakers back for an unveiling of their work. Each group shared how they visually depicted the life-impacting moments – both negative and positive – into the mural.

The students also wrote artists’ statements explaining how the process impacted them personally and how they incorporated the stories into the paintings. “Working on this mural together, holding these images and words from Tarah’s life has had a profound effect on all of us and we are grateful to her for what she shared with us,” wrote the team of students who painted Tarah’s story. “She is the inspiration behind every layer of paint.”IMG_7156

Each mural is accompanied with the artists’ statements, along with information about ACEs and resilience, making it possible for viewers to understand the project without any introduction. “Most of the general population hasn’t heard about ACEs. I hope the murals with information on ACEs and resilience help people to be more aware,” Steve says. “ACEs are real and they have a lasting, lifelong impact on the development of kids’ brains. But you can proactively give children the tools to deal with stress and become resilient. The people in these murals are evidence of that. They provide hope to others.”

The murals will make their public debut February 7 at the Church of Love in Anchorage during a reception hosted by Alaska Children’s Trust and UAA with support from Alaska Native Medical Center Auxiliary and REAL About Addiction.

The February 7 reception is just the first stop for the freestanding artwork, which are designed to be highly transportable and easily displayed in public areas, including outdoors. From February 8 – March 8, the murals will be on display at the Anchorage Downtown Bus Depot. On March 8 – 9, they move to the Dena’ina Center for the Bean’s Café Empty Bowl Project. During the rest of March, the murals will tour the University of Alaska Anchorage campus. Throughout April, they can be seen at the Loussac Public Library, and in May, they will be featured at the Mat-Su Health Foundation. All displays are free and open to the public.

Steve continues to seek opportunities to share the murals – and the messages they contain. “It’s exciting that art is helping to make a difference,” he says. “Art inspires change by shining a spotlight on the issue of ACEs and offering hope.”

Celebrating Culture, Connecting Community

Old Harbor Alliance Aurcaq Carving Workshop

Growing up in a rural village, Melissa Berns didn’t have a close connection with her culture. “Back then, there was a kind of shame associated with our culture. We knew we were Alutiiq but we didn’t know what that meant,” she says.

Today, through opportunities such as the Aurcaq carving workshop held in Old Harbor in April, youth are experiencing – and enjoying – their culture, while participating in healthy, positive activities. Among these youth is Melissa’s son.

“He’s always watched me skin sewing and beading, and he would ask for my knife and make spears out of sticks,” Melissa says. “To have an instructor teach him was very beneficial. It was eye-opening for him. He’s been doing more carving since the workshop – all the kids have.

The week-long Aurcaq carving workshop, which was hosted by Old Harbor’s community and regional entities, kicked off a series of community events taking place throughout Great Lent. Aurcaq, a subsistence-focused marine mammal hunting game, is historically played only during the six weeks of Orthodox Lent. In years past, the Orthodox faith was strictly followed and the faithful were forbidden to hunt, gamble, eat red meat, or drink alcoholic beverages during Lent. The game of Aurcaq was believed to provide a social outlet for hunting and gambling at a time it was not allowed.

Alutiiq master carver and teacher Andrew Abyo came to the village to share traditional techniques used to carve Aurcaq game sets. Each participant completed a full set that they could take home to continue this tradition with their family and friends.

“The participants got to take a finished piece home and continue playing,” Melissa says. “They didn’t have to stop just because the workshop was over.”

In addition to exposing youth to the traditional game, the event planning team also wanted to encourage positive interactions between youth and adults. Traditional foods were a significant part of the week, which included nightly family-style dinners featuring sikyuk, salmon, alaciq, seal, sea lion, goose, clams, boiled cod, goat, deer and all of the fixings. At the dinners, elders, parents and children shared stories and visited about their daily activities, much like their ancestors did in years past.

“The workshop was a good mix of kids and adults working together. It helped bridge that gap,” Melissa says, adding that a total of 53 participants from 32 households participated throughout the week.

As the workshop finale, a community potlatch and Aurcaq tournament was held at the school. Youth and adults alike took great pride in their finely carved whales and laughter was heard throughout the evening. Instead of going home with material possessions won through gambling, there was a gain in cultural pride and the knowledge of an almost lost art, which can now be shared with generations to come. As the tournament concluded, smiles were seen on the faces of young and old, who repeatedly asked, “When are we going to do this again?”

“Activities like these give kids a sense of pride and a positive way to connect with their families and community,” Melissa says. “We can also pass on messages about respect, pride, and caring for yourself and your neighbor. Through these types of programs, we can perpetuate our art and build stronger leaders for the community.”

The Aurcaq carving workshop and tournament was supported by the Old Harbor Alliance’s grant through Alaska Children’s Trust, Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor’s Tribal Youth and Office on Violence Against Women Programs, Kodiak Area Native Association Family Violence Prevention Program, Koniag Inc., Old Harbor School and Old Harbor Native Corporation. The Aurcaq carving workshop is one of many workshops and events held throughout the year to perpetuate Alutiiq culture through the arts.

You can support efforts like these and make a positive statewide impACT for Alaska’s children and families when you Pick. Click. Give. to Alaska Children’s Trust!

Old HarborMelissa Berns is active in the community of Old Harbor and volunteers with youth programs as Nuniaq Alutiiq Dance Instructor, Nuniaq Traditional Camp Planner, Alutiiq Week Organizer and Old Harbor School Programs. Melissa perpetuates the continuation of Alutiiq Cultural Arts by teaching Subsistence Harvesting and Processing, Alutiiq Basket Weaving, Skin Sewing and Beading through youth programs year around.