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Local teen artists participate in Youth Art After Dark to highlight healthy relationships and bring awareness to youth dating violence 

click to enlarge TEEN ART This digital illustration of a boy and girl is by Ahmee Smith, a student at San Luis Obispo High School, and is part of RISE SLO and Stand Strong's Youth Art After Dark event.

Image Courtesy Of Arti Kothari Allard

TEEN ART This digital illustration of a boy and girl is by Ahmee Smith, a student at San Luis Obispo High School, and is part of RISE SLO and Stand Strong's Youth Art After Dark event.

Prepare to have your socks knocked off as local youth display their artwork through Art After Dark to bring attention to healthy teen relationships.

The Sock Drawer, where the exhibit will take place on March 6, gives adolescents ages 21 and younger a platform and a community voice through paintings, drawings, and photography. The event is a collaboration between RISE's volunteer group, Close to Home; Stand Strong; and local youth from San Luis Obispo High School, Cuesta College, and GALA.

"My hope is that all who attend our opening take away some part of the experiences of these young people and help to fight and speak out against violence and sexual assault in their own lives," said Lisa Osburn, a local artist and The Sock Drawer employee.

Osburn, who is largely responsible for getting the business involved with Art After Dark, said Friday's art show will mark the sixth time the downtown business has hosted an Art After Dark event. This particular show, made up of art created entirely by young community members, stands out for her.

"I think the gravity of this type of work and imagery is very important to expose the community to. One of the best ways to try to work on trauma you've experienced in life is through expressing those thoughts and feelings through art," she explained.

RISE Education Program Coordinator Arti Kothari Allard organized the youth event and worked closely with Advanced Digital Photography teachers Zach Roper and Jason Heimerdinger at SLO High School to gather submissions for the exhibit. Roper explained that the project was an excellent opportunity for students because it's a topic that affects them either directly or indirectly through their peers.

Close to Home is a community mobilization project dedicated to making SLO a healthier, happier, more equitable place. The group consists of roughly 20 volunteers, aged 15 to 65, who are passionate about ending sexual assault and dating violence, according to Allard, who sees a huge need for youth voice.

"When people talk about domestic violence or sexual assault, many people think of adults, not teenagers," she said.

Statistics from loveisrespect.org show that teen dating violence is widespread in the U.S. Teen dating violence is a type of intimate partner violence—whether physical, sexual (including unwanted sexting), psychological aggression, or stalking—that occurs between people in a close relationship.

Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. Additional statistics show that 1 in 10 high school students have been purposefully hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. One in three adolescents in the U.S. are victims of sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner. Violent behavior typically begins between the ages of 12 and 18.

No one is more aware of teen dating violence today than those who are currently teenagers. Sabrina Slusser, 15; Aunica Todd, 16; and Hunter Larson, 16, are students at Heartland Charter School. The teens have submitted artwork for the show in an effort to provide a voice for their generation, solutions to teen relationship violence, and hope.

click to enlarge LOVE Aunica Todd, a student at Heartland Charter School, holds up artwork she created for Youth Art After Dark, an exhibit highlighting teen dating violence and healthy relationships. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ARTI KOTHARI ALLARD
  • Photo Courtesy Of Arti Kothari Allard
  • LOVE Aunica Todd, a student at Heartland Charter School, holds up artwork she created for Youth Art After Dark, an exhibit highlighting teen dating violence and healthy relationships.

Slusser, a youth volunteer and core member of Close to Home, submitted an alcohol-based marker drawing depicting the arms of two people holding hands, with flowers surrounding their limbs, with the words, "Let healthy relationships blossom."

"I've seen a lot of unhealthy relationships. It makes me sad. I want young people to know there are resources out there," she said.

Todd's artwork of acrylic and oil painting, like Slusser's, is a positive message that simply reads, "LOVE." She said she has witnessed friends in unhealthy relationships and has seen first-hand how complicated things can become.

"It's easy to get into a relationship. It's hard to get out. There are resources," Todd said.

Positivity, growth, and new beginnings are the messages of student artist Larson. His colored pencil drawing shows the face of a woman with new leaves, fresh buds, and growing branches extending from her head with pink blossoms and branches growing toward her.

Many of the artists' messages are of hope, some of despair or indifference, but all are equally important.

Hand-lettering artist and Sock Drawer store manager McCall Stone said she is grateful for the opportunity to showcase such an important event.

"I feel lucky that we have this space to offer RISE, to expose people to RISE, to put it out in the community and make people aware. We can promote each other," Stone said. "We are honored to be part of that." Δ

Find Arts Writer Rebecca Howes with the sock fairies at The Sock Drawer on Friday. Send arts story tips to rhowes@newtimesslo.com.

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