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Arts & Entertainment

Artists, designers create works to benefit Pittsburgh Action Against Rape

| Friday, March 11, 2005

Muse ReDressed will feature the fusion of art and fashion design, but the objective of the evening will be to honor the inner beauty of the survivor.

Set for Saturday at the Grand Hall at the Priory, North Side, it is the first fashion show held by Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, an organization that offers free counseling and other services to sexual assault victims. The title for the evening -- Muse ReDressed -- comes from the muse in Greek literature, which signifies creativity; and redressing, which implies the righting of wrongs.

The silent auction and fashion show, which will benefit the organization, boasts what its creators call wearable art. Dresses in the show are designed by Mary Margaret Stewart, owner of the Shadyside boutique Iman B. Stewart, who attended design school in Paris and began selling her clothing at flea markets there. Although she lives in Pittsburgh, she travels to France twice a year to buy fabric.

The dresses are made of viscous, a sheer and flowy material. She cuts the dresses first, then hands them over to the artists, who apply acrylic paint to the material. The "canvas" is then returned to Stewart for assembly.

Stewart says some of the artists were a bit leery of the idea. "Some of them felt limited, but realized they didn't have to be afraid," she says with a laugh, adding that all the dresses are quite different from one another.

One person familiar with the wearable art process is Karl Mullen, an artist and singer-songwriter with deep roots in Pittsburgh who recently moved to Philadelphia.

Mullen started making these types of dresses with Stewart five years ago. After he was asked to participate, he toured Pittsburgh Action Against Rape's offices to get a better idea of what the organization was about. He says he was touched by the artwork by sexual assault survivors -- art therapy is part of the counseling process the organization offers.

"It was a moving experience," he says. "It's a wonderful, caring place."

Vanessa German, a Monroeville artist, actress, playwright and poet, says she knew exactly what she wanted to paint. "I'm very concerned about women's rights around the world," she says. "There are things that happen to women, the kinds of things that there is no language for."

German's dresses were dedicated to four women who were sexually assaulted. Her favorite piece was named for Fanny Ann Eddy, a gay activist in Sierra Leone who was raped and murdered.

"It has10 butterflies that look like they're flying up the dress," she says. German called the piece an expression of the freedom of Eddy's spirit.

Squirrel Hill artist Susan Winicour was recruited for the show by Stewart. "I thought it was a good cause, and I wanted to contribute," she says.

Winicour says two of her dresses have a springtime feel to them, while the other two are a bit bolder. "One of them is black with white rope drawn all over it, wrapping the dress," she says.

The other artists featured:

  • Emma Shutko, a Squirrel Hill teenager attending the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts and Carnegie Mellon University

  • Monica Cervone McElwain, a Forest Hills photographer and artist recently certified as an art educator at Carlow College who also has taught art at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

  • Thommy Conroy, a Lawrenceville artist whose work is featured in storefront windows in Shadyside, and works with Iman B.

  • Christina Ferguson, a Boston artist who also paints dresses for Iman B.

Although the participants are excited to see their work as part of a "walking gallery," they hope the event draws attention to the goals and services of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape.

"It's a much-needed association that brings awareness to the problem of rape," Winicour says. "The women who get help from PAAR need it desperately."

Organization's goals go beyond victim assistance

Pittsburgh Action Against Rape has been standing up for the rights of rape victims since it was established in 1972 as a response to a rash of assaults in the area.

The organization, which serves Allegheny County, also has sought to begin the healing process of victims and educate the public, which often has a misleading concept of sexual assault.

"Many people think of young women, dark allies, and parties," says Renee Petrichevich, the organization's marketing and public relations manager. "They don't think of children and older women."

She says 90 percent of children who have been raped and 74 percent of adult rape victims are assaulted by someone they know. Also, one in six men has been sexually assaulted in his lifetime, according to the Department of Justice. Petrichevich says the bulk of the organization's clients are adults who were abused as children, and are now dealing with the emotional trauma.

The organization offers many free services. Art therapy is available for the youngest children, who cannot vocalize their feelings. A 24-hour hot line is available for victims who need to talk. Counselors also are available as medical and legal advocates. They can accompany victims to the hospital for examinations and police interviews, and can explain the legal process to clients, although they are not doctors or lawyers.

Training is offered to professionals to help them counsel victims of sexual assault they might encounter. Another service expected to be in place by the spring is mobile counseling, where counselors meet clients at a designated site within a community. The idea is to get to those who need help even when they can't get to the center, Petrichevich says. It costs the organization approximately $1.9 million a year to provide services.

Volunteers for the organization must undergo a 40-hour training course to work with victims. "This region is fortunate to have the kind of staff we have here, which allows us to offer all these services," Petrichevich says.

Hot line: (866) 363-7273.

Details: (412) 431-5665 or www.paar.net . Additional Information:

Details

Muse ReDressed

What: Fashion show and silent auction

When: 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $60

Where: The Grand Hall at the Priory, 614 Pressley St., North Side

Details: (412) 431-5665 or www.paar.net

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