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Art exhibit strives to raise awareness





Hays Arts Council, in collaboration with Jana's Campaign, Africa-based Victims2Survivors and Fort Hays State University's Leadership 310 class, is organizing the "In the Name of Love" art exhibition to be displayed starting Feb. 8.

Jana's Campaign is a not-for-profit organization created in honor of Jana Mackey, who was murdered by her boyfriend in 2008. The organization aims to provide education of gender-related violence.

"The class is field work and leadership," said Shelbi Wiles, a junior leadership and business double major from Beloit. "The whole point of the class is to do a service project."

Christie Brungardt, associate professor of Leadership Studie, Jana's mother and campaign founder, said approximately 25 local organizations present project ideas, and the students choose the ones they are most interested in.

"This is the class where the students put theory into practice," she said. "We use this as a vehicle to benefit the community but also help students learn. We end up having roughly 14 to 16 different projects over the course of the semester."

Wiles, along with Rachel Linch, Holly Weiss, Julie Sperfslage, Maggie Jiong and Lindsey Cooper, chose to work with Jana's Campaign.

"You get split into a team on the first night," Wiles said. "Different presenters came in and presented ideas. A former employee from Jana's Campaign gave a presentation inspired by a couple of African women. We all selected his presentation."

The group spent the semester planning the event with women from Namibia, Africa.

"They are sending over 25 pieces of art from domestic violence survivors in Africa," said Linch, a senior elementary education major. "We will also have artwork from high school and college students in Hays and China. Five pieces are coming over from China. We're going to have a piece from local artist Kris Kuksi as well."

The opening night also will include a silent auction, food and drinks, a video by Hays Middle School and guest speakers.

"It's really cool to be able to make an international event in Hays," Wiles said.

Wiles and Linch hope to raise awareness of gender-based violence through the art show.

"It's such a hard topic to talk about," Linch said. "This is a good way to display the issues so we don't necessarily have to talk about them. Hopefully this will create some conversations."

Linch said she started becoming interested in human trafficking last year and transitioned her interest to all gender-based violence.

"My best friend's mom went through a rough situation," she said. "I know it's hard on any parent. So if I can get the information out there that people in general are dying, then I can make a difference in someone's life."

Wiles also found a personal connection to the project.

"My family has had some instances of domestic violence," she said. "My mom has been through a lot, so I wanted to help raise awareness in a positive way. It's personal to me, so I wanted to help make a difference."

Although the grades for the project were finalized in December, the students continued to plan the show.

"We didn't have to continue since it was a semester class," Linch said. "But we didn't want anyone else to take over our baby."

Brungardt said the students were so invested in the project none of them left after the semester ended.

"It was their project," she said. "I can give suggestions and other ideas, but they were the ones that made it happen."

Opening night for the art show takes place at 6 p.m. Feb. 8 at the HAC. The event is free to attend, but donations will be accepted. Donations will go toward Jana's Campaign programming.