Each year, the Virginia Beach Art Center partners with a local artist or organization to shed light on a social, cultural, or historic issue of relevance to the community. The annual community-based project is called Aware. This year's topic, proposed by the GFWC's Women's Club of Tidewater, was human trafficking.
Human trafficking is defined as “the use of force, fraud, or coercion in exchange for labor, services, or a commercial sex act. The crime of human trafficking hinges on the exploitation of another person.” (Source: Blue Campaign)
Unfortunately, Hampton Roads is not immune to human trafficking. Virginia currently ranks 15th in the nation for trafficking cases (source: Samaritan House VA). The purpose of the exhibition was to raise awareness of this issue, to help the public learn the signs of trafficking, and to report suspicions of trafficking to the proper authorities.
This exhibition, on view November 3-12, included an immersive display of over 800 butterflies made by the community, as well as art related to the theme, including art therapy pieces created by trafficking survivors. The opening reception featured special guest speaker and author, Victoria Pendragon, who was kidnapped and trafficked as a child. There was also a panel discussion facilitated by the anti-trafficking non-profit, Safe House Project and the Center for Global Justice at Regent University. The exhibition concluded with closing remarks by Courtney Pierce of Samaritan House, a non-profit that helps people free themselves from domestic violence, human trafficking, and homelessness.
The community-based component of Aware '23 included the decoration and installation of over 800 paper butterflies suspended from the gallery ceiling, as well as three installments of the Red Sand Project. The Red Sand Project is a national, public art installation where red sand is poured into the cracks of sidewalks to symbolize victims of human trafficking falling through the cracks of society.
WTKR coverage of Aware '23: Set Them Free
Next year's Aware Community Exhibition will take place in November. The theme will center on the LGBTQ+ community.