There’s more than meets the eye in the new pop-up art exhibition at the Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny.

The loud, colourful and varied collection has been created by Donegal Rape Crisis Centre clients, staff and their supporters. 

The aim of  ‘Journeys Towards Healing’ is to empower survivors to be seen and to express their experiences in a creative way. 

The mixed-media works include paintings, drawings, a poem and a sculpture, all depicting various stages of the uneven road taken by anyone affected by sexual violence.

The exhibition shows that survivors are more than their emotions and more than their words.

Michael O’Toole, Arts Therapist and Noémie Cattez, Dance Movement Psychotherapist. Photo: Rachel McLaughlin

Michael O’Toole, Arts Therapist at the Donegal Rape Crisis Centre, has been guiding clients through their creative healing process. Proud of what they have achieved, Michael says the collection is a show of shared support.

“We see our clients and ourselves as equals, so we have mixed them all together. We also worked on some pieces together, because it’s a group process,” he said.

“If you go through a trauma you are not by yourself.

“We can put on a mask so well, but this is about being seen, being heard and taking up space again.”

‘Healing Journeys’ Art Exhibition and fundraising event for Donegal Rape Crisis Centre
‘Healing Journeys’ Art Exhibition and fundraising event for Donegal Rape Crisis Centre

Survivors were not obliged to put their names on the canvases, but some did make the empowering move to do so.

The works feature many personalities shining through both abstract and structured drawings.

“It’s pure freedom of expression. You see large brush strokes and large emotions on the canvas, they are allowing themselves to be seen again,” Michael explains.

The art also goes beyond the typical talking therapies many would associate with healing. 

Alongside Counsellor Nicola McKee, the Donegal Rape Crisis Centre also has Dance Movement Psychotherapist Noémie Cattez in their team to support clients to express themselves through movement. Noémie is one of just four therapists of her speciality in the country.

“Some people count themselves out of getting support because they do not see themselves getting talking therapy,” Noémie says.

“There is more than one way to heal,” Michael adds, “and we pride ourselves on being versatile and we can change our approaches to every single person that comes through our door. We care and put a passion behind it, which is why it affects us so much when we are hit with underfunding.”

This is the first year of the exhibition, and the aim is two-fold – to celebrate clients’ therapeutic outlets and to raise vital funds for the centre’s future. Established artists such as Rory Harron, Maurice Herron and Brian Farrell have also donated pieces to boost the fundraiser.

‘Healing Journeys’ Art Exhibition and fundraising event for Donegal Rape Crisis Centre. Photo: Rachel McLaughlin

Donegal Rape Crisis Centre provides free and confidential support to anyone affected by sexual violence, recent or historic aged 12+ from Co. Donegal and surrounding areas. Services include one to one Counselling, parental/guardian support group, court accompaniment, Garda accompaniment and also an accompaniment to SATU- the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit. 

In the last year, the centre received a donation from the Late Late Toy Show Appeal, and they are now trying to branch out into other funding aspects to continue their services.

Funds raised from the exhibition will be used to expand supports to grow the age range of clients from 12+ and to expand the consent programme run in Donegal schools.

Putting a value on the artworks in the exhibition was a strategic move in itself.

Michael says: “It was an extra layer for clients to put value on their work. They may be coming from a place where they did not feel value before, and to be able to give something that they have done a value is amazing.

“If people want to buy a piece they can talk to staff or contact the centre. We are hoping to have some red stickers beside some paintings by the end.”

The exhibition also brings more visibility to the centre and the work that they do. Noémie said: “It is important to have the colourful images that hopefully some people can recognise themselves in it, and reflect on their own experience of life, to engage and understand the work that we do. When people come into our office, it’s colourful, it’s welcoming, it’s warm.”

Michael adds: “We and our clients are normal people, the support is not clinical, and this aims to break the stigma. We are here, and loudly so, through colour, expression and movement.”

Journeys Towards Healing – a collection of work from inspiring clients runs from 11-5pm Tuesday 7th – Friday 10th June and 1-5pm on Saturday. at Workshop 3 space in the Regional Cultural Centre Letterkenny. The official opening takes place on Thursday 9th June at 6pm. All are welcome to visit to view the collection or to donate or buy artwork.

To contact Donegal Rape Crisis Centre in confidence:
Freephone: 1800 44 88 44
Telephone: 074-9128211
Fax: 074-9120642