March 28, 2022

Survivors Heal Through Nesting Arts

by Felicia Cheney

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From Survivor Nest

CW: This article contains references to incest and childhood sexual assault.

A transformational healing art exhibit is taking place on the North Shore for survivors of incest and childhood sexual abuse during sexual assault awareness month.

This April a historic building in Salem once used for public meetings and gatherings will invite people into a safe, nurturing and more intimate environment. The womb-like installation’s focus consists of a giant life sized nest and riveting photographs by Debbie Baxter of people seeking solace inside of it.

Carla Beatrice of Beverly, MA built the nest oceanside in Cape Ann with Portland, OR artist Debbie Baxter of The Nest Project this past fall. A community artist who combines art with healing, Beatrice was the first survivor to have a nesting experience. As coordinator of the Survivor Nest Project, Beatrice invited other survivors of incest and childhood sexual abuse to be photographed by Baxter in the nest and experience a weekend of healing in the safe environment of her own backyard.

Related Reading: Building Nests for Survivors, July 2021

Beatrice collaborated with other artists to provide herself and the five other nesters with the healing sounds of Lisa Kawski, writing experiences and support with survivor advocate Donna Jenson, and an opportunity to be documented by filmmaker Katie Bourgeois, all in preparation for the exhibit taking place this April 20-30 at Old Town Hall in Salem MA. Her wish is to bring the transformational healing art experience to the public during April’s Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, extending the show and its ability to help survivors feel seen and heard.

“Knowing other survivors helps you realize you’re not alone, that you’re not the only one” says Jenson, founder of Time To Tell, a non profit organization offering survivor healing through creative writing. “And building community with other survivors around using our voices is very empowering.”

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Baxter is returning to curate and install the show, as are the other collaborators to offer programming alongside the exhibit. Beatrice hopes the show will contribute to releasing the societal taboo associated with this specific form of childhood trauma as well as show how the arts can bring about healing to our culture and communities impacted by it.

“Our bodies have lived through these experiences, and we hold onto these things in them, and the nest invites people to just leave all that behind,” says Baxter, who has made over 50 nests and photographed over 400 people.

Included in the programming is a benefit sound healing bath with Lisa Kawski of Sound Healing for the Soul with Debbie reading from her recently published book, Nest. Donna Jenson will offer a writing circle for survivors as well as a workshop for professionals who work with them such as therapists, social workers or other advocates. The nesters will be reading their writings published by Voices Heard Magazine, a survivor produced magazine by Claire O’Leary. O’Leary published the entire spring issue with art, poetry, and articles written by survivors, collaborators, and the community supporters helping out with the project.

“I feel a deep sense of connection to the participants involved in this project. I am blessed to offer my healing modality of sound to aid in the experience, and to be able to connect with each on a very personal level, touching their hearts with love,” said Kawski.

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