A Window Between Worlds (AWBW) is a Venice-based nonprofit organization dedicated to using art to help end domestic violence.

Since 1991, AWBW has provided creative expression as a healing tool for over 74,000 battered women and their children in crisis shelters, transitional homes, and outreach centers throughout the U.S., said Cathy Salser, executive director and founder of the organization.

By providing an environment that promotes healing, the art workshops help women and children develop a renewed sense of hope and possibility that can profoundly impact future decisions regarding the direction of their lives, their relationships, and how to stay safe, she said.

“Art empowers survivors to transform how they view themselves, allowing them to see past the abusive messages they learned from their batterers and rebuild their self-confidence,” said Salser.

A Window Between Worlds’ 20th Anniversary Exhibition, Pearls of Wisdom: End the Violence, is now on display at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. The opening reception is scheduled from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25. Tickets may also be purchased on the organization’s website, www.skirball.org.

The Pearls of Wisdom: End the Violence exhibition was created by artist Kim Abeles in collaboration with A Window Between Worlds and more than 800 survivors of domestic violence.

“Using the metaphor of valuable pearls formed inside oysters in response to a harmful irritant, participants in 70 workshops across California transformed memories of domestic pain into objects and shared texts that offered public lessons of courage, strength and solidarity,” Salser said.

The organization was literally founded on a road trip by Salser, who said she was an idealistic emerging artist wanting to share the power of art to connect with others.

“I was a painfully shy young person and art allowed me to speak and be heard,” Salser said.

In 1991 she left her job as an art teacher and traveled from one domestic violence shelter to the next, living and making art with battered women, and paying for gas and art supplies with portraits she painted during the trip. She offered art workshops and training at 32 shelters in 18 states from California to Massachusetts.

After returning to Los Angeles, she partnered with a local domestic violence organization to pilot the first ongoing Windows Project to provide weekly art workshops at a shelter. In 1992, Salser launched A Window Between Worlds, “to help women reclaim their lives and move toward a healthy future.”

The Children’s Windows Program was launched in 1996 at the request of the Los Angeles Domestic Violence Council, and AWBW created an art program specifically for children living in domestic violence shelters, said Salser.

She explained that this children’s program succeeded in bringing art workshops to 17 shelters in its first year alone, many of which had no other children’s programming.

“Just as with women, art proved to be an effective way for children to express their feelings, build self-confidence, and develop hope for a healthy future,” Salser noted.

Since 1991, AWBW’s art programs have served over 348,000 participants throughout the country (74,000 women and children each attending an average of four to five workshops during their shelter stay), Salser said.

Last year, AWBW worked with over 530 trained leaders providing art workshops in 175 domestic violence programs in 25 states, and provided over 9,500 art workshops for women and children in shelters.

In the children’s program, 97 percent of the leader’s annual reports indicated that the art workshops helped the children to express themselves and communicate in a nonviolent way and handle anger in a positive way, Salser said.

Permanent, ongoing Women’s Windows and Children’s Windows programs have been implemented in domestic violence shelters, transitional homes, and outreach centers in 25 states, she said.

The Windows Program is available to any organization or agency seeking to implement art as a healing tool for survivors of domestic violence, Salser said.

Other programs include Survivor’s Art Circle workshops, which foster connections and support for domestic violence survivors who are outside the shelter setting; and Exhibits and Art Journals, which enable survivors to educate their communities and help domestic violence organizations conduct outreach and build support for their programs.

Cards, bookmarks, art, books and T-shirts created by the women and children in the programs are available for sale online, Salser said.

The organization depends on its volunteers, Salser said, adding that “volunteers help make everything possible.”

Volunteers are welcomed and information on a wide range of volunteer opportunities (most in the Venice office) is available online.

A Window Between Worlds is at 710 Fourth Ave., Ste. 5, Venice.

Information, (310) 396-0317, or www.awbw.org.

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