KOKOMO, Ind. —For a few evenings, the dining room at the Family Service Association (FSA) of Howard County’s domestic violence shelter transforms into an art studio.
At the front of the room, Brittany Miller stands in front of an easel, with a bare white canvas propped in front of the table, a paper plate with dabs of blue, white, yellow, and red acrylic paint in one hand, a brush in the other.
At the table behind her, six women watch as she mixes blue and white, and brushes it onto her canvas in bold strokes. They copy her actions, creating skylines on their own canvases.
Miller, a senior graphic design student at Indiana University Kokomo, walks around the table, answering questions and offering words of encouragement, before adding more color, with the image of a sunset over the water emerging.
She isn’t just teaching the women art skills — she offers an outlet for their thoughts and emotions, which she sees as a way to use her talents in ministry. Her students are women and children in the domestic violence programs, which provides resources including emergency shelter, transitional housing, support groups, life skills class, and other programs to help them recover from abuse and become independent.
“Watching them as they go through the classes, you can see their confidence build,” said Miller, from Greentown. “You can tell they put their emotions on the canvas. I hope they’ve learned another way to express themselves. I believe everyone has a creative side, and we’ve brought that out.”
Lindsey Davison, director of the FSA domestic violence and sexual assault program, said the classes benefit the women who attend.
“The art program allows clients to be removed, if only briefly, from their current reality, to focus on the task at hand,” she said. “This allows the art to be part of their healing process.”
Miller was inspired to offer the free classes after Tracy Martino, FSA executive director, visited her design center class and talked about the programs it offers. She met with Martino and brainstormed how she could contribute, which led to the idea of a class similar to “wine and canvas” nights offered at local art studios.
Once she had the idea, she needed money to buy supplies. She set up a GoFundMe page to ask for donations, and also auctioned off a painting she created to music during a worship service. Friends and family at Greentown Family Church donated much of the $500 she raised to buy paint, canvases, brushes, and other needs.
Miller also provides art activities for any children who attended with their family members, with a kindergarten teacher friend volunteering to lead.
After four classes, she’s ready to start her next round of fund raising, to offer another session, dabbling in other art mediums.
Miller feels like she gains more than she gives by teaching the classes.
“I wanted to gain perspective, and learn about people going through harder times than I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “I am just there to listen to their life stories, and give them someone to trust. I can tell each class they’re a little more comfortable with me. That’s why I want to keep doing these classes, so I can be a reliable person in their lives.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.