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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Art and awareness

Final Friday event kicks off Teen Dating Violence Prevention Month.

By Jason Dilts
Eagle correspondent

What does a healthy relationship look like?

That's the question Wichita teenagers will be posing to Final Friday visitors tonight. The popular monthly art crawl returns after a holiday hiatus, with a special exhibit highlighting the issue of teen dating violence.

"What's Luv Got to Do Wit' It?" will feature live music and theater, poetry readings, multimedia presentations and visual art created by students involved with Start Strong Wichita. The program aims to promote healthy teen relationships in 11- to 14-year-olds and is a project of Catholic Charities of Wichita.

The show, on the second floor of Hewitt's Antiques downtown, is the kickoff for February's Teen Dating Violence Prevention Month.

"We wanted to create an event where we took the kids to the crowds," said Nicholas Barton, director of marketing for Start Strong Wichita. "With the popularity of the art crawl, this seemed like a natural way to raise awareness about an important issue that often gets overlooked and ignored."

Visitors to the show will get a packet of information about dating violence and how to talk to kids about forming healthy relationships.

As the problem of violence between intimate partners rises as a public health issue, local officials are interested in getting to the root of the problem. Nearly 22 percent of all sexual assaults in Kansas are reported in Wichita. Teenagers are especially prone to abuse, with 50 percent of those victims under the age of 19.

It's those statistics that prompted Catholic Charities of Wichita to tackle the issue. Barton said the agency's existing program, Choose Respect, contributed heavily to Wichita being one of 11 cities to receive part of an $18 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The funding is what launched the four-year Start Strong Wichita campaign.

Understanding what constitutes abuse and how it manifests itself is part of what the group does.

"We teach kids reading, writing and arithmetic in school but somehow we forget to teach respect," Barton said.

That's where a program called Fourth R comes in. It's a curriculum that Start Strong Wichita has begun in three Wichita middle schools and two high schools to enhance relationship skills. It gets students involved in educating their peers by having them perform plays and produce videos that highlight how abuse among their peers plays out. Tonight's show is a larger-scale, collaborative production of their regular work.

More than 50 pieces of student art, from black-and-white sketches to paintings to sculptures, will be on display and available for purchase via raffle tickets. Each ticket is $1 and all proceeds go toward funding anti-dating-violence initiatives within the Wichita school district.

To help lure Final Friday participants to the show, Barton will dispatch human "statues" to Old Town, Delano and Commerce Street to call attention to the show.

"The kids have been extremely responsive to getting out in front of this issue," Barton said. "For many, being part of this project has helped them cope with their own experiences with dating violence. If they haven't experience it personally, they've definitely seen it."

If you go

'what's luv got to do wit' it?'

What: Art exhibit and live performances to draw attention to the problem of teen dating violence.

Where: Second floor, Hewitt's Antiques, 228 N. Market

When: 6-10 p.m. today

How much: Admission free, but art can be purchased through a raffle for $1 a ticket.

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