In December 2015, actress Sonja Mata approached director and fellow performer Claire Bauman about curating a show of one-minute dances, but they quickly changed course and started thinking about an event that combined arts and advocacy. They reached out to Awakenings Foundation—a group that promotes healing and recovery for sexual-assault survivors through art—which introduced them to Grace DeSant, a burlesque performer who was already planning a similar event. The result is Making (the) Movement, a one-day festival that takes place during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The event takes place this Saturday, April 8, and features art, burlesque, children’s story time with drag queens, and one-minute dance performances. The organizers’ mission is to draw attention to sexual assault and also benefit Chicago groups that support survivors.
“We decided to merge all of our wonderful forces together into this epic event that is Making (the) Movement,” Bauman says. “It formed this idea that a large group of artists can experiment with their work and create art for a positive cause.”
Once the three cocurators decided on a date, Bauman reached out to (Re)Discover Theatre to ask for help facilitating the festival.
“[Our involvement] was honestly because Claire approached me with this idea,” says (Re)Discover Theatre artistic director Janet Howe. “When that casual sexual harassment is happening so fervently, that’s sort of like the sentiment is ‘It’s OK.’ It seems like something that is superimportant to be doing.”
Howe says she recently heard artists express a desire to contribute to their communities, but because their incomes are generally so low they feel unable to contribute financially. This event allows them to offer up their craft in an effort to raise money.
“I think it’s something that’s hugely important, especially living in a city where sexual assaults can happen anywhere at anytime,” Howe says. “It’s something that we as a society have kind of swept under the rug. We’ve done a lot of victim blaming.”
Kaethe Morris Hoffer, executive director of Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, one of the festival’s beneficiaries, agrees with Howe’s assessment. She says that while every now and then reports of sexual assault hit the national radar, most go unnoticed and unreported. In fact, she says only an estimated 20 to 30 percent of instances of rape are reported to the police. In 2014, that number was 4,089 rapes reported to Illinois police, according to the most recent data from Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch asserts that in Illinois just 11 percent of reported rapes result in arrest, versus a national average of 22 percent.
“Less than 3 percent of people who engage in sexual assault face a consequence for their actions,” Hoffer says. She notes that this creates a culture where victims aren’t viewed as credible, especially since most cases of sexual assault aren’t a violent act committed by a stranger—they’re likely perpetrated by someone the victim knows and even trusts.
“When rape happens it mostly unfolds like sex, it’s just sex one person doesn’t want to be happening,” Hoffer says. “Just slightly greater body weight and a desire to make sex happen is successful to achieve unwanted sex in most cases.”
One in five women, and one in 71 men, is likely to have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. This issue is familiar to artists, since sexual assault and abuse is prevalent in the arts—look no further than the local theater and comedy communities.
For some, Making (the) Movement may prove to be a cathartic release of their own story of survivorship, a story they’re perhaps only able to tell in a one-minute format. The curators hope this event gives people an outlet to explore difficult topics.
“Some people come to realize that certain problems are important . . . but many more people are moved to engage in activism on a particular social issue or problem because of a piece of art,” Hoffer says. “I think that art and creative expression related to social problems is absolutely critical.”
More than 40 local artists and community members are involved in Making (the) Movement, which organizers believe will draw at least 100 participants.
Bauman says she hopes attendees leave the festival feeling invested in enacting and supporting change, as well as feeling a responsibility to talk about difficult topics and reversing victim blaming by empowering survivors to share their stories.
“I think this is definitely a time in the world where supporting causes that you’re passionate about is important,” Bauman said. “You don’t have to be a survivor to engage in this conversation.”
Making (the) Movement, Sat 4/8, 2-11 PM, Hairpin Arts Center, 2810 N. Milwaukee, second floor, rediscovertheatre.com/mtm, suggested donation $10 per performance, $35 for the day.