Today’s social climate brings a range of emotion, frustration and fear to the forefront of people’s minds in regards to sexual, gender and racial assault. Junior Colleen McElaney is passionate about the need, both within and outside Fairfield University, to address gender violence. As a studio art and film double major, and due to her growing passion to bring attention to gender violence, McElaney decided to jump start an art exhibition in the Experimental Gallery, located in Loyola Hall, where students and community members could display the artwork of gender violence survivors, activists and allies. An opening reception for the exhibition entitled, “Soft Spaces,” will include food, drinks and spoken word poetry by Performing for Change on Nov. 28 between the times of 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

McElaney attended a Breakthrough program at New York University in July, which was dedicated to artists who want to use art as a means of making a social statement. One day of the program was spent discussing the topics of gender and gender issues, and the second day focused on organizing planned actions about gender and race violence. It was largely due to this program that McElaney was inspired to bring the attention of these topics to Fairfield’s campus. She explained that it’s difficult for survivors to have the courage necessary to voice their opinions on gender violence, and believes that art would act as a good medium in which they can have their voices heard.

Though a large undertaking, McElaney explained that she only began setting up the exhibition a short month ago. She’s been working closely with Associate Professor of Visual and Performing Arts, Marice Rose, PhD, and Professor of Visual and Performing Arts Jo Yarington to achieve the space needed to make “Soft Spaces” a success. The title “Soft Spaces” was brainstormed by McElaney while at the Breakthrough program at NYU. She wanted the name to be welcoming and inclusive.

“This is the first exhibition I’ve ever tried to curate,” said McElaney. “It’s included a lot of learning but it’s also been really empowering. Many people unfortunately have been affected by gender based violence, so they want to come forward and share their work with the Fairfield community. I’m really excited to see how the exhibition comes together.”

“Soft Spaces” will not only include the work of Fairfield students, but will also include that of peers McElaney met at the NYU Breakthrough program, and the work of young artists from the Triangle Community Center, located in Norwalk, Conn. — a center dedicated to hosting programs, events and discussions for the LGBTQ+ community. McElaney advertised her exhibition on social media outlets including Facebook, which acted as another means of receiving submissions. The artwork that will be on display will range from paintings and sculpture to photography and poetry.

The timing of McElaney’s exhibition is particularly important, due to the fact that there have been multiple allegations of gender assault including the popular cases of Harvey Weinstein and Mark Schwahn.

“I think it would be really good for people to come and learn about gender based violence,” said McElaney. “I think any opportunity to come and understand others is really important. I hope that a lot of people will come to the exhibition and that it will start discussions around campus.”

Staff and students are encouraged to continue submitting work until Nov. 27 by either emailing it electronically to McElaney at or by bringing their work to the Experimental Gallery in Loyola Hall.

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