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Living Proof: Artistic Visions of Hope & Healing

 In Culture & Events, Local Art Scene, Summer 2024

The arts help heal. And three Outer Banks women are “living proof.”

Personal passion project of Kathy Cawthon—and one piece of a much larger healing vision for OBX—Living Proof: Artistic Visions of Hope & Healing is a celebratory art exhibition with a performative multi-disciplinary opening designed to give fellow cancer survivors and caregivers an opportunity to share their cancer journeys through visual art, creative writing, dance, music, and theatre. On view at Dare Arts in Manteo, the exhibition’s opening coincides with Manteo’s popular First Fridays July celebration.

Says Cawthon, a breast cancer survivor, “…healing is so much bigger than curing disease or treating a condition or repairing an injury. I had an incredible medical team throughout my treatment, and they put me back on the road to physical health, but I didn’t start to HEAL until I bonded with other survivors and learned about the power of creativity. I was—and still am—truly astounded by the deeply healing power of the arts.” According to Susan Magsamen, a renowned neuroscientist and author of “Your Brain on Art”, engaging with art stimulates neuroplasticity, releases dopamine and endorphins, reduces stress, increases focus, fosters empathy and social connection, and reduces anxiety, depression, and trauma symptoms.

As Cawthon asserts, “It’s not woo-woo; it’s science!” A 6th grade language arts teacher and freelance writer prior to being diagnosed, Cawthon was not an artist. During her treatment under the care of Dr. John Mattern (retired) of Virginia Oncology Associates at Sentara Careplex in Hampton and Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News, she participated in various workshops, like journaling, and drumming, offered by local support groups and organizations.

She continued to write throughout her treatment but developed neuropathy in her hands from a fairly “brutal” treatment. There were periods of time when she recalls being unable to type or write, but “wrote essays in my head about what I was going through.” She attributes her education on the topic of healing and the arts to “reading, reading, reading and a lot of conversations with medical professionals who have become friends over the years.” As she delved deeper and as her neuropathy improved, she began to explore many visual art forms as well as therapeutic drumming and other creative outlets.

Cawthon, whose beloved husband Roger died of kidney cancer in 2016, teamed up with Linda L. Lauby, a fellow breast-cancer survivor who finished her treatment just over a year ago, and Cyndi Goetcheus Sarfan, whose brother died of cancer, to form Visionary Artists, the exhibition organizers. She credits both women, who she met at a writer’s group and on Facebook, respectively, with being “gifted artists” worthy of awe and with keeping the project “on track.” She refers to Lauby, a writer, artist, and owner of Outer Banks Press, as the “IT guru” and the detail-oriented Sarfan, a professional photographer, with “thinking of things—important things—I’d never think of.” For her part, she quips, “I just drink wine and have ideas.”

Cancer alters much about one’s life, including perspective. Lauby reflects that she was caught off-guard by her diagnosis, joking with her doctor that, based on the size of the lump she found, she might have discovered the lost city of Atlantis. “Excruciating” chemo-related neuropathy resulted in a quasi-hiatus from writing and designing, keeping her focused on the future: “The idea of being able to create after I was well was a driving force.” And it allowed her time to reflect on how she wanted to spend her time which led to the freeing act of “firing” some clients. “I never again want to build a website for someone I don’t love.” And speaking of love, she recalls that until her diagnosis, “I didn’t realize how much I was loved.”

Brushstrokes, 2018, Kathy Cawthon. Watercolor and ink.

Brushstrokes, 2018, Kathy Cawthon. Watercolor and ink.

Creatives of any experience level with perspectives on cancer to share are invited to submit their work from June 26-28 at Dare Arts. See www.LivingProofOBX.com for entry form, drop-off times, and other guidelines. If potential participants have a conflict, one of the Visionary Artists will gladly deliver their art. Proceeds from the sale of art in this show, an open invitational exhibition for which there is no entry fee, are split between Dare Arts (40%) and the artist (60%). The Living Proof organizers will be donating their 60% to the Outer Banks Relief Foundation and encourage fellow artists to consider doing the same.

You are also invited to visit the website if you would like to donate to the cause or join Art’s Place and SeaDragon and Yellowhouse Gallery as sponsors, with 100% of your of your contribution going to the Relief Foundation to assist individuals and families coping with cancer. Similarly, if you are interested in learning more about Cawthon and her late husband’s 28-year-old vision for a “healing place” in OBX—with ongoing classes in visual arts, writing, music, dance, and theatre, as well as yoga, mindfulness, and meditation plus a labyrinth (Cawthon is the Dare County representative for The Labyrinth Society and is a Veriditas-trained Labyrinth Facilitator)—she welcomes your outreach through the website.

Healing, 2024. Sharon B. Whitehurst. Ashes, iridescent media and acrylic.

Healing, 2024. Sharon B. Whitehurst. Ashes, iridescent media and acrylic.

Betsy DiJulio
Author: Betsy DiJulio

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