Penn State Scranton art students show support for human trafficking survivors

Sunflower on a painted blue background with a butterfly hovering in upper left corner

Penn State Scranton art student Jordan Coles created this painting of a yellow sunflower on a sky blue background with a vibrant blue butterfly flying near the top, which was donated to VAST and auctioned off at its VOICES fundraiser this winter, benefitting victims of human trafficking. Coles looked to the fundraiser's theme, "Whispers of Restoration," and the organization's signature colors as inspiration for the piece.

Credit: Penn State

DUNMORE, Pa. — Corianne Thompson, lecturer in art at Penn State Scranton, along with her students, helped raise awareness about human trafficking by donating artwork to VOICES, a fundraiser organized by the Valley Against Sex Trafficking (VAST), in Allentown.

VAST is an organization whose mission is to eliminate human trafficking and end sexual exploitation through collaboration, education and advocacy. It empowers survivors and encourages the community to take action in the anti-trafficking movement.

Thompson learned about VAST in 2015 and decided to attend a community meeting.

“I then joined their education team as well as their speakers bureau,” Thompson said. “Due to my background in the visual arts, I began helping them with their art gallery exhibitions for VAST’s annual fundraiser called VOICES.”

This was the first year the annual fundraising event was held in-person since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“VAST is always looking for ways to get the community involved and connected,” Thompson said. “I know we have some incredibly talented students at our campus who could create some 2-D art for the gallery and auction, so when I asked about art donations for the event, I knew I needed to open it up to my students to submit work,” she said, and did so.

After finding out about VAST in Thompson’s art class, two of her students were inspired to put their creative skills to the test to help raise awareness of the organization’s cause in the community.

“Once I looked deeper into their mission, I was excited to be able to create something for such a great cause,” said art student Jordan Coles. “The idea that a simple project of mine could have such a large impact made participating seem like a no-brainer.”

Students were informed about the organization’s colors, consisting of orange-yellows and blues, as well as the theme for this year’s event titled, "Whispers of Restoration."

“I ran with this information for my painting and created a sunflower with a vibrant blue butterfly flying near on top of a light blue sky. To me, this image displayed hope, freedom and peace, which was the message I was trying to convey.”

Art student Molly Morgan believes “the voices behind the idea need to be vocalized in our community. Change starts with awareness,” she said.

Morgan created the eye of a woman with a dream catcher as the centerpiece in the eye called, "Eye of Restoration."

“I was inspired by the theme of the event and wanted to create my own spin on it,” Morgan said.

“I was so proud of what they created for the event!” exclaimed Thompson.

“Throughout the event, there were many people who commented on how powerful the work was that the Penn State Scranton students created. When the artwork went up for live auction, there were actually quite a few that caused bidding wars! I am proud of the students who decided to participate in VAST’s fundraising event by donating their own artwork, but I am even more proud of how their work impacted people at the event. What they donated will not only help spread awareness visually, but the money they helped raise will help survivors in the future.”

The event hosted a silent auction for various kinds of items, a live auction of artwork submitted by Penn State Scranton students and community members, as well as a reverse auction that provided opportunities to fund specific programs for survivors.

Awards were presented to two community members who have been major advocates in the fight to end sex trafficking in the Lehigh Valley area. There were also guitarists and dance performances presented by students from a local charter arts academy, as well as live music by a professional guitarist.

“Survivor leaders participated in all aspects of the event, which was really inspiring to see,” Thompson said.

“VAST’s mission is something I hope more people are made aware of and if there is a chance for me to spread the word about ways to put an end to this type of modern-day slavery, then I am grateful to do so,” Thompson said.

“There are many ways for people to get involved in organizations like VAST, you just need to take the time to step out and see what you can do. For me, it means creating artwork to help spread awareness; to others it may be through acts of service to the community, musical performances, writing news articles, etc. Whatever ways we can reach out and lend a hand to those who need a little help, I think the better the world will be for everyone.”