Out & About: Clothesline Project Gives Domestic Violence Survivors a Voice

  • Part of the Clothesline Project display at Colby-Sawyer College in New London. The exhibit begins this Sunday. (Courtesy Donna Brennan)

Valley News Calendar Editor
Wednesday, April 11, 2018

New London — Every T-shirt that’s part of the New Hampshire Clothesline Project tells a story with the potential to be heart-breaking.

But those same stories also have the potential to offer hope.

Now in it’s 25th year, the Clothesline Project exhibit at Colby-Sawyer College displays the stories from survivors of domestic, sexual and mental abuse and their families. The exhibit will be on display from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. beginning this Sunday and ending Friday at Mercer Gym.

“It was designed for anyone who’s a survivor who wants to have a voice and put it out there,” said Donna Brennan, coordinator of the exhibit at Colby-Sawyer. The original Clothesline Project occurred in Cape Cod, Mass., in 1990, and the event has spread nationally and internationally, according to the nonprofit organization’s website.

There are Clothesline Projects at other campuses in New Hampshire, including Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, Rivier University in Nashua, New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord and Plymouth State University in Plymouth.

Brennan, who is the operations manager for department of campus safety, first saw the Clothesline Project displayed in 1992 at the Statehouse in Concord.

Volunteers help her put up the exhibit each year.

“It’s been amazing for me to watch it all evolve,” said Brennan, who is a survivor herself. “For me, I saw it as a way to speak my voice and have it be out there for a way for people to see it.”

This year, there will be about 7,000 shirts displayed at Colby-Sawyer. Each year, 150-350 new shirts are added to the exhibit. They are collected by AmeriCorp volunteers at social service agencies throughout the state and are returned when the exhibit is over.

A permanent collection of 4,000 shirts is stored at Colby-Sawyer.

“I display everything that’s been made in the state and this is the only place that’s done that,” Brennan said. “It’s an unbelievable visual display when it’s up and seen with that many shirts.”

When Colby-Sawyer first started hosting the project, women wouldn’t feel comfortable coming in and making a shirt about their experiences, Brennan said. Others would ask to take a T-shirt home and return it.

“I’ve watched it evolve where people are OK with making a shirt and feel safe doing that,” Brennan said. “The stereotype’s not there anymore.”

While the shirt designers are primarily women, that’s also changing: Brennan has slowly seen more men contribute to the project, breaking down another stereotype in the process.

Some survivors come back to view their own shirts, which makes it all the important for Brennan’s push to keep and display them all.

It’s supposed to be quite the sight to see, a place for quiet reflection and contemplation. The T-shirts might not tell the whole story of domestic violence in New Hampshire, but they give a glimpse at the people behind the statistics, individuals that important to see and acknowledge.

Editor’s note: For more information on the Clothesline Project at Colby-Sawyer, contact Brennan at dobrennan@colby-sawyer.edu or 603-526-3675; for information about the national project, visit http://theclotheslineproject.org/. For those in need of assistance call the Turning Points Crisis line at 1-800-639-3130 or the WISE crisis line at 1-866-348-9473. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.