Nonprofit Uses Art to Engage Teens in Healthy Relationship Conversations

SC Nonprofit’s Art Contest A Pathway for Change

Do you think creative expression is a doorway into making change? The South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SCCADVASA) does, which is why their community art contests go hand in hand with their mission to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault in South Carolina. SCCADVASA serves as the collective voice promoting the prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault in South Carolina by raising awareness, advocating for effective policies, and providing extensive training and technical assistance to member organizations’ advocates and allies. Other than legal programs, they do not work directly with survivors.

SCCADVASA tries to engage teens frequently, most recently with an art contest aimed at educating youth on damaging social constructs. So why an art contest specifically? “We have become such a visual society and an illustration can convey a message so much more quickly and completely than other mediums,” says Sara Barber, the executive director of SCCADVASA. “We believe it could push teens to learn more about this issue and hope it can be a conversation starter around consent, healthy relationships, and possibly even reach those who are experiencing dating violence — to tell them that their experience is not uncommon and that they are not alone.”

The recently selected winning entry is an example of how an art teacher heard about the contest and recognized this student’s portfolio and interests would make them a good fit to submit some of their work. “We were very fortunate to receive a grant from Dabo’s All In Team Foundation to run this contest. In order to elicit submissions, we reached out to teachers, member organizations and community partners asking them to share and promote it — we also shared it on our different social media channels,” says Barber.

The theme for this year’s contest was “What It Means to be a Man” in 2021. SCCADVASA chose the theme because of the societal constructs about manhood that drive intimate partner and sexual violence, Barber points out. “Unfortunately, the majority of the men in our society are still taught that they must conform to certain destructive gender norms, and if they don’t conform, they are perhaps not ‘truly’ a ‘man’,” says Barber. The winning piece of original art (shown below) depicts this theme.

“Specifically, for this art contest, we wanted to bring forward and elevate both the voice and perspective of youth as it relates to teen dating violence. If we are ever going to see a South Carolina free from domestic and sexual violence, prevention is key,” says Barber. “We believe that the earlier we can reach kids and share with them what it means to be in a healthy relationship, as well as share the warning signs that often occur before violence, the more successful we will be.”

Layla Davis, the winner of this year’s art contest will be profiled on April 8, and the student’s work will be featured on billboards in Greenville, Charleston, and Columbia. It will also be used in SCCADVASA’s digital and print marketing efforts. As Barber points out, “If we can change the narrative for even one teenager, or influence the narrative that adults are teaching to their kids, then we are making progress.”

Resources for parents, teens and educators can be found at