Group focuses on art, dialogue after tragedy

A gathering is scheduled Sunday afternoon.

BLACKSBURG — A new group in Blacksburg calling itself HERE — Honoring Experiences, Reflections and Expressions — is here to help.

Formed in May in response to the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech, the group wants to encourage ongoing community dialogue and artistic expression. Members hope a number of events will promote healing.

Susan Mattingly, director of the Lyric Theatre, is one of the group’s founding members.

“We are focusing on the local, community-based response to the changes that have happened because of the shootings and the building of a new future that reflects that change,” she said.

Shannon Turner, HERE’s program coordinator, said the first event was held at Steppin’ Out, Blacksburg’s annual summer festival. Nearly 700 people visited the Lyric for a special exhibit of photos and a scrolling digital display about community response to the tragedy.

The next event, scheduled for Sunday, is a free ice cream social on Virginia Tech’s Henderson Hall lawn. From 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., people are invited to gather to talk and participate in art projects.

“In some capacity, each of our events has an artistic component to it,” Turner said. “We want to see if we’re on the right path. Is there energy there for it?”

Turner and others in the group are hoping community members can express their feelings and their visions for the future through such projects.

At 3 p.m. Sept. 16, the Lyric will have a screening of filmmaker Martin Doblmeier’s “The Power of Forgiveness,” a documentary drawn from his interviews with people in places touched by extreme violence. After the showing, Doblmeier will have a question-and-answer session with the audience. Plans are for audience members to participate in smaller, topic-based discussion groups in the weeks following.

HERE also plans to continue community conversations by hosting regional “story circles” involving church groups, book clubs, first responders, health care professionals and other organizations interested in participating.

“We believe that the community should get to tell its own story about what has happened and what our future will be,” said Holly Lesko, another group founder. “Through these activities we hope to offer opportunities to do just that.”

Turner said HERE is open to everyone. To find out more about the group, call her at 951-4771 or e-mail