Gallery founder aims to raise awareness of sexual abuse through art

Jean Cozier
Jean Cozier points to works of art created by child survivors of sexual abuse.

By Carlos D. Williamson

Jean Cozier didn’t know she’d be the owner of an art gallery at 61 – let alone one that showcased the works of survivors of sexual abuse and rape.

Cozier still isn’t sure this is what she was meant to do. She just knows she can’t stop.

Sexual abuse and rape should be taken just as seriously as other pertinent issues in the world instead of being pushed aside, said Cozier, the founder of the Awakenings Foundation Center and Gallery in Chicago. Cozier said the artwork at her gallery is largely meant to educate people about the viciousness of abuse.

“The stupidity and the blindness of our culture on this issue is something I’ll never understand, and I’ll never get over, and I’ll never stop being angry about, which is why I’ll never stop doing the work I’m doing, at least until I’m senile or dead,” Cozier said.

Similar exhibitions at other galleries are usually not permanent, Cozier noted, adding that too many people have suffered from and survived abuse for awareness and education to be temporary.

From Northeast Indiana to Northwestern

Cozier is one of those survivors. She grew up in northeast Indiana and as a child, she immersed herself in reading and writing to forget what she had been through. She soon realized she wanted to be a writer.

“One of my teachers recognized I was bored stiff,” Cozier said. “I did not need to learn grammar. I think I was born knowing grammar.”

While Cozier excelled as a writer, she didn’t like the school curriculum because there were no writing classes–another reason she wanted to go away to college.

Though Cozier struggled to fit in and find herself during high school, college was a different story.

“Going to Northwestern [University] saved my life,” Cozier said.

Her first choice was studying journalism because of her passion for writing, but she found the requirements for the Medill School of Journalism a bit intimidating. So Cozier enrolled in the School of Speech and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Radio, Television and Film in 1976.

While in college, Cozier also met her husband, Ernie Webb, to whom she’s been married for 39 years.

Running an art gallery

Although Cozier, who founded the gallery in 2010, said the work she does is worthwhile and rewarding, it can be burdensome at times. She said it’s one thing to do something she’s passionate about, but another to work an excessive amount of hours.

“I obliviously have taken it a few steps further,” Cozier said. “I used to work here 30-35 hours a week back in the early days. That’s just too freaking hard. Most wealthy philanthropic people don’t want to sit at a desk and work for 30 hours a week on a project, especially when you don’t get paid. Not only do you not get paid, you’re supporting the organization that doesn’t pay you.”

Cozier’s hard work, however, does not go unnoticed. Writer and sexual abuse survivor Veronica C. Wanchena, also known as Gabriel Orion Marie, has known Cozier for four years and has had her own artwork on exhibition at the Awakenings Foundation. Wanchena said the gallery is not only helpful to people viewing the works of art, but for the artists as well.

“When a survivor can communicate an experience, or a feeling or an aftermath through a form of art, I know it resonates with me,” Wanchena said.

Published works

Dear Judith
Gallery owner Jean Cozier wrote a memoir about her cousin Judith Dawn, an artist and sexual abuse survivor.

Before Cozier founded the Awakenings Foundation, she wrote a memoir about her cousin, the late Judith Dawn, who was an artist and sexual abuse survivor. The book is titled “Dear Judith: A Portrait of Survival” and was published in 2007.

In 2012, the Awakenings Foundation began administering the Judith Dawn Memorial Fund for the Arts to provide support for survivors who want to use the creative arts as a way to heal. The fund was initially launched in 1998 and was previously administered through the Zaharias Sexual Abuse Center.

Photo at top: Jean Cozier points to works of art created by child survivors of sexual abuse. (Carlos D. Williamson/MEDILL)