en plein

Artists and visitors fill Trustmark Art Park in downtown Laurel during the En Plein Air festival. (Submitted photo)


En Plein Air event raises $10,000 for Domestic Abuse Family Shelter


Owner of the Pinehurst Rathskeller Amy Beckum-Luker still has flashbacks as a survivor of domestic abuse.

“It was as vivid as it was the day it happened,” Beckum-Luker said. “I tried hard to fight that flashback, but yet it crept into my brain again without warning or notice — there I was right there in that guest bedroom knowing there wasn’t one thing I could do to protect myself. I was in trouble and didn’t know how I would get out alive.”

Because of what she went through, Beckum-Luker said the Domestic Abuse Family Shelter in Laurel holds a place near and dear in her heart. She and Dr. Rhonda Smith, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist at South Central Regional Medical Center, came up with the idea to host En Plein Air to raise money for DAFS. 

To give back to the shelter and help other survivors of domestic violence, Beckum-Luker helped organize a fundraising event that brought 111 artists to downtown Laurel to support domestic abuse victims and DAFS. From April 16-17, artists hailing from 13 states painted scenes of downtown Laurel, raising more than $10,000 for DAFS.

Smith, also a survivor of verbal and physical abuse, said she was grateful to be a part of the event.

“I appreciate the hard work that goes into providing a domestic abuse shelter to our community,” Smith said. “The plein-air paint-out was such a symbolic event for me personally, because I used art and painting to help me heal from the emotional scars that I was left with after escaping an abusive marriage. 

As a therapist, Smith said she encourages her patients to use art as part of their coping skills. 

The Mississippi Plein Air Painters, a group of artists who use various mediums while painting outdoors, organized an event in 2019 in Laurel where more than 80 artists participated. Beckum-Luker helped facilitate the event for MPAP. 

“The idea came from us doing a plein air paint-out a couple of years ago, and I thought that this would be a COVID-proof event where we could raise money for DAFS and be successful,” Beckum-Luker said.

En Plein Air is French for “in the open air,” Beckum-Luker said. 

“Painting en plein air began with French impressionists who wanted to get out of their studios and capture the ever-changing aspects of light in their landscape paintings,” Beckum-Luker said.

The proceeds of the event came from the artists’ registration fees and some from artists’ sales of their works that were donated to DAFS during the event. Jason Niblett, a DAFS victims advocate and community outreach member, said the event was extremely successful. 

“It was phenomenal especially with the threat of rain,” Niblett said. “We will definitely do this again next year.”

Niblett said the proceeds will help the shelter match grant funds and purchase everyday necessities for those at the shelter. 

The event not only helped raise money for DAFS, but it also helped to raise awareness that domestic violence is real and that healing is possible, Smith said. 

“It felt good to give back to the men and women that need help in their most vulnerable time of need,” Smith said. “I am so thankful for DAFS and the employees that provide a safe place for survivors to rest and heal.”

Beckum-Luker said she wants to show other survivors there is hope and success in life after abuse.

“My mission is to help abuse victims in whatever way possible and to take away the stigma that abused victims are poor, uneducated and come from troubled home life.

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