“Unheard,” a new public photography installation, is being erected Wednesday on the façade of the Anchorage Museum. Co-presented by the Anchorage Museum, Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica, the installation features 27 empowering portraits of survivors of sexual assault from across Alaska, along with quotes from them about their experiences. The portraits and stories were originally published by the Daily News and ProPublica throughout June as part of a joint reporting project of the same name. Occupying 27 nine-foot panels on the museum’s outdoor façade, the photography installation also includes recorded audio from most of the people featured, literally making their voices heard. It will remain on view through mid-September.
For more than a year, the Daily News and ProPublica have investigated sexual violence in Alaska, which has the highest rate of sexual assault in the nation — nearly four times the national average. Yet for some, it is a secret so embedded in everyday life that to discuss it is to disrupt the norm. The survivors featured in “Unheard” chose to speak publicly about their experiences.
They come from all walks of life: Alaskans from ages 23 to 73, men and women, urban and rural, Native and non-Native. People who turned to the criminal justice system, and more often those who didn’t.
The portraits displayed in the installation reflect the underlying courage and strength of each person. Daily News photographers Loren Holmes, Marc Lester and Anne Raup asked subjects to pick the place in which they’d be photographed and the emotions they wanted to convey. Journalists and designers (Adriana Gallardo, Nadia Sussman and Agnes Chang of ProPublica, and Kyle Hopkins and Michelle Theriault Boots of the Daily News) spent hours talking with each survivor, allowing them to choose how their experiences would be represented.
They chose to be pictured in meaningful locations — from the deep woods of west Anchorage, to the delta of the Knik and Matanuska rivers, to the comfort and safe space of their homes. They dressed in clothing that made them feel strong, or they appeared alongside people and animals they love. In capturing these photographs, the aim was to focus not on what happened to them, but on who they had become.
The digital and print versions of “Unheard,” which ran in the Daily News and ProPublica every day of June, culminated on Wednesday with a “space of silence” dedicated to those not yet ready to share. The museum installation also leaves a blank space open for these countless survivors, along with resources that they can turn to for help and a Daily News questionnaire for safely sharing their stories when they are in a position to do so.
“The installation is part of listening to people telling their own stories, in their own voice,” said Julie Decker, executive director and CEO of the Anchorage Museum. “It’s a difficult issue, but examining why things aren’t getting better for sexual assault survivors is partly about listening and recognizing both the power of, and the lack of power in, silence. We also wanted to help recognize the Pulitzer Prize-winning work of the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica, and journalism as a public service. Museums are part of reflecting the voices of a community — and now is an important time for voices to be heard.”
“This project has been about collaboration, starting when readers reached out to us to tell their stories,” Anchorage Daily News Editor David Hulen said. “It evolved into a collaboration between the ADN and ProPublica, and we’re delighted that has extended to include the Anchorage Museum. We consider the subjects themselves full collaborators as well. They have been involved in each step of this process. These issues have needed attention in Alaska for a long time, and we hope this next step in the reporting helps shine a light on them.”
“What makes ‘Unheard’ so special is the power of the participants’ voices,” said Charlie Ornstein, a ProPublica deputy managing editor. “Our journalism will hopefully bring about change, but among the most meaningful impact would be giving survivors of sexual violence the ability to speak up, unafraid, about what happened to them. We’re proud to partner with the Anchorage Daily News and the Anchorage Museum on this project.”
The reporting from “Unheard” is part of a larger Daily News and ProPublica investigative project titled “Lawless,” which revealed Alaska’s failing, two-tiered justice system in which Native villages are denied access to first responders. This powerful series — which won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, widely considered the highest honor in American journalism — began with brave accounts from survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. “Unheard” lets them tell their stories and show their resilience.
On Friday, July 10, at 12 p.m. AKDT/4 p.m. EDT, join the Daily News and ProPublica for a digital event with members of the reporting team, an advocate who works with survivors of sexual assault in Alaska and a person who chose to share their story in “Unheard.” They’ll speak about how they brought this careful and collaborative reporting to light and the impact spurred by the project. Register here.
The Anchorage Daily News has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service three times: In 1976, 1989 and 2020. It's independently owned and in the past year has won first-place awards from the Online News Association, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Society of Professional Journalists, Scripps Howard Awards, News Leaders Association and the Alaska Press Club, among others.
ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. With a team of more than 100 dedicated journalists, ProPublica covers a range of topics, focusing on stories with the potential to spur real-world impact. Its reporting has contributed to the passage of new laws; reversals of harmful policies and practices; and accountability for leaders at local, state and national levels. Since it began publishing in 2008, ProPublica has received six Pulitzer Prizes, five Peabody Awards, three Emmy Awards and eight George Polk Awards, among others.