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Arts Committee

Christine Cole
is a visual artist who hails from Canada. A three-time Phoenix Project participant, she has created works that were not only well received, but also sought after for purchase. Christine’s artistic interest is lifelong: “I always loved drawing and painting from the time I could hold a crayon.” Discouraged from pursuing an art education, however, she got a degree in biochemistry, but found the work unsatisfying and began to take art courses, which she has continued to this day. Christine states that she did not “consciously draw or paint about my cult experience until the call for submissions came for the first Phoenix Project many years” after she left the Unification Church with the help of friends. While sketching my three rough pieces entitled Entry, In the Cult, and Exit, I tried to capture my feelings and experience in visual form. Although I was not impressed with the finished pieces, I found the process to be very healing and cathartic. It has been especially gratifying to find that others were touched by, and could relate to my works. Christine lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband, Jeff. She works as a teacher’s assistant and is the mother of two grown sons and a teenage daughter. She has appeared on television and in a film on ex-members, and has produced painting during church services and in exhibition.

Kristen Skedgell DeVoe, MDiv, LCSW, is a clinical social worker. After leaving The Way, she earned a master's in divinity from Yale Divinity School and an MS in social work from Columbia. She is the author of Losing the Way: A Memoir of Spiritual Longing, Manipulation, Abuse, and Escape (Bay Tree Publishing, 2008).

Carolyn Jervis
is an Art History Masters student at the University of British Columbia in the Critical and Curatorial Studies Program. Her research interests include the visual and material culture of cult and alternative religious groups, particularly of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as contemporary video art that explores the place of the everyday in a techno-global capitalist world. Professionally, Carolyn is a curator, creative consultant, and freelance art writer who has worked in the visual arts community in Edmonton, Alberta for many years. Her curatorial projects include a nationally-exhibited participatory art installation and her consulting work includes assisting the creation of exhibition space for an art therapy and creative arts-focused college.

Angie "Vennie" Kocsis
is a writer, poet, artist and nu-folk singer. She draws her inspiration not only from the world around her, but from her unique experiences as an abused child growing up in Sam Fife's Move of God cult from 1973-1983, ages 3-14. Vennie is outspoken about her experiences suffering severe physical, sexual and mental abuse including, but not limited to demon possession casting out sessions, beatings, violation of human rights by withholding food and sleep, regimented and harsh daily environments as well as religious brainwashing and mind control. Vennie's life in this cult started in Massachusetts and ended in Alaska until her family was ex-communicated from the cult. Transitioning to life outside of the cult was a difficult adjustment. Vennie had to learn simple things like how to shop in stores, or what current trending music and television shows were, something she and her siblings had never even been exposed to. She struggled with understanding having basic social connections and many other life skills which caused integrating into a secular society quite emotionally painful. Vennie went on to study creative writing, art and music, and through these outlets was able to find deep healing and balance in her adult life. Her passion is centered around supporting creative outlets for survivors of abuse. She believes that having creative outlets and understanding how to utilize them as tools to express emotion can give abuse survivors a tangible way to transfer their pain to a medium. Vennie's Books are available on and Cult Child, view the book trailer at:
Dusted Shelves; memoir of a cult child, and Becoming Gratitude.

April Marten
is a multimedia artist whose current body of work encompasses performance art, sculpture, book arts and collage. Born into a high control religious group, in Miami, Florida, much of her young adult life was spent escaping religious indoctrination and oppression. She studied at Kennesaw State University's School of Art and Design, graduating Magna Cum Laude with a BFA concentration in Painting and Drawing. Through a full time social and studio art practice, Marten explores religious culture and identity, using art as a catalyst for dialogue and healing. She pushes the boundaries of media while developing her unique visual and conceptual vocabulary. Elements of sacred text and universal themes relating to patriarchy, religious extremism, and social control appear throughout her body of work.

Nori Muster, MS,
is the author of Betrayal of the Spirit: My Life Behind the Headlines of the Hare Krishna Movement (University of Illinois Press, 1997), Cult Survivors Handbook: Seven Paths to an Authentic Life (2000), and Child of the Cult (2010). She was an ISKCON member from 1978 – 1988, then earned her master's degree at Western Oregon University in 1992 doing art therapy with juvenile sex offenders. She is currently an adjunct professor at Mesa Community College, in Mesa, Arizona.

Diana Pletts, MA
, since 2006 has directed and coordinated The Phoenix Project, which provides a time, space, and place for cult survivors to present their cult and recovery related artwork. Diana is working, herself, to regain and work out her own artistic vision, which was abandoned when she became a member of the Path, a charismatic End-Times group. Diana went to Wellspring for post-cult counseling help in 1999. She then returned to college to complete her cult interrupted undergraduate degree and a master's in communication, writing a thesis project for a cult education information campaign. Diana has spoken on cults at colleges and churches, on the radio, and at Chautauqua Institution in New York State. She also edits the Arts and Literary section of ICSA Today. She has worked as a writer and adjunct college professor. Diana has four adult children and enjoys photography, flowers, and her family and friends.

Joseph Szimhart
began research into cultic influence in 1980, after ending his two-year devotion to a New Age sect called Church Universal and Triumphant. He began to work professionally as an intervention specialist and exit counselor in 1986 on an international scale. From 1985 through 1992, he was chairman of an interdenominational, cult information organization in New Mexico. Since 1998 he has worked in the crisis department of a psychiatric emergency hospital in Pennsylvania. He continues to assist families with interventions and former members in recovery, including consultations via phone and Internet. He maintains a cult informational website, lectures, consults for the media, and has published articles, book reviews, and papers related to the cult problem. His first novel, Mushroom Satori: The Cult Diary, was released in 2013 through Aperture Press.