Celebrating Military Veterans Through the Arts
Writer / Kara Reibel
Broad Ripple restauranteur Chuck Mack is a disabled Vietnam veteran. Having served in the Marines, Mack knows the challenges veterans face as they return home, whether injuries are evident or not.
Dedicated to helping veterans get ahead, Mack’s latest effort involves promotion of military veteran artists. “The Coffee House is now doubling as an art gallery,” said Mack, who is displaying artwork for sale by veterans or people who support veterans at the Coffee House adjacent to his restaurant, Moe & Johnny’s.
Teaming with art curator and fellow military veteran, Paul Richard, the interior walls of the Coffee House are now adorned like a professional art gallery. This is the first gallery showing at Mack’s restaurant, creating awareness of military veteran artists. Currently, the featured artist is Vietnam veteran, Tim Hildebrandt.
Hildebrandt is a Vietnam veteran and Herron graduate. Of his art, he says, “Many people ask what a painting means and I always say, ‘Let it speak for itself.’ A painting is like music, or poetry; it’s not a medium that can be explained with words. It must be experienced visually. It must be seen to be appreciated.”
Mack and Richard are totally engaged in helping veterans, which led them to create Veterans Antiquities.
In 2014, Veterans Antiquities partnered with VSA Indiana. VSAI is a member of the VSA Affiliate Network, a program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Veterans Antiquities asked VSAI to be their non-for-profit fiscal agent. Last year the two groups partnered for War and Peace: The Veteran’s Art Project. War and Peace was designed to increase awareness about the diversity of artists within our community and featured an exhibit of art created by military veterans, as well as experiential workshops for VSAI’s students.
VSAI was created in 1982 to provide access to the arts for people with disabilities. Facilitated through professional teaching artists, VSAI offers a variety of arts education programs in schools, hospitals, camps, community centers and onsite in their adaptive studios. Their programs are designed to serve students of all ages, all abilities and all around our state.
Director of Grants and Marketing Lydia Campbell-Maher says, “VSAI and Veteran Antiquities share the vision of creating a more inclusive community by awakening an appreciation for the artistic contributions of people with disabilities.”
“We believe that participation in the arts creates opportunities for individual accomplishments and promotes self-confidence. Through over 30 years of programming, we have witnessed the transformative power of the arts, which transcends differences and evokes social change,” said Campbell-Maher.
One of the teaching artists for VSAI is Mark Smith. Smith, an Iraq veteran, was a medic for a Stryker Brigade as part of the Army 25th Infantry Division. Smith has a graduate degree in anthropology of art. Smith is working on an educational program for woodworking – blacksmithing, traditional and welders certification. With emphasis on arts, Smith has created a creative environment for himself and his workers, all of whom are combat veterans.
“We are creating a veteran-centric nonprofit that helps to engage disabled veterans in a creative process,” said Richard. “We have created an assembly line, working with other veterans, who are building furniture, creating art, music, whatever is healing for them. We want to help through art-based enterprise.”
When Richard was in the service, he was amazed by the incredibly talented people he was surrounded by. “I was like ‘wow, where did these people come from?’ We were all drafted,” said Richard. “They were writing, they were conducting music, writing music, and war can take away some of the elements of creativity. We want to help re-light that spark.”
Veterans Antiquities connected with Juliet King, art therapy director and assistant professor at Herron School of Art and Design, IUPUI adjunct assistant professor, department of neurology, Indiana University School of Medicine. Both Veteran Antiquities and King are focused on the healing potential through arts.
“We are the practitioners, not scientists. We just want to help people who are artists, writers, poets, and help them use their talents to get back into the groove,” said Mack of Veterans Antiquities.
King moved to Indianapolis to develop a graduate art therapy program at Herron School of Art. A thorough training is required to become an art therapist. Herron’s program is a 60 credit hour master’s program made up of courses in psychology, human development, creativity theory and symbolism, which have a theoretic foundation and a scientific underpinning. The degree incorporates 1,000 hours of clinical internship experience.
“Although Chuck’s program is not a clinical internship potential for graduate students, it might become a program that has great research potential, which would be a win-win for both Herron’s program and Veteran Antiquities,” said King. “I like to describe therapeutic arts, like Veterans Antiquities, and the profession of art therapy as a continuum, where people engage in making art, and it is a healing process on one end and the other is the clinical and psychotherapeutic practice of art therapy. Engaging in the art making process gives a person different focus, which is often accompanied by an increased self esteem and sense of self worth.”
Given the interest in helping veterans, King is working to create potential programs with art therapy around the city. King moved to Indianapolis from Philadelphia where she taught previously at Drexel University. “There are about 1,200 art therapists in Philadelphia and the tri-state area. In Indiana, there are approximately 30 in the entire state,” said King.
Herron Art Therapy worked with WFYI and the Kurt Vonnegut Museum to receive a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to create a multi-media campaign for veterans and the arts. Veterans Antiquities provided all of the art for a fundraising event in this context and is an important part of the community.
Another shared venture was the Herron School of Art sponsored Combat Paper Project. Military veteran Drew Cameron put together a unique workshop experience where veterans brought in their old military uniforms. The uniforms are taken apart and turned into paper, then the veterans created art on the paper. Members from the Veteran Antiquities participated in this as well.
Through therapeutics, veterans are not only finding a healthy outlet of expressing their creativity, but exploring career options. They are helping others and in turn, helping themselves.
On April 9, Veterans Antiquities is celebrating the artwork of Tim Hildebrandt at The Coffee House, 7 p.m. Later in April, Veteran Antiquities will welcome a new exhibit celebrating the art of John Brooks.
For more information on VSA Indiana, please visit: www.vsai.org.
Herron School of Art Therapy: herron.iupui.edu/art-therapy
And for Mark Smith’s information visit, backyardfarmusa.com.