You wouldn’t expect to find a beautiful mural sparking conversations in an otherwise dull and dreary space. Here, in a long hallway that sees hundreds of Veterans each day is the blank canvas upon which a new project is garnering attention. Between a main hospital and a long-term residential care facility, Veterans who are adapting to new limbs, new lives and new outcomes travel to their routine appointments. The bland and monotonous is transforming into a vibrant area, one effort closer to becoming a Veterans Art Gallery. The mural emphasizes each of the five branches of service, acknowledging the cooperative efforts made in both times of war and peace. This mural is a cooperative effort between Veterans and volunteer artists. Soon, the incorporation of additional murals will reflect themes of service, historical events and current events. Interspersed between the murals will be three dimensional art pieces, handicrafts and framed art created by Veterans. This art gallery will have the capacity to change exhibits and host events, welcoming the surrounding community to its space. Here, at the Charles George Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Asheville, North Carolina, in the top rated facility in the entire VA hospital system, art is reflecting life.
As the young child of a WWII Veteran, I missed the opportunities to listen intently to my father’s stories of service. Now, as an adult, I have a passion to give Veterans the opportunity to share their experiences in a meaningful and tangible way. It is my belief that every person has artistic ability that can be nurtured. Beginning in June 2017, an opportunity was extended to Veterans and those who are a part of their lives to participate in the retelling and sharing of their personal stories. I created "Story Art Class" and brought it to the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville on a volunteer basis. In this class Veterans get the opportunity to design a cover for their own memoir and focus on the things they would like to pass to others. Many of these participants profess little to no artistic talent; however, with the coaxing and experience extended by Rebekah Wiggins, The facilities resident art therapist and myself, their skills are budding. The art, itself, is the tangible outcome of a process that encourages expression, feelings and concern. Laughing, crying and experiencing the powerful therapeutic transformation these efforts have effected have been exceptional. Watching Veterans move from silence to vibrant conversation has been powerful.
The second wall in the hospital tunnel includes three murals depicting images of the history of the Charles George VA Medical Center going back to 1918. These were to commemorate the one hundred year anniversary. These murals were completed at the end of 2018.
One of the longer walls in the tunnel will include 8 murals depicting history from the Great War (WWI) thru the Afghanistan War. Many of the images are inspired by personal accounts from local Veterans. In addition are images of little known events.
The Charles George VA Medical Center recently had a Mural Dedication in coordinating with National Salute to Veterans Arts day.
We had more than forty Veterans, non military volunteers and VA staff get a jump start on four of the history mural panels. It was like a flash mob of painting.
The longest wall, over 100 feet, will include the individual collaborations with the Veteran community. I am working with Veteran support groups, VA staff from all divisions of the hospital and VA community partners.
While working with the Veterans I have witnessed some amazing healing experiences. Art therapy provides a way to express feelings and experiences that are difficult to express verbally. We leave space for the Vets to openly talk about their story and many times they do, sometimes triggering memories that were long forgotten. Many in the group have bonded, which makes opening up easier. For the Veterans in extended care art therapy helps enhance quality of life by providing a meaningful vocation to increase self-esteem and a sense of self-worth. While working with Vets with emotional trauma I see art therapy as a way to focus on a project that can take them to a place mentally that is less stressful. When you can create something it can also empower you to do other things in your life.
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