The Veterans’ Mural Project is a totally volunteer art project currently underway at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, NC. Under the direction of resident volunteer artist Jim Stilwell dozens of Veterans as well as non-military members of the community have been participating. Art experience is not necessary to participate. The murals are being painted on over 200’ of wall space in the hospital. Images include stories of courage and service, the history of the hospital, personal accounts from wars and conflicts, Veteran support groups, community partners, and VA staff.
In addition to being a morale booster and fun for the Veterans this project is therapeutic, helping enhance quality of life by providing a meaningful activity to increase self-esteem, self-worth and reduce stress.
“When you can create something it can also empower you to do other things in your life.” J. Stilwell
Jim would really like to see this project in other VA hospitals and encourages those who are interested to contact him to discuss ways to proceed.
“I know that there are blank walls everywhere. What makes this project unique is it is not just an artist coming in to paint a mural. It is a community effort.” J. Stilwell
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.
Update: As of January 1, 2020, the Great War, WWII Pacific, WWII Europe and Korean War murals are complete. Vietnam War and The Cold War years are in progress with much completed and we have just started the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan War murals.
In 2019 we had about 80 individuals working on these murals. This includes Veterans at the VA Community Living Center undergoing treatments, short term and long term. Veterans from the VA support groups. In addition individuals and groups from the community including schools, colleges, and corporations have added to the effort.
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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