Veterans: Experience & Expression is an exhibition featuring artwork created by military veterans who recently participated in the Oklahoma Arts Council’s pilot program at the Norman Veterans Center.
The Oklahoma Arts Council launched the Oklahoma Arts and the Military Initiative in 2015 as a strategic effort directed at meeting the needs of Oklahoma’s military community through the arts. Through the initiative, the Oklahoma Arts Council aims to serve active duty personnel, veterans, guardsmen and reservists, military family members, caregivers, and others.
As the first major project of the initiative, the 2016 pilot program at the Norman Veterans Center was established through a partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs and the Norman Firehouse Art Center and included three 10-week college-level courses for residents of the center. Led by professional teaching artists, courses were offered in photography, creative writing, and visual art. Special sessions in creative writing and visual art were offered for residents with dementia.
As a case study, the pilot program has aided in tailoring potential training opportunities for Oklahoma teaching artists, and has served as a model for individuals and organizations to use in creating programs that serve the military population in their own communities.
A labor of love, the pilot program centered on a formal assessment of the effects of hands-on arts engagement by Norman Veterans Center residents. On initial observation, the benefits of the program were immediately and abundantly clear. Though conclusions from a formal analysis are currently pending, based on observation, the results of the arts courses in photography, creative writing, and visual art appear to echo the substantial body of research on the positive effects of arts engagement. The college-level courses, led by professional teaching artists, nurtured self-expression and allowed veteran participants to unlock long-dormant stories. Family members of veteran center residents with dementia reconnected with loved ones. Tears were shed and laughter was shared. Watching as participants traded trade isolation for socialization, reengaging with peers, community members, volunteers, and family members, the experience was emboldening to all involved.
The final artwork displayed in this exhibition emphasizes the self-expression, creativity, and accomplishment of the veterans who participated and whose lives were ideally enriched through the pilot arts program.