As a veteran artist I have constantly been in search for a way to pay it forward in the veteran community. It is hard work to market your own material, network and keep up in a competitive industry like art. As I neared two years of working alone, I came across the Veteran Artist Program (VAP); when I submitted art for a show they were producing, titled Remembering, which was spearheaded by Erin Byers.
I was excited about their vision- propelling artists into mainstream arts community. As I explored their work and mission; I found out that they have four unique parts within their organization VAP VIS, VAP VOS, Telling and The 6th Branch. I was impressed with what they were accomplishing and their future goals.
I contacted them to ask if there was a way I could volunteer or help out in the organization; and I was greeted with a warm, enthusiastic reception from BR McDonald, the director of the Veteran Artist Program. I was instantly made a part of the team (a wonderful team, I may add) and began tackling social media and partnership building for them.
It has been several months since I have started working with this talented team and incredible organization. It has taught me a lot on the social media front, partnership building, networking, collaboration and art. However, most importantly, it has called me back to the true meaning of servant leadership.
What I have found that stands out the most about this organization is their willingness to lead as servants. All of these individuals are incredible people, living full lives with jobs, families and other interests that compete for their attention; yet, they inevitably dedicate countless hours of giving back to the community through art and service.
The first week I worked for them, they were doing a community project in East Oliver, a neighborhood known for its rundown building, drug trafficking and high crime rate. The 6th Branch and VAP joined forces with a community of veterans, students and locals to tackle cleaning the neighborhood, planting trees and creating a mural. The mural was a piece designed by a Jake, a local VAP artist and Michael, an artist with the Baltimore Love Project in Baltimore, MD.
I was informed that this was one of the many projects that they would be participating in over the next year; as they commit to taking back the Oliver neighborhood and creating a better city, for everyone. I was touched by this project. I was also touched by the collaboration from so many different stakeholders. It is one thing to tackle something on your own, it’s another thing to orchestrate and maintain the energy of a whole community to support a vision.
In January 2012, Veteran Artist Program has a performance taking place called The Telling Project. This project, created by Jonathan Wei and produced by BR McDonald, has been a huge success in the Maryland area. The Telling Project has given veterans and veteran family members the opportunity to tell their stories.
In this moving performance, these individuals invite you into their lives and ask you to bear witness. The testament to this incredible performance is not just how the audience walks away satisfied and more knowledgeable on the military but in the work that takes place behind the scenes. It has led to lifelong friendship and healing. It has also given these individuals a platform to have their voice heard; while providing them the opportunity to learn the skill of articulating their story in front of an audience.
As I head into the New Year, it is an incredible time for the Veteran Artist Program. The goals that have been set and surpassed in 2011, are leading the organization into 2012 with many exciting plans. The organization is expanding its team and partners, collaborating with new stakeholders and touching the lives of veterans and their families in ways that were never expected. As I move forward as a part of the Veteran Artist Team, I continue to remind myself it’s an honor to be a part of such an outstanding organization. However, the greatest gift remains touching the lives of veterans and their families through community service and art.
Social Media and Partnership Liaison
Veteran Artist Program (VAP)