Something very special happened at the 2013 Maryland Arts Day in Annapolis. It was a spontaneous standing ovation from the crowd of nearly 400 arts professionals from all over the state. The ovation was not for a Hollywood star, nor a seasoned lawmaker, nor a favorite professional athlete. No, on that day, the ovation was for four men and one woman. These were regular people, people who in fact studied art and voice and film in college, and the in the wake of September 11, 2001, a fierce sense of duty clicked in. They put their art on hold and served their country. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines were all represented in this unassuming group of heroes. These five individuals are founding members of the Veteran Artist Program (VAP), a nonprofit organization based in Baltimore, whose mission is simply “to foster, encourage and promote Veteran artists.” VAP reconnects the artist in the warrior to the mainstream arts community through mentorship, networking, collaborations with professional artists and arts organizations, and through original productions.
My first introduction to VAP was at one of these original productions. “The Telling Project” directed by VAP Founder BR McDonald, was performed all over Maryland in 2011 and the first part of 2012. Put simply, this work was a collection of stories from service members, woven together into a script, and then rehearsed and performed by the same service members. There was no sugar coating. This was an opportunity for the citizens of Maryland to hear firsthand about the experiences of our men and women in uniform (and, in this case, from their families too.) VAP is also currently engaged in a juried exhibition process for a major show of veteran artwork which will hang in the Pentagon in Arlington, VA. Using all artistic disciplines, VAP is one of many organizations springing up around the country whose primary purpose is to use the arts to help veterans “re-enter”. Helping our veterans re-connect to home is work we should all be engaged in.
It was Maryland Citizens for the Arts’ (MCA) Board Chair, Doug Mann, who first suggested we should find a way for the arts sector to honor our veterans at the 2013 Maryland Arts Day. When I mentioned my experience with VAP it was obvious that we would involve them. With VAP, we had an opportunity not just to honor, but to engage, promote and collaborate with veterans through our everyday work. It was the perfect partnership. VAP is just three years old and although they have had many large scale successes already, Maryland Arts Day was the ideal venue to connect them to the creative and diverse organizations from every corner of our state.