Story by Derek Langhorn
Veterans, community members, and staff and students at Whatcom Community College are collaborating to create art and raise awareness of the struggles of veterans through Whatcom’sVet Art Project.
The mission of the Vet Art Project, according to their website, is to provide opportunities for veterans and their families to work in collaboration with artists to create art about war and service, and to foster discussion about how these concepts affect everyone.
“We want to give veterans an outlet to express themselves,” said Whatcom staff member Catherine Chambers, who is heading the Whatcom Vet Art Project alongside colleagues Rob Beishline and Mary Hammerbeck.
The Vet Art Project, founded in Chicago in 2007 by artist Lisa Rosenthal, has been adopted in cities across the nation, such as Seattle and Pittsburg.
As a part of the mission of the Whatcom Vet Art Project, Chambers said shehopes to “have workshops of different mediums and let participants explore those mediums.”
Chambers said that she hopes veterans exploring these artistic mediums will be able to process some of the emotions that they may have from war-time experiences in different ways.
Visual art is not the only way to process these emotions, Chambers said.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be art, it can be anything that you are passionate about,” Chambers said. “It could be music, it could be movement, it could be anything.”
The Whatcom Vet Art Project plans to have a year-end art show to display the work that the members created, Chambers said. “We are just going to see where it takes us,” she said.
Tyler Herbolsheimer, a Whatcom student and member of the Whatcom Vet Art Project, said he wanted to get involved because almost every male in his family is a member of the armed services.
“In a way, I am giving back to them,” Herbolsheimer said.
Herbolsheimer said he sees the Vet Art Project as beneficial for veterans and their families. “For veterans, it is a way for them to let off steam,” he said. “For family, it is a way to see from their point of view.”
Engaging in art “allows people to express themselves in a way that is not readily available to put into words,” Herbolsheimer said. “[It is] a way of meditation—of coping with the bad, and bringing in the good.”
Another project member, Alan Stanchi, is a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Whatcom student. He said he got involved with the project because he wanted “to make sure the veteran’s voice would be heard.”
“[The] goal is to communicate to non-veterans and students what it means to have served and seen combat, and inflect that experience,” Stanchi said.
He said that the Vet Art Project can “uplift the warrior” and help veterans “work through war trauma.”
Stanchi said he wants to relay the message “honor the warrior, not the war” through his artwork, and said that he wants to “take politics and everything aside,” and just communicate the veteran’s experience.
“If you can’t express things, or feel inhibited to express, this is a great medium,” Stanchi said.
Isolation is a major issue that veterans deal with, Stanchi said, and he hopes that through the Vet Art Project, they can “create awareness—and bring people in from isolation [and] a fear of judgment.”
Expressing yourself “is more freeing in a non-judgmental medium,” Stanchi said. “It is important to be able to express these things.”