27 February 2009

Ripple Effects of the Vet Art Project Incubator at the Chicago Cultural Center

Here are some interesting ripples in the Chicago Community caused by the Vet Art Project:

2 people were so inspired by the program they are now going to volunteer at their local VA

DCA Theater is now permanently offering a discount ticket price to all veterans

Many veterans are calling to participate in the next project

Many people are asking where they can see this performance because they're sorry they missed it. (Sorry, this was a single night performance unless . . . anyone interested in remounting this?)

We now have a mailing list.

Do you know of a ripple effect? Please add it to the comments!

Here are some kind words of support we've received to date:

"It was an honor to work with professionals who really, truly and genuinely care about veterans and their lives. It's a great start to reaching out to other veterans and people." --Bill Crist, Vietnam Veteran

"Thank you so very much for letting us participate in this incredible program. You did a hell of a job many can be very proud of!" -- Bob Curry, Vietnam Veteran, Founder dryhootch.org

"They were all moving, riveting, resounding, stirring, saddening, maddening. You have given us a great gift with your vision." --Ilona Meagher, author of Moving a Nation to Care, ptsdcombat.blogspot.com

"All of my students were moved, amazed, and surprised by their trip to the Vet Arts Project performance." --Carolyn Hoerdemann, DePaul instructor, actress, artist participant in the Vet Art Project
"I was so deeply moved by Monday night. There were so many moments that touched me so deeply. This work is so important. Thank you!! I have always  believed Theater, and Art in any form, has the power to transform the world." --Rohina, solo artist

"I just wish there was another performance because I've been telling everyone about it, and I think there are so many people who need to see it. " --Dawn Leader-Peloso, writer, DePaul graduate student

"What an amazing accomplishment and turn out. . . . I was so inspired that I called Jesse Brown VA Hospital and asked about volunteering." --Jennifer Miller, writer, yoga instructor in training

"You did such a beautiful job on the Vet Art Project and performance. It was so moving to see the culmination of all your work on this journey. Sending you, the project's artists, and most importantly the veterans, a sincere thank you for this amazing collaboration and sharing these vital, haunting, spirited stories with us." --Cynthia Frahm, Development Director, Chicago Dramatists

"A fabulous and inspirational evening. It seems that what can be a somewhat touchy and cautious topic was opened up with dignity and grace. . . . I was deeply moved." --Gail Adduci, Dance/Movement Therapist who has worked with Veterans & whose brother is an OIF Veteran

"That was an AWESOME event last night. . . . A reminder that as individuals we can all make a difference. Well done!" --Diane J. Rakocy, writer, visual artist, and Vet Art Project artist participant

"It was an amazing experience to engage in community building with other artists who work in other media with a much, much larger purpose in mind." Suellen Semekoski, adjunct faculty member, School of the Art Institute and Vet Art Project artist participant

"WOW that was so moving on Monday night. . . . Thank you for all the love you have shared!" --Kathleen Nesbitt, writer, writing coach, and Vet Art Project artist participant

Vet Art Project Incubator at Chicago Cultural Center--BY THE NUMBERS

As we take time to assess the amazing community we gathered in the Studio Theater for programs and the Preston Bradley Hall performance of New Art About War last Monday, I want to share some figures with you:

30       Number of Veteran Participants

>60    Number of Artist Participants

>240   Number of People Who Attended Community Building Workshops & Creative Arts Programming as part of the Vet Art Project (in the first two weeks & final day of programming)

230    Number of People Who Attended the New Art About War Performance on 02.23.09

We also are receiving many grateful e-mails from audience members. I'll post these soon.

Impressions After Witnessing the New Art About War Performance by the Vet Art Project

Two friends & I were impressed by the art work, short plays and essays performed for the Vet Arts Project at the Chicago Cultural Center last Tuesday.

It was so good to see Lisa Rosenthal, the creator/leader, at the end of the program, call to the stage all the people involved in
the production. What a work of art to coordinate this varied group.

I have been thinking about the different pieces such as the female veteran of the Iraq conflict and the father struggling to understand both the loss of his older brother in the Vietnam war and his son preparing to be a Navy Seal.

Only Lisa Rosenthal could lead artists to explore this troubling, difficult part of our existence as North American U. S. citizens.

I was glad to see Ted Hogarth, a skilled saxophonist perform with the veteran inspired musical group toward the end of the program.

I am grateful to have experienced the Vet Arts Project and share it with others.


26 February 2009

25 February 2009

A Letter to the Editor about the Vet Art Project Performance on Monday Night

Here's a letter to the editor that one audience member wrote and sent to the Chicago papers. Let's hope his voice is picked up in news print. He writes . . .

On Monday evening, February 23rd, I was one of over 200 people who attended the Vet Art Project performance as part of the Incubator Series at the Chicago Cultural Center. As the brainchild of Lisa Rosenthal, the Vet Art Project creates opportunities for veterans to work in collaboration with artists from all disciplines to create new art about war for public performance and viewing. The Vet Art Project's mission states: "The Vet Art Project is based on the belief that we must talk of war to think of peace, and an understanding that it is our veterans who will lead the way." The evening, entitled "New Art About War," included 19 staged performances including poetry, short plays, dance, and music. There was also a gallery full of haunting visual art and a film that was being screened as the audience filtered in.

As I took in the various works I was struck by the clarity with which these veterans expressed themselves, unapologetically sharing their fear, shame, guilt, and grief. They spoke of their experiences in war, the difficulties of returning home and the pride they feel for their country and its citizens. It was amazing to see the catharsis these veterans were able to achieve when given the proper outlet, and I can only imagine what kind of relief was provided to them via this opportunity. I wonder what the effect would be if warriors in more oppressed parts of the world were given an audience and a chance to strike out with their voices rather than their weapons.  --Dave Strong

23 February 2009

Tonight's the Night!

We are in the middle of preparing for tonight's performance. We've been gifted the space of Preston Bradley Hall and we continue to get reservations, now approaching 250. The community is embracing the project and we are very grateful. And I am grateful by the many gifts this project has brought into my life and the lives of all the participants:
new sources of support
new understanding
new career directions
new insights
new commitments
new partnerships
new friendships
Please join us this evening. It is the next step in the journey. A journey that will continue.
We do receive
Peace through Art,

"It's awesome. It's fantastic. I'm glad to be a part of it."
"Talking to people, not being judged, it's been great."
--Matt Ping, OEF veteran

"I'm just in awe. The support from friends and family for this project has meant the world to me, and restored my faith in humanity."
--Jessa Carlstrom, uber artist and Vet Art co-facilitator

Inspired by a Veteran--One Story Among Many

The stories of our Vet Art participant veterans are powerful in their re-creations of the daily tragedies of war. Not only has the Vet Art Project stirred up many war-related memories in my mind, it has rekindled a desire to be more politically active. I am grateful to a veteran who inspired me to write a letter to President Obama about the purpose of the current wars.

In a recent Newsweek article entitled "Obama's Vietnam," (02.09.09), I was struck by the article's comparison of our current wars to the horrific situation my generation faced in Vietnam. Military expert Douglas Lute's statement that the U.S. has "never been beaten tactically in a fire fight in Afghanistan" is akin to the Vietnam era military expert Harry Summers' exchange with a North Vietnamese Army expert. When Summers had stated "you never defeated us in the field," the Vietnamese military officer simply replied, "That may be true. It is also irrelevant."

It is time for the U.S. to be "relevant" on so many fronts.

--Janis Clark Johnston

20 February 2009

The Good News at 6:14 a.m.

The excitement and the work rattled my bones awake this morning. Again. I walked up to my Studio to get some work done, to meditate, and hopefully soon, to get more than 4 hours of sleep. Before beginning my journey back to bed I checked the DCA Box Office for the number of tickets available to the Vet Art Project performance this Monday. Two days ago the DCA Theater staff offered us the magnificent venue of Preston Bradley Hall because we sold out the maximum number of seats that would fit in the Studio Theater space (99). Two days ago the set up of 200 seats showed 99 were available. Yesterday it hovered around 60-seats remaining. Now, at this early morning hour, there are 34 seats remaining. The word is spreading. The people are coming. We will have a fine and large community gather together to witness the stories.
I'm so proud of all of us--the veterans, the artists, the community members who have gathered together over the past month to witness the stories of those who serve us in the armed forces. We gather in their name. We gather in our name. We gather together to remember those we have lost and to honor those we are fighting not to lose. This is testament to people waking up and realizing that war affects us all and it the warriors who will lead us to peace if we give them our time and attention. We are a community. And we are growing ever stronger. Now I can hear the drums calling us not to war, but to peace. Now.

18 February 2009

My Dad's Stories, Contributed by Dani Brzozowski

My dad and I only rarely have fruitful conversations. When we do, they're frequently, morbidly, pragmatically, about his mortality, and the steps I (and my expert opinion--honed from WebMD and Reader's Digest) suggest to delay said mortality. It is out of the ordinary for us to discuss much beyond the trans fat content of a bag of pretzels. I occasionally call him out on his erratic behavior, and even more occasionally, he responds with less an explanation of the cause of his behavior and more a reminder that he loves my mother, he loves me, etc.
He knows he has PTSD and we all know, too. But none of us knows what it means for him or for any of us. It's less an elephant in the room and more the room itself, all of us living in it, unsure of ourselves, in the cavernous confines, echoing space PTSD opens up.
Dad has been a soldier ever since I can remember and, as his retirement draws near (he swears this time it's for real, this time he won't chicken out), he's turned reflective, opening up in a way that is at once fascinating and uncomfortable.
His stories are my stories, and hearing these stories is essential--it's how I build out my personal history, the sage of my family. As a writer, being denied these stories has always pained me. I (selfishly) thought it was unfair for them to be withheld, thought he was being cruel by keeping from me the secrets that I thought held the key to his identity and subsequently my own.
Working with the Vet Art Project gave me the opportunity to confront some of those secrets, to discover things about my DAd I didn't know. It gave me a chance to have a fruitful, honest conversation with him , and it forced me to be honest with myself. His stories do not belong to me. They belong to him and him alone, and I know now that this, not selfishness, not cruelty, is why he hasn't shared them before.
I know there are hundreds of secrets he clings to, dozens he'll probably never let go of, but I'm grateful to have witnessed the stories he's been willing to share, and I'll continue to keep my ears perked up, just in case he decides to share again.

11 February 2009

Midway Reflections

The Vet Art Project is about midway through our time in the Studio Theater and the gifts are many. Some incredible things are happening. Connections among the veterans are being built and between veterans and artists, between veterans and those who are still active in their service. Decades may separate the veterans yet many elements of their journeys are the same: estrangement from self, from others, a shattered self, the loss of one's soul. We paint it, we draw it, we create collages based on it, we discuss it, we write about it. The artists are learning a great deal, too, and we share it and will continue to share it, as we receive the blessings of community and connection. This experience has changed the lives of many--not just the veterans but the artists as well.
We look forward to sharing the results with the wider community at the performance on 2.23 @ 7:30 p.m. followed by a talkback.

07 February 2009

Amazing Moments in the Vet Art Project

As the first week of the Vet Art Project draws near, we have shared many moments of great insight and witnessed many precious jewels revealed. I invite you to add your favorites here. Here's my list so far:
--The reverent silence of the artists the first night when Bob and John from Dryhootch.org opened up and shared their life journeys and their challenges with PTSD.
--Hearing two male combat veterans thank another female veteran for her service, off the field of combat, and letting her know that her service was equally as valuable.
--Witnessing the stories of two combat veterans, whose experiences are separated by 40 years, yet their journeys back are similar.
--A female veteran opening up to share her story with a reporter while she made a collage in words and pictures
[The pictured image was created by Christina Reddington, RN, the facilitator of the Picture Stories of War program.]

06 February 2009

First Night Reflections--on last Tuesday

The artists' orientation began the Vet Art Project with nearly 40 artists sharing different stories and reasons for getting involved in the project. The room felt electric yet vast, widened by our various journeys to this place and time. Yet when Bob and John, two Vietnam Veterans began to share their stories of time lost and challenges they've faced due to PTSD, and how they were saved because of the kindness and support of family members and friends, we came together as one community. We gather to bare witness to these truths, to help strengthen these voices, to create art to express these feelings and realities. We realized we gathered for one purpose: to support our veterans in their truth by bringing these stories to the community and connect us all by how we are affected by war.