After the plague, came the Renaissance. So, what will the next era look like after COVID times? That’s certainly the question many are asking, including the founding members of the Veterans Art Council (VAC) in Denver.
The VAC was created in 2015 by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1 (VFW Post 1) in Denver, Colorado, and maintains the VFW Post 1’s art gallery at its headquarters, which is one of the largest galleries in the Santa Fe Art District and arguably one of the biggest showcases of veteran artwork nationally.
“Pre-COVID, the gallery saw 40,000 visitors during the First Friday art walks in 2019,” said VAC Director Jim Stevens, who is also an award-winning blind Vietnam veteran artist. “In 2020, the gallery managed to host three art walks with 4,000 visitors before it was forced to close due to the pandemic.”
The VAC encourages the artistic development of veterans by providing resources, workshops, and mentorships. Approximately 150 veterans, 80 percent of whom are disabled veterans, are the engine behind the VAC. They work in tandem to empower veterans through art, with a mission “to transform their experiences into media and contribute to the creative community, a community that enriches civic life for all citizens.”
Although the gallery is currently closed, the Post 1 Foundation, which supports the VAC’s programming, is taking the opportunity during this downtime to renovate its aging building, preparing for the next era post-pandemic. More than 80 veteran artists volunteered to help with the gallery renovations and building upgrades, donating more than 745 volunteer hours.
As the first VFW in the world, VFW Post 1 knows a little something about next eras, endurance, and reinvention. Established on the state’s capitol steps in 1899 by returning veterans of the Spanish-American War, VFW Post 1 has reinvented itself as a matter of survival, to meet the needs of its veteran members.
The reinvention has paid off – the VFW Post 1 has been nationally recognized by The New York Times and the national Veterans of Foreign Wars organization as the next “Gold Standard” VFW model, serving all generations and service backgrounds.
Gone are the days of the stereotypical smoky VFW bar catering to men. The VFW Post 1 has one of the largest female veteran memberships and has welcomed LGBTQ veterans into their family – their past Commander, John Harry, was recognized as the first openly gay VFW Commander to be elected. In addition to hosting the VAC as a home to local veteran artists, the VFW Post 1 offers yoga, healing-touch therapy sessions and is embedded within the community.
“Community outreach and integration are key for Post 1,” said Michael Mitchel, executive director of the Post 1 Foundation. “We want our Post to be seen as a dynamic veteran community center hub that welcomes other veteran service organizations and the public.”
Community integration is a focal point of the VAC. VAC artists’ work can be found in the halls of the newly opened Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center, the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic, and VAC artists are currently working with over a dozen State Representatives and Senators to place VAC artist works in their offices in the Colorado State Capital building.
The VAC also partners with many organizations and individuals to provide additional opportunities for veteran artists outside VAC’s gallery setting, hosting pop-up arts shows in many community venues. Pre-COVID, the VAC worked with the Better Business Bureau and Charles Schwab to produce videos promoting the work of the VAC with veteran artists in the community.
With less than 1 percent of Americans currently serving in the military, bridging the gap between veterans and civilians has been a cornerstone initiative of the VFW Post 1 and the VAC. The VAC welcomes civilian artists to exhibit their work in the gallery, alongside their veteran colleagues, and the First Friday Walks are open to the public.
“About 20 percent of the artists showing at VFW Post 1 are civilians. As a Vietnam vet artist, it’s wonderful to finally be respected by the civilian artist community,” said Dean Glorso, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who is a resident VAC oil painting artist. “It gives me great pleasure to be on a mutual page with both veteran and civilian artists.”
After the 9/11 attacks, Glorso had trouble concentrating and sleeping. He found solace in oil painting and joined the VAC in 2015. With the gallery currently closed, Glorso has around 70 paintings hanging in his home, waiting to be showcased and hopefully sold one day through the VAC.
“I can’t wait for COVID to lift so we can start to show our work again,” said Glorso.
Want to support the mission of the Veterans Artist Council? Contact Michael Mitchel at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how to get involved.
This article was submitted by Holli Keyser. Holli manages Communications and Marketing for the Post 1 Foundation.