Veterans shown how to find their mark at art event

Adam Troxtell / The Transcript

Jason Poudrier, veteran artist and Purple Heart recipient, talks to attendees of Hitting Your Mark about the power of poetry and expression at the Thursday at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

Veterans and advocates came to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art to see what expression can do for them.

Alongside Norman Firehouse Arts Center and Military Experience & The Arts, Hitting Your Mark on Thursday invited those interested in art as a therapy to hear and see what veteran artists have achieved. They also got the chance to channel their creativity.

"Our main goal is to go out and identify veterans who potentially could use the arts, with writing and visual, to help them through everything they're working on," said Douglas Shaw Elder, Firehouse executive director and also a veteran artist. "Most of them have not been exposed to the arts. And if you're a non-veteran, there's so much need out there, and there's so much help that can be offered."

First, attendees heard a poetry reading from Jason Poudrier, a Purple Heart recipient and Pat Tillman Scholar. Poudrier spoke about the connections between what military members learned in their training and how that can be harnessed in art.

Later, Fred Jones Jr. Outreach Coordinator Amanda Boehm-Garcia showed the group work by veteran artists on display in the gallery. The artists all used their wartime experiences as inspiration, she said.

And, finally, everyone gathered inside a classroom at the Fred Jones Jr. for a quick instruction, but mostly opportunity at expression.

Boehm-Garcia said this was the second event this month the art museum has hosted involving veterans. Her father was in the Air Force, so she also has an understanding of what veterans go through.

"We all have a personal connection to this, as well," she said.

The Firehouse Arts Center already works with veterans to use art as a method of therapy, with Elder and instructor Jane Lawson both working in that area.

But he said in expanding those efforts, they don't want it to be all about therapy.

"With all of these pieces coming together, I really feel that art as healing is going to be very important. But we can't call it that," Elder said. "No one wants to show up to 'healing' class. So it needs to be more about this is self-expression. We can get physical with this, go back to our military days of one-two-three and create images you never would have guessed you would create."

This effort is picking up steam, Elder said, and Oklahoma is the ideal leader. Its large volume of veterans per capita means the need is there, and the resources can be there, too.

Elder said his message can help when it comes to arguing for funding for the National Endowment of the Arts, something that has come under scrutiny under President Donald Trump's administration. But when veterans are factored in, an argument for the NEA becomes more evident.

"If people don't grow up with the arts, it really doesn't make sense to them," Elder said. "So if I say, 'Do you care for veterans? Do you care for our military service? Let me tell you what we're doing in terms of the healing arts with these individuals.'"

Though the healing and coping power of art for veterans is just now really being explored, Boehm-Garcia said it provides a community connection that can be important for those who have just re-joined civilian life.

"It's in the beginning of the research to see how much art can really help," she said. "When we can provide a community activity, we can help them to make those connections back to the community at large."