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Creative pathways for veterans and service members at MAC

June 17, 2022

According to the Military Veteran Project and the VA, art has enormous value in creating connections, building self-esteem, increasing resilience and reducing stress. While arts programming thrives in communities across the nation arts classes are out of reach for many veterans and service members.  

“Arts in Service is important because the impact is so much more than artmaking, which is already powerful. Through Arts in Service, a community of vets and service members has been created, and they know that Mesa Arts Center has the skills and knowledge to create a space that’s inviting for this audience. And the program is completely free – so there’s no risk in trying to learn something new or pursue a passion you couldn’t before,” said Laura Wilde, Arts Studio Manager “I think this is what distinguishes Arts in Service from other programs, thanks to our amazing sponsors, all the participants in Arts in Service receive free steel for their sculptures, or copper for their jewelry, or paint brushes for their paintings. We do our best to ensure there is nothing to prevent someone who wants to participate from taking an Arts in Service class”.

Arts in Service was first conceptualized in 2017.

“There are over 600,000 service members, veterans, and their families in Arizona alone. We started conversations with the Boeing Company which supported the development of the program and the first-ever spring semester of Arts in Service. After that initial semester and first-ever exhibition, the response was overwhelmingly positive. We realized that with more teaching artists and funding, we could make Arts in Service a year-round program. And it turns out we had several vets in our classes already, but we didn’t know until this program came about and recognized them as courageous individuals who had served our country," said Wilde.

In 2018, Mesa Arts Center officially launched Arts in Service. The program provides creative pathways for veterans and service members to use studio art experiences to reach their personal goals, whether those are finding a supportive community, stress relief, working toward overall health and wellness, or pursuing career interests in artmaking. 

Educational studio art classes include printmaking, ceramics, welding, jewelry, painting, glass flamework and more.

“The best part for me is getting to know the participants and popping into class and seeing these incredibly creative and quality works of art. Especially for the folks who have come back more than once. We had our first-ever knife and first-ever stained-glass submissions at the closing exhibition this year. And for me, that was amazing to see because it’s a testament to how much participants have learned, where they’ve allowed their creativity to take them, and reinforces what an amazing impact this program can have on participants,” said Wilde.

Over eight weeks, veterans and service members who represent all five branches and generations of service, work together with skilled teaching artists to learn new artmaking skills and to create art, then publicly exhibit their creations at a culminating community celebration.

“This program is for anyone who has ever marveled at a work of art and wondered if they could make something similar. Or for someone who wants to do something, just for them, in a supportive environment. Or someone who just needs a way to connect with other vets while doing something fun. I know art can maybe be intimidating or someone may think “that’s not for me”, but a lot of beginner projects have practical uses – like glass pendants, ceramic cups, or jewelry,” said Wilde.

In our first year, we served more than 300 veterans and service members through 24 free art classes and the program has grown and expanded since then.

“I’m really excited for our family day activities, which we’ll debut at the Open House on Saturday, June 25. These activities will be designed for spouses/partners and children of service members and veterans. Military families also serve and we want to recognize their contributions. We hope to do Family Days four times a year once fully launched. And I’m thrilled to share that we’ve trained and brought on more amazing teaching artists who will allow us to offer both Beginning and Advanced Welding in the fall, in addition to longer Arts in Service glass blowing courses, more painting classes and more jewelry classes as well. Plus, we’ve got screenwriting for the first time since 2019 starting in the fall as well,” said Wilde.

Any new participants will get priority registration at the Open House, Wilde encourages anyone who has ever been interested to come, grab a snack, learn about the program, meet our teaching artists and community partners, and sign up for their first Arts in Service class!

Arts in Service Open House | Mesa Arts Center | Saturday, June 25 | 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

Free to General Public

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