SCHENECTADY – Art4Vets, a local organization that aims to support military veterans through creative and artistic expression, will be launching its 5th annual visual art show this Saturday at Schenectady’s C.R.E.A.T.E. Community Studios.
Art4Vets, which is sponsored by The American Legion, Zaloga Post in Albany, came to be in 2016 following the halt of certain services at Stratton VA Albany Medical Center, where Penny Lee Deere, the co-founder of Art4Vets and an Army veteran, and the two other founders of Art4Vets had been involved with therapy and other activities.
“We were saying to ourselves, ‘now what are we going to do?’” Deere said. “We felt we needed to fill a void.”
So, Deere and the other founders decided to create Art4Vets as a way for veterans to come together to share and heal from their experiences in the military through the arts and creative expression, including painting, equine therapy, yoga, meditation and music.
“When I first started music therapy, I heard one song and it just brought me to tears, so it was breaking the mold, chipping away at all this trauma,” said Deere about why the group chose to focus on the arts. “I just wanted to share it with other veterans.”
One of the main challenges that veterans face after being discharged from military service is reintegrating back into civilian society.
“It was really difficult going from military to civilian life,” said Amy Bergstrom, who retired from the Navy 20 years ago and has been a member of Art4Vets since 2020. “Most people that you come in contact with don’t know what it’s like to be in the military and just trying to relate with someone on that level is difficult.”
According to Jim Dubinsky, an associate professor at Virginia Tech and the co-founder of Veterans in Society Initiative at Virginia Tech, organizations like Art4Vets can help foster community and identity for veterans that have lost those things following discharge.
“Those activities allow you to explore your inner self and it’s a way of sharing it,” Dubinsky said. “It’s a place to talk safely about something that you may have experienced and felt and, because you’re in a community of other people who have had or can understand those kinds of experiences, you feel safer doing that.”
And for this reason, this year’s show is titled, “Transformation and Reintegration.”
For both Bergstrom and Deere, Art4Vets have changed their lives: Bergstrom was able to find connections to get a service dog to help with her PTSD, and Deere has rediscovered her daily motivation.
“I’ve learned that I was missing the fact that I used to be pushing soldiers — now I still have a team that we’re working together to put together something every day,” Deere said. “It gives me a reason to get up in the morning.”
Art4Vets’s “Transformation and Reintegration” visual art show will be open from Saturday, Nov. 12 to Friday, Dec. 16 during the normal business hours of Schenectady’s C.R.E.A.T.E. Community Studios. A reception will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday as well.