Before Bart Robey attended an arts program at the Norman Veterans Center, he mainly kept to himself, drinking coffee and watching television. After several weeks of participating in the program, the Marine veteran was socializing with veteran center staff and others, sharing long-dormant personal stories and shaping them into works of creative writing. Robey was among veterans residing at the center who participated in a 2016 pilot arts program organized by the Oklahoma Arts Council in partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs.
An event to celebrate the veterans who participated in the program will take place on Tuesday, May 2 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in the Blue Room on the second floor of the Oklahoma state Capitol. An exhibition of the veterans’ creative writing, photography and paintings, will be on display. Veterans who participated in the program will be in attendance and several veterans will be available to discuss the program and their artwork.
The event will feature the release of “Recollected: Tales of Life and War,” an anthology of creative writing produced by veterans who participated in the program’s 10-week creative writing course. Also to be released at the event is a formal evaluation of the program performed by a researcher with the University of Oklahoma’s Knee Center for Strong Families.
Oklahoma Arts Council Executive Director Amber Sharples said hands-on arts learning programs taught by professional teaching artists offer great potential for Oklahoma military veterans.
“Through creative writing, photography, and painting, the veterans were able to express their unique perspectives and intimate stories in ways that engaged their minds and enlivened their spirits. We saw them immerse and apply themselves in the artistic process, and the results are compelling. They became expressive and social in ways that the veteran center staff had rarely seen, and, in some cases, they reconnected with family members and loved ones. We look forward to paying tribute to these veterans and highlighting our innovative program.”
During the event, Sharples will discuss the vision behind the pilot arts program and how it will help organizations offer similar programming across Oklahoma. Major General Myles Deering, executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, will join Sharples in recognizing the work of the veterans.
Titled “Veterans: Experience and Expression,” the exhibition of the veterans’ artwork is on display in the Governor’s Gallery adjacent to the Blue Room through May 7. The gallery is open weekdays 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. The exhibition and the event are free and open to the public.
About the Pilot Arts Program
In 2016, the Oklahoma Arts Council partnered with the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs and Norman’s Firehouse Art Center to pilot a series of hands-on arts learning courses at the Norman Veterans Center. Led by professional teaching artists, the program featured photography, creative writing, and visual art courses, each lasting between eight and 12 weeks. A special session in creative writing was offered for residents with dementia.
To aid in the evaluation of the pilot program, an assessment of the impact of the courses on veterans center residents was conducted by a researcher from the University of Oklahoma's Knee Center for Strong Families at the Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work. With the pilot arts program serving as a case study, the Oklahoma Arts Council will provide a model for public agencies, nonprofit organizations, teaching artists, and community groups to use in serving the military population statewide through the arts. A second pilot arts program was launched in Lawton in March 2017.
About the Oklahoma Arts Council
The Oklahoma Arts Council is the official state agency for the support and development of the arts. The agency’s mission is to lead in the advancement of Oklahoma’s thriving arts industry. The Oklahoma Arts Council provides approximately 450 grants to almost 250 organizations in communities statewide each year, organizes professional development opportunities for the state's arts and cultural industry, and manages works of art in Oklahoma Public Art Collection and the public spaces of the state Capitol. Additional information is available at arts.ok.gov.
About the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs
In partnership with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, state and local agencies, and Veterans Services Organizations, the state of Oklahoma will facilitate in providing to the veterans residing in the state of Oklahoma the highest quality support and care available anywhere in the Nation.