What began four years ago as a small exhibition of artwork created by veterans has morphed into the annual weekend-long Veteran Arts Showcase at the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park. This year’s event, held Friday through Sunday, November 18 to 20, will highlight the veteran experience through author talks and poetry readings, theatrical performance, live music, interactive dialogues, an art exhibition, a qigong demonstration, a community drum circle, Native American drums and songs and an open-mic jam with military and civilian participants. Admission to all events is free.
The common denominator to all involved is a military background. Presenters will represent all generations, all branches of service, both genders, all the wars. Some are professional artists, writers and performers who have served in the military; others are vets who took up art through an outpatient program like that at the Veterans’ Administration Hudson Valley Montrose Campus. The longstanding safe space for veterans allows them to engage in the creative process of artmaking as a means for relaxation, or to help them to understand and heal from difficult military experiences where words are hard to find.
Military service is something that people who have not “been there, done that” can ever fully understand. And the gap between veterans and civilians can be hard to bridge because – with good reason – many veterans don’t like to talk about their experiences. Events too traumatic to relive are not exactly the stuff of everyday conversation, and veterans know that they’d have to filter the stories anyway. As a result, many vets end up internalizing much of what they feel.
The arts provide a channel through which a vet can confront and express his or her experiences, recover from the aftereffects of war and reconnect with fellow veterans once home again. Civilians who visit the Veteran Arts Showcase will not only witness the healing power of art, but also become a part of the conversation.
An opening reception will take place on Friday, November 18 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. After a Presentation of Colors and opening remarks by Paul Sparrow, director of the FDR site, there will be a meet-the-artists reception from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. The evening will close with a presentation by Dr. Peter Meineck, “Ancient Wars: Modern Vets,” in which he compares the lives of modern American veterans to those of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
On Saturday, November 19, the Wallace Center at the FDR site will open for the Showcase from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. On Sunday, November 20, the hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The art-exhibit portion of the showcase, on view all weekend, encompasses more than 100 works of art that include mixed-media works, drawings, paintings, sculpture and handcrafts. Among the most intriguing items submitted for viewing are those inspired by the Combat Paper project of the Printmaking Center of New Jersey: a joint endeavor of Iraq War vet and artist Drew Cameron and papermaker Drew Matott.
The two began the project in 2007 as a way for Cameron to confront his combat experiences. A veteran first cuts up his or her uniform down to the threads, representing the deconstruction of the military experience. The fibers are then fused in the papermaking process, creating a support that resonates with the memories associated with the uniform, on which a vet can tell his or her story through poetry or art.
Saturday-morning events include meditation with Champa Patel, followed by a free writers’ workshop for vets (preregistration is required). The program for the day includes live music and two featured speakers: Woodstock councilman and World War II veteran Jay Wenk and Iraq combat veteran and poet Jennifer Pacanowski. Wenk will read passages from his memoir, Study War No More: A Jewish Kid from Brooklyn Fights the Nazis. Pacanowski, who is a member of Warrior Writers, a national nonprofit whose mission is to create a culture that articulates veterans’ experiences, will read from her original work. The afternoon ends with the military/civilian open-mic jam, to which any and all are invited to bring an instrument and join in.
Saturday evening culminates with a 6:30 p.m. performance of Cry Havoc, a one-man show created by Army vet Stephan Wolfert, in which he parallels the words of Shakespeare with his own military experience to examine society’s responses to war. The actor/writer/director left a career in the military for a life in the theater after seeing a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III. He co-founded the largest touring Shakespeare company in New England, directed and taught Shakespeare at Cornell University and created and directed the military segments for Twyla Tharp and Billy Joel’s Tony Award-winning production, Movin’ Out. Wolfert is founding artistic director of Shakespeare & Veterans and is the creator of De-Cruit, a program to reintegrate military veterans using classical actor training.
Sunday’s schedule will include Core Stories, an interactive civilian/veteran dialogue on the aftereffects of war with poetry by prolific veteran writer and advocate Everett Cox. The weekend closes with a performance by local Native American veteran Gil Tarbox and the Ninham Mountain Singers.
The tri-county showcase is the result of a collaborative effort among the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and two local organizations, the Veteran Family Support Alliance and the Orange County New York Arts Council. Additional support was received from the Seriti Foundation and others.
Veteran Arts Showcase, Friday, November 18, 5:30-8:30 p.m., Saturday, November 19, 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Sunday, November 20, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., free, FDR Presidential Library, Route 9, Hyde Park; (845) 486-7745, https://veteranartsshowcase.org.