Highlights: National Veterans Art Museum
Installation view of The Things They Carried. Photo: Patrick Putze
Art from the Front Lines
SAIC helps the National Veterans Art Museum carry out its mission.
by Patrick Putze (MA 2013)
SAIC students can be found in just about every nook and cranny of Chicago. Many stretch out beyond the studio or classroom and bring their artistic acumen to institutions, both big and small, through SAIC's Cooperative Education Internship Program (Co-op). Often they are hired on following their internship, but that is not the goal. The goal is for students to gain experience in a professional environment and to provide unexpected opportunities to engage diverse audiences.
The National Veterans Art Museum (NVAM) attracts students for this very reason. With a socially-relevant mission and multidimensional approach to exhibitions, the museum offers a distinct philosophy on the infinite possibilities of artmaking.
NVAM "collects, preserves, and exhibits art inspired by combat and created by US veterans." Many of the works are artistic representations of war and violence, rooted in experiences unique to veterans. The space is a compendium of wartime ephemera: The most recent and permanent exhibit The Things They Carried is an assemblage of everything from boots and spent bullets to helmets and pre-packaged rations.
Presently, several SAIC-affiliated individuals are helping the museum with its mission: to inspire a greater understanding of the real impact of war. Each of these students and alumni facilitates rare insights into the triumphs, tragedies, and sometimes, humor that are intrinsic to armed conflict.
Ted Stanuga—NVAM's current Creative Director—is an established Chicago artist, SAIC alumnus (1973–76), military veteran, and former MCA Chief Preparator. He joined the NVAM in 2003, and most recently spearheaded the collection's move from its original South Loop location to Chicago's Portage Park neighborhood.
Moving an entire collection can be challenging, so he had help from current SAIC student and Co-op intern, Tanzen Lilly (BFA 2013). "I've been packing up all the work, and I've seen almost the entire collection and developed interests in some new artists that will definitely be influential to my artwork in the near future," she says.
Destinee Oitzinger (MA 2011) has worked her way up the ranks at the NVAM. "I worked here under the [Co-op Program] for the entire summer of 2011 and it was a really great experience," she explains. She continued on as a volunteer and is now employed full time with dual titles as Gallery Coordinator and Assistant Creative Director.
As a Co-op student, Oitzinger found herself attracted to NVAM: "As a smaller museum, it interested me because I knew I would get more hands-on experience," says Oitzinger. "Also, I've always been interested in the social impact of art."
At this museum, she regularly exercises her SAIC-honed critical thinking skills in a unique arts environment that is constantly investigating ways to help people heal. She says, "Understanding how art affects people and how the artist's messages are conveyed to larger groups of people were other really important traits I picked up at SAIC."
Sometimes the trail from SAIC to NVAM runs in the opposite direction; Anjalee Natasha Verma, a first-year graduate student in the Art Therapy department, was working at NVAM before she decided to attend SAIC. The current Development and Outreach Coordinator at NVAM says, "…...en a really powerful emotional experience for me and it helped me apply to SAIC." And so far she is off to a good start by comingling her experiences at the museum with the SAIC curriculum."I'll definitely be centering my thesis around Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and artwork made by combat veterans," she divulges.
Verma firmly believes that art functions on multiple levels. She says, "It's different on the personal and societal levels, and ultimately that carries over to the cultural and historical models. Art is a reflection of the individual and the individual is more important than the artwork."
NVAM cultivates strengths in the individual as well as impacting a broader community. It is no surprise then that there is such a rich relationship between SAIC and NVAM, as their reaches are both personal as they are broad.
Learn more about SAIC's Cooperative Education Internship Program.