Art Gives Veterans a New Perspective
About 20 years ago, one of Troy Muller’s art students at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs drew a scene from the World War II miniseries “Band of Brothers.” When Muller encouraged the student to draw a memory from his own experience in Vietnam, the student initially declined.
But when he eventually took up the challenge and created a charcoal drawing he called “The Incident,” he finally found closure to 30-some years of post-traumatic stress. He said it never gave him another nightmare.
“Art can access parts of the brain that language can’t reach,” Muller said. “It’s a great way for veterans to express things creatively.”
Inspired by his student’s breakthrough, Muller started a series of art workshops for veterans and their families in 2004. Since then he’s expanded the Vet-X-Press program through partnerships with colleges, universities, homeless shelters and veterans’ services organizations across western Iowa and eastern Nebraska.
Muller leads the New Century Art Guild in Elk Horn and Kimballton, which the V.A. tapped in early 2020 to deliver art workshops to veterans through an evidenced-based, residential treatment program. When the pandemic hit, the guild modified its workshops into an online format and delivered a project box to each participant.
No matter the format, participants are encouraged to express themselves through drawing, painting, writing, music and even theater. For some, the experience filled a hole they’d previously tried to fill with drugs or alcohol.
“At least five have told me that art saved their life,” Muller said.
The New Century Art Guild recently received an Iowa Arts Council grant for an ongoing series of veterans’ art exhibitions, called “Walls of Honor.” Their next vets’ art show will be on display on Nov. 26, during the annual Julefest in Elk Horn.
— Michael Morain, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs