By Jonathan Kaupanger
“I feel invisible.” This is the top complaint from women veterans as they return to civilian life. Many people don’t understand what they’ve been through and also feel that a women’s experience in the military is in some way less than that the challenges of male veterans.
The Center for Women Veterans (CWV) was established in 1994 to help the VA’s fastest growing subset of veterans become more visible. One of the main missions of CWV is to help change cultural awareness about the service and sacrifice of women veterans. One of the ways the center is doing this is through art.
The Women Veterans Art Exhibit is a collaboration between CWV and the Veterans Art Project. It features art from 10 women veterans and is traveling to VA medical centers across the country.
The reason for the exhibit is simple, “We want to help remind VA providers and male patients at VA, that women veterans use VA,” explained Kayla Williams, Director, Center for Women Veterans. “And also help women when they enter a VA facility, to see themselves, their experiences reflected, so they can feel more welcome.”
The idea to do something like this has been stuck in Williams’ head for a while. An Army veteran herself, she experienced something similar while a patient at the VA medical center in Pittsburg, only it was a homeless veteran photography show.
“It was so moving for me to spend some time browsing and looking at the photos,” said Williams. “And the homeless population is one that can be difficult for a lot of folks to connect with emotionally and seeing the world through their lens very literally was so powerful and moving and it really struck me.” Once she started at CWV, she knew she wanted to something like that, but on a national level. She wanted people to be able to see through the window of the women’s veteran experience.
And the reaction has been very positive. According to Williams, the medical centers where the exhibit has been shown have had very positive responses. They have reported that the Women Veterans Art Exhibit has been a great way to engage staff, women veterans and the local community.
Click on the photo below to read about the women veterans and their art »
“At least one of the sites took advantage of the opportunity to host it by also reaching out to local women veterans to get their art and so had a much bigger exhibit with local artists,” Williams said. “They loved it so much they are going to do this annually. Some sites had events where local members of congress came to speak and we’ve had news media come and so really as a way to help local medical centers do that outreach and share that they are there to serve women. It’s a great way for them to tell that story locally and get women vets in the door and help those who are already coming feel that sense of respect in a welcoming environment for them.
According to Williams, partnering with other groups has helped get the Center’s message into non-VA spaces as well. So far, the Women Veteran Art Exhibit has been seen in several Starbucks across the country, during Fleet Week in New York the USS Intrepid was host to the exhibit, it was featured in the lobby at the Broadway musical “Bandstand” and currently, there are pieces traveling with the PGA.
In August, the Women Veteran Art Exhibit will be featured at the Women’s Memorial Exhibition Hall at Arlington National Cemetery as part of the 20th anniversary of the cemetery’s Women’s Memorial. The exhibit starts August 7 at 2:00 p.m. with opening remarks from Williams, Women’s Memorial President Dee Ann McWilliams as well as artist and Army vet Pamela Corwin, whose art is part of the exhibit.
The exhibit continues its tour of VA medical centers and a list of upcoming stops can be found here.