Mary Whyte, an American figurative artist, founded the Patriot Art Foundation in 2019 to honor and inspire Veterans through the arts and educate the public about patriotism and leadership in military culture.
“The idea for the foundation came about when the exhibition, WE THE PEOPLE: Portraits of Veterans in America, went up and the response I received from Veterans,” Whyte said. “It was clear to me that art can tell a story in a way you can’t with words.”
The foundation provides purpose and social connection for Veterans and service members who returned to civilian life and are in the re-entry process. With hands-on workshops and online classes, they can share their own stories and have a platform for self-expression and creativity.
“The most important way the Patriot Art Foundation helps Veterans is by giving us a place and the means to express ourselves without fear of judgment,” said Veteran Carla Oliver. “There are several challenges to adjusting back to life as a civilian, especially where emotional expression is concerned. Art, in whatever form, gives Veterans a meaningful way to express all of that, even those things that are difficult to put into words.”
Creative outlets like painting let people express difficult thoughts
The foundation recently expanded to include the Patriot Art Project, which offers free online drawing, photography and painting classes through the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA in Columbia, South Carolina.
“I take some growth from every class.”
Participants receive art supplies for these classes. The goal of the project is to provide Veterans with the necessary tools and atmosphere to express their unique stories and create connections with other Veterans in the art community.
“I can honestly say that after every class, I feel lighter… less burdened, and I don’t think I’ve gone through a class that I haven’t taken away some form of growth,” Oliver added.
Research shows that art may positively impact Veterans’ Whole Health and mental health. Since taking art classes through the foundation, a Vietnam Veteran described the experience to Whyte as therapeutic because painting and drawing help put him at ease.
Helps manage challenging emotions
Whole Health is an approach to care centered around what is important to the individual based on their values, needs and goals. Creative outlets, such as painting, drawing and photography, allow people to express thoughts that are otherwise difficult to say out loud. It helps them improve their social relationships and manage challenging emotions.
VA services and resources that can support Veterans’ Whole Health include Circle of Health information, well-being programs, creative art therapies and mental health resources.
“I could relate the art to my life because there were so many days that I felt lost, useless, forgotten and damaged, just like my first oil pastel drawing,” said Veteran Kristin Halbert. “The Patriot Art Foundation and Mary Whyte helped me to find the beauty in any damage I have felt in life.”
If you would like to help or learn more about the foundation, please visit their website for more information: https://www.patriotartfoundation.org/.
VHA’s National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships supports organizations like this and others. Learn more about HAP.