Guest writer Anthony Brady, from Portland State University, is one of dozens of Veteran Advocates from agencies around the state of Oregon currently partnering with the Museum to create innovative programming for our Veteran Community.
Against the backdrop of the recently closed Gods and Heroes exhibition, the Portland Art Museum welcomed members of the Armed Forces, past and present, to the $5 after 5 p.m. event on Friday, July 17.
At the tail end of a week that bore out more violence against Service Members at home, followed by the usual useless and disheartening entertainment news coverage, the Summer Celebration, as it was called, changed the channel by inaugurating the first of many events centered on Service Member appreciation at the Museum.
The night’s activities included children creating crowns, adults coloring while consuming cocktails, beer tastings, and pizza—all for the price of admission, which for the invitees was free. Slow Looking tours guided by docents led attendees through the exhibition to look at paintings such as the portrait of Louis XIV that smack you in the face when you first walk in. One veteran commented to me, with the kind of dry humor only picked up in the military, that if Louis knew what he knew about how the King’s story would end, he might’ve spent less time posing. On the balcony upstairs, looking out over the Ai Weiwei Chinese Zodiac exhibition, a live model posed for people with pencils and easels. The highlight of the evening though, as with most celebrations, was the band.
Soldier Songs and Voices, a national nonprofit which provides free guitars, lessons, and songwriting workshops for vets, performed some of their greatest hits. Students and teachers took part, playing a mixture of blue-grass and southern-rock-inspired songs about life.
“We’re not your 3rd grade music teachers,” said one of the organization’s full-time volunteers. “Sometimes we ask [veterans] to write about the first time they put on the uniform or the first time they held a weapon.”
Blurring the lines between psychology and music, Soldier Songs and Voices provides a safe space for veterans to engage in the catharsis of writing about their personal experience working for the Defense Department at home and abroad. When asked how to help, the volunteer coordinator I spoke with said, “We just had someone approach us and ask, ‘How much money do you need?’ And, you know, we can buy more guitars, that’s great. But if 20 to 30 people show up for a session, we don’t necessarily have the volunteers to handle that.”
That comment really sums up the entire evening in a way. Not that more volunteers were required, although more are always wanted, for the event, but that a group of volunteers Art Museum Staff, Docents, Soldier Songs, and Voices, PSU, PCC, etc.) on-the-cheap, and with word-of mouth advertising, made the difference and built a new connection to members of the community—our veterans. Next to the Gods and Heroes of old, an idea which was far more realistic than romantic, on display that Friday: the idea of community involvement and appreciation to the uniformed services for a job well done.
As a Blue Star Museum, the Portland Art Museum joined a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and more than 2,000 museums across America to offer free admission this past summer to the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve. The Museum offers free admission active-duty military personnel year round.