Arts enrich the lives of local veterans

People look at the art at the Veterans Day Art Show in November.
Submitted Photo
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 18, 2019 12:30 am Updated: Sep. 18, 2019 1:14 am

QUINCY -- A chance encounter with a resident at the Illinois Veterans Home and a bequest from a Culver-Stockton College professor led to the creation of two Arts Quincy programs that engage local military veterans with various art and music organizations.

The first program is called Made in America Veteran Art Program. In its inaugural year, the program connected dozens of veterans at the Illinois Veterans Home and in the local community with art projects coordinated through the staff of both the Quincy Art Center and Arts Quincy.

"Those projects gave residents and community veterans a chance to learn a new talent, to share their existing talent and to really be creative," said Sara Colgrove, who is the director of volunteer services and activities at the Illinois Veterans Home.

"I think the program was especially important because it gave veterans, who maybe didn't have the opportunity or the supplies when they were younger, to be artists."

The program culminated in a Veterans Day Art Show last November, which included art-related projects made through the program and projects made independently by the residents. Among the items on display at the art show were model airplanes, woodworking projects, crocheted items, photography and art items made with items found in nature.

"We loved that show, because it brought so many people from the community, the veterans and their families together," Colgrove said. "I've got to give credit to Laura Sievert, who was very hands-on with the residents and who came up with art projects that were fun and easy for them to do. I know a lot of them told her that they were not artists, but Laura won them over."

Sievert is the Executive Director of Art Quincy, which was previously known as the Quincy Society of Fine Arts. The Quincy Society of Fine Arts was founded in 1947 and bills itself as America's oldest community arts council.

Sievert said the origin of the Made in America Veteran Art Program traces back to a bequest from an art professor who, as a Korean War veteran, believed that veterans often lacked access to the arts.

"His request was the catalyst for this program," Sievert said. "As soon as I heard the word 'access' I was in. I instantly started developing ways for how we could hold classes to teach art to community veterans. I started thinking of how we could work with the staff at the veterans home to make this work."

Since its inception, the Made in America program has flown under the radar of many in the community even though the program has gained national recognition.

"I really don't think a lot of people in Quincy know about all that Arts Quincy offers to the community in terms of programming, but that's OK," Sievert said. "We are OK with taking the backseat role and celebrating the partnerships with these organizations that make the programs possible. To me, the access is the most important part. We could spend our time telling people and taking credit for all of these programs, but we would rather let our partners shine and focus on making art."

In May, Sievert represented the program at the National Veterans Art Museum and the Triennial Veteran Art Summit in Chicago.

At the conference, Sievert participated in a panel where she was able to discuss how the local Made in America program can be used as a model for other programs throughout the United States.

The Made in America program is sponsored by the Quincy Exchange Club's Flags of Honor program, a grant from Al Beck through the Community Foundation serving West Central Illinois and Northeastern Missouri and members of Arts Quincy.

This year the program is expanding to offer more veterans the opportunity to participate in the program by offering more options for classes, concerts or performances.

"Veterans within the region can now contact Arts Quincy to get free access to acting classes, art classes and tickets to some world-class performances," Sievert said. "Arts Quincy has partnered with the Quincy Art Center, Quincy Symphony Orchestra, and Quincy Community Theatre to offer community veterans a wider variety of classes or performances to choose from. This will allow them to choose something that interests them and easily fits into their schedule."

The program also now serves police, fire, and other first responders with similar programming.

The idea for the second program, Band on the Bus, came from a veteran who Sievert met one day at the Veterans Home.

"I like to tell people he was the injection of inspiration for Band on the Bus," Sievert said. "As we talked that day, he told me about how he played in the marching band at the University of Michigan. I told him I played in the marching band at the University of Iowa, so we instantly hit it off. Music has a way of really connecting people. He told me about how he used to go to see the Quincy Symphony perform and how much he missed going to those performances."

Again, Sievert said her mind raced with the possibilities of bringing a symphony to the Illinois Veterans Home.

"Obviously it would be a lot of work to bring a full symphony to perform at the veterans home, but then I started thinking about how he told me about his experiences in the college band," Sievert said. "I thought about how a small, 10-member pep band can move quickly and how they could play all kinds of music."

The idea for Band on the Bus was formed.

Colgrove said when Sievert called her she instantly agreed to be a stop on the band's tour through Quincy, which included stops at other long-term care facilities such as Good Samaritan Home of Quincy, St. Vincent's Home and Sunset Home of Quincy.

"I think Laura said it best that we sometimes forget that before our residents come to us that they led entire lives and that those lives likely included visits to museums and attending performances at the symphony or to the park band," Colgrove said. "There are so many things that residents of long-term care facilities lose when they move into a facility, so it is always great to give them some of those things, like musical performances, back."

The members of the Band on the Bus perform four times a year. Each performance is filled with different music of differing genres and styles.

Colgrove said her residents appreciate the music, no matter its genre or style, all the same.

"They all love music," Colgrove said. "It just puts a spark in their eye especially with those who can't always express their thoughts with words. Their performances just bring so much energy and excitement to their day."