The Veteran Artist Program is hoping to paint a broader portrait of the stereotypical stoic soldier with an exhibit at the Pentagon next year.
“Most people don’t put military and the arts together,” said B.R. McDonald, who formed Veteran Artists. “Some of that is true in terms of the culture, but at the same time, since 9/11 you have a broad base of veterans out there.”
McDonald recently contacted the art curator at the Pentagon about displaying artwork by veterans in the Pentagon’s lobby and other high traffic areas.
“This is the first time we’ve ever done an all-veterans exhibit,” McDonald said. “I didn’t even know they had a curator.”
Pentagon officials said yes, and the Veteran Artists group plans on displaying the work in May.
“Soldiers don’t have to be this in the box that everyone [else] thinks they understand,” McDonald said. “It’s kind of a difficult to convince people you are talented as an artist and you aren’t just a robot or soldier.”
McDonald would know. He joined the service just after 9/11, coming into it after having earned a vocal performance degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the Army he worked as an Arabic linguist and special operator in the Joint Special Operations Command.
“I never talked about the fact that I was a singer...I felt like it didn’t fit and didn’t engage much in the arts or performed a lot until I got out. There is no reason it needs to be one or the other,” McDonald, of Alexandria, said.
After serving for seven years, he founded the Maryland-based Veteran Artist Program in 2009.
His goal is promote the arts among those in the service and find a location where veterans can display their artwork permanently.
“A lot of people want to understand the veteran experience and I believe the arts is the best way to communicate that,” McDonald said. “I’m hoping that veterans take hold of the narrative and the arts that we haven’t before.”
The organization started taking submissions for artwork for the Pentagon exhibit last week and they have already received 20 pieces.
“What we are finding is that a lot of people want to do something specific for this,” McDonald said. “There are some that have a military perspective, but at first glance you wouldn’t be able to tell that it’s overtly military. I’m excited to see a lot of the works that come in and see what themes come out.”
To find out more about the Veteran Artists Program or to submit a piece for the Pentagon exhibit, visit the organization’s website.