The Milwaukee Art Museum hosted the 4th Annual Veterans Light Up the Arts program on March 6, for an evening that celebrated the creative talents of area veterans, service members, and military spouses.

Organized by the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce and presented jointly with the Milwaukee County War Memorial, the event was created to share the healing power of the arts for the local community. Many veterans talked about how art had helped them adjust to civilian life after experiencing the hardships of war.

“I suffered through two major traumas in the military, and I never thought I would live to see 40. I’m turning 43 this year and am so excited for my future thanks to opportunities like Veterans Light up the Arts!” said photographer and military veteran Carissa DiPietro. “Having the ability to display my photography at the Milwaukee Art Museum is a dream come true for me. To have people recognize me as an artist is absolutely incredible. This opportunity sparks my creativity and the positive feedback keeps me going.”

Guitars for Vets also collected instruments and accessories for their program, to provide Veterans with an instrument and a forum for learning how to play. Their efforts have demonstrated how music helps former soldiers find hope in something as simple as an acoustic guitar.

“These Veterans showcase the rare ability to take the tragedy of war and weave it into healing snapshots of sound and space,” said Patrick Nettesheim, co-founder of Guitars for Vets. “They do more than light up the arts, they become it.”

Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. has deployed more than 2.7 million men and women to support combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. PTSD prevalence affects an averaged of 10% to 20% of U.S. military personnel, often coexisting with depression, substance misuse, and other health concerns. Current statistics show that more than 800,000 Veterans suffer from PTSD, and 22 Veterans commit suicide every day.

“I was studying Fine Arts at UW-Milwaukee and then I was sent to Vietnam. When I came home, I lost touch with my art,” said John Koeppen, a photographer and Vietnam War veteran. “In 1995, my wife gave me a camera, and I started to ride my bike around. I started to see the world again and started to take pictures of trees and flowers. I took some classes and continued my photography. For me, taking pictures gives me peace and helps me see the beauty of the world.”

Art therapy has long been a curative tool used in schools and the public health care system. It is finally being deployed by Veterans Affairs medical facilities nationwide. Arts as one form of rehabilitative treatment has helped veterans recover from and cope with physical and emotional disabilities. It has also provided veterans with a constructive expression for their state of mind.

“For many veterans and military personnel, art is invaluable in dealing with trauma and easing the transition home. This opportunity for veterans to display their work is an incredible celebration of the healing power of art.” said Saul Newton, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce. “As this event continues to grow, we are thankful for the continued support of the Milwaukee community.”

All proceeds from the event, including the silent auction, go to benefit the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce, Feast of Crispian, Milwaukee Chamber Theater, Guitars for Vets, Lift for the 22, Warrior Songs, and Ex Fabula.