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Unique Chicago museum offers veteran war art

The nation’s only art museum dedicated to veterans has outgrown its space and is moving to a new location in Chicago.

Veteran's Day is Nov. 11

The National Veterans Art Museum will become the Veterans Cultural Center of Chicago when it finds a new home for its collection, said Levi Moore Jr., executive director. The museum hopes eventually to have 12 differently themed locations throughout the city.

Moore said the new space has not yet been identified.

The Chicago museum is the only one in the country that solely exhibits art inspired by war, specifically created by veterans.

It houses more than 255 artists and displays more than 2,000 works of art, including paintings, photography, sculpture, poetry and music that inspires a greater understanding of the real impact of war with a focus on Vietnam.

The museum is a non-profit organization that receives funding through several people, grants, programs and companies.

A grant from the Tawani Foundation is allowing the museum to cover costs incurred to create a virtual museum beyond its website, Moore said.

“People will be able to view every piece of art and every exhibit in our collection,” he said. “We’re also planning to post interviews with the artists.”

One local art therapist emphasized the importance of these returning veterans creating images because “visual trauma gets stuck in the brain.”

“Art therapy uses visual components,” said Laura Jacob, an art therapist based in Chicago. “It’s those repeated patterns that get stuck, and art is able to tap into that part of the brain.”

Jerry Kykisz, one of the founding members of the museum and a Vietnam veteran, said some artists don’t view their work as therapy.

“They use it as expression and say that they don’t have emotional issues or PTSD,” he said, referring to post-traumatic stress disorder. “They don’t like being lumped into that group. On the other hand, we have used our artwork as therapy for a long time.”

Bill Crist, a Vietnam veteran who volunteers at the museum, said his work isn’t exactly art therapy.

“I use props as a kind of art alongside my drawings,” said Crist, who has PTSD. “You can really see it, but you can feel it. You can touch it.”

The museum is currently located on 1801 S. Indiana Ave., a space that Mayor Richard Daley allocated in1996. The budget for the space change was originally $3 billion, but has since been bumped up to $5 million. The operation is going to be bigger than previously planned, Moore said.

The Vietnam Veterans Art Group that originally started the museum was established in Chicago in 1981. It unveiled its first exhibit entitled Reflexes and Reflections the following year, which toured around the country visiting various museums and galleries.

When it first opened, the museum was named National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum and catered strictly to the Vietnam War. In 2003, however, it broadened its spectrum to include all wars, and in 2010 it dropped the extra V and remains as the National Veterans Museum.

Reporters Jessica Green, Jennifer Zipser and Danielle Boddie contributed to this story.