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'Arts for Vets' exhibition brings local artists' work to UND campus

In partnership with UND Art Collections, “Creative Forces: An Arts for Vets Exhibition” will run through Dec. 31, at Columbia Hall, just west of North Columbia Road. A simultaneous exhibition at the Energy and Environment Research Center will run through the end of November.

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Local artist, Kim Forness Wilson, discusses the "Arts for Vets" project on display at UND's Columbia Hall through Dec. 21, 2021. Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Artwork created by local veterans, active-duty service members, their family members and other members of the community made its way out of a downtown gallery, and is now being displayed at two locations on UND’s campus.

The installation is a year in the making. It was supposed to happen last year, but had to be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. But when UND again reached out to Kimberly Wilson, executive director for Arts for Vets, and asked if she'd like to put on a show, she rallied the troops.

“We got it together, we got our framing done and we went over there and they hung the show, and it's really beautiful,” said Wilson.

In partnership with UND Art Collections, “Creative Forces: An Arts for Vets Exhibition” will run through Dec. 31, at Columbia Hall, just west of North Columbia Road. A simultaneous exhibition at the Energy and Environment Research Center will run through the end of November.

The exhibits were installed during the first week of November, in time for Veterans Day.

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At Columbia Hall, there are more than 50 paintings, and other works of art on display. Information about the artists is also available.

Wilson, an award-winning artist having received the Mayor’s art award as well as others, considers herself an art coach, instead of an art teacher, at the Arts for Vets gallery at 215 North Third Street. And being a coach, and having a gallery in which to gather and create together, is part of the reason for the group’s creation.

The group got started in 2015, and moved from one location to the next, sometimes in a church basement, sometimes elsewhere. They moved to their present location in 2019. Wilson and others worked to create a sense of community for veterans, something she said has diminished from previous generations.

“In my father's time, everybody had served, if they were male,” Wilson said. “That community was a natural thing everywhere you went, the grocery store guy, the butcher, the guy who worked on your car, everybody was in the group. That's why we created our group because not everybody's in the group anymore.”

And the group acts as a safe space for veterans and active-duty service members, who may be dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, or other issues related to their service. They gather, talk and work together in a collaborative environment. Wilson is quick to include family members in that group, because, she said, families serve together.

But that doesn’t mean Arts for Vets is off limits to the public. People are welcome to attend the gallery, and speak with the artists or attend classes. It’s another reason for the existence of Art for Vets.

“The prime directive really is to create a healthy, supportive community, and we are doing it via the arts,” Wilson said.

Creative Forces is the first large show Arts for Vets has held since the onset of the pandemic. Prior to that, and when members of the group couldn’t meet in person, they used online meeting technology, to hold classes and maintain a sense of community. That doesn’t mean some members didn’t feel a sense of isolation, though, which is something some veterans have to deal with during a pandemic or otherwise.

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“I just kept telling everybody to keep painting, because we'll get a show, we will definitely get a show,” she said.

Some of the works displayed at Columbia Hall and the EERC are available for purchase. More information about Arts for Vets can be found on the group’s social media page, or by emailing artsforvets@gmail.com.

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