Free art classes for veterans ease pain

PHOENIX – The Arizona Art Alliance offers free art classes to provide a creative escape and supportive environment for war veterans.

“I was really amazed that the class and the things that they can teach you actually takes your mind off of what’s normally going on,” said David James, a Vietnam war veteran who lives at a local hospital five days a week because of severe osteoarthritis. “You put your concentration into something else and you forget all about your body hurting.”

The “Enriching Veterans’ Lives Through Art” program gives back to veterans like James to show appreciation for their years of public service.

“It allows your attention to focus on something other than your illness and your pain,” said volunteer Lisa Wayman.

According to data collected by News21, the suicide rate of those who have served in the military is 50 percent higher than the general population.

“There’s no assessment, no idea of judgment.” said Joe Fontana, art alliance founder. “We just want to help…but we’re not here to dwell on the negatives. It’s all on the positive and their creativity.”

Professional artists volunteer their time and grants pay for high-quality supplies.

“I’m working with materials I’ve never worked with before. I love it,” said Navy veteran Jack Sullivan, who did two tours in Vietnam.

The class also connects veterans with one another. The opportunity to socialize fights the isolation that sometimes plagues veterans.

“The mere fact that some folks get out of their home, the security of their home, is a big step,” Fontana said.

“Especially for veterans, socialization can be a big issue. A lot of people tend to really be isolated,” Wayman said.

The class is open to U.S. veterans and offered at seven Valley locations.

“You don’t have to have talent, that’s the beauty of it,” Sullivan said. “I encourage any vet, if they’re even mildly interested, to at least look into it.”

Veterans or people who know a veteran who could benefit from the program can email [email protected].