For centuries, art has served as a coping mechanism for individuals worldwide. Whether as a relief from stress, a form of dealing with emotion, or a type of therapy, art has been known to heal those who make and experience it.
“The creative process has a way of cleansing the soul as well as filling it,” Robie Litchfield, co-chair of the Truckee Public Arts Commission, said.
This is precisely the idea behind an exhibit called Image Nation that is coming to Truckee this March. It’s an initiative put forth by the Nevada County Arts Council, in conjunction with Welcome Home Vets, that showcases the work of veterans in a public space.
Image Nation is one of several of its kind sponsored by the Veterans Initiative in the Arts — a program that, “seeks to increase equity, access, and opportunities for veterans to participate in quality arts programming,” according to its website.
Image Nation is highly ranked in comparison to similar exhibits, however.
“We received a 100 percent ranking from the California Arts Council,” Eliza Tudor, Executive Director of NCArts said, “[and] it’s a very competitive system.”
During its first year, Image Nation held a series of free workshops led by famed photographer Michael Llewellyn.
“The intention [of the workshops] is to engage the public and […] create a bridge of insight from the non-military community to those who have served,” Llewellyn said.
The workshops culminated in an exhibit of the work created at the Rood Center in Grass Valley in July 2016.
These same pieces are coming to Truckee, but in a fresh way.
“[Llewellyn] creates a unique set, much like a theater set, to perfectly model the art in each specific venue,” Tudor said.
Some of the veterans had never picked up a camera before they enrolled in Llewellyn’s workshops, but the photographs are of a professional quality.
“It is tremendously exciting watching people see a body of work by veterans for the first time,” Tudor said. “It draws a tear to the eye.”
A common side-effect of war is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which the workshops of Image Nation seek to relieve.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines PTSD as “a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.”
About 7 to 8 percent of the world population will have PTSD at some point in their lives, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ website. A number of these individuals are veterans.
As a result of his own personal experience with PTSD, Llewellyn was able to offer insight to his students.
“I created a method to understand self-expression that I later utilized to successfully activate personal growth and to alleviate the effects of PTSD,” he said.
“[Through the workshops] the veterans find an outlet to express themselves on a creative level — maybe in a way that words don’t do justice or feel too raw to articulate,” Litchfield explained.
“They get to share with others their experience without having to put it into words. They also learn a new skill and hopefully take that out into the world with them as they move forward in life,” she added.
Truckee is an appropriate setting for the second exhibit of Image Nation not only because of its rich art culture, but also its demographic.
“A community that has a capacity for hope and change is the best place for an exhibit of Image Nation,” Llewellyn opined.
Furthermore, there are more than 10,000 veterans living in Nevada County today.
“I think that while living in the mountains we tend to be somewhat isolated from the ‘real’ world, whether accidentally or on purpose, and it’s easy to bury our heads in the snow when it comes to the sacrifices these people made for us,” Litchfield stated.
“Truckee is a very special place for the arts,” Tudor said. “Nevada County has such a distinct shape — Donner Pass divides us into east and west — and we want to harness community involvement in Eastern Nevada County.”
Truckee will not be the last stop for Image Nation, though. It is just one of the many that NCArts hopes to visit, as there is new art to come.
“Simultaneous to the exhibit’s launch in Truckee, Llewellyn is taking another group of veterans through the process of learning photography,” Tudor said.
NCArts is also applying for a third year of workshops to continue the positive effects that Image Nation has had on local veterans and the community alike.
Currently, the California Arts Council pays for half of the cost of the initiatives — from equipment like cameras, to tuition, to the materials for the exhibit — and NCArts will cover the remainder with support from the community.
Information on how to donate will be available at the exhibit, which opens on Friday, March 10, at 5 p.m. at the Truckee Donner Community Recreation Center, and will run until June.