Advancing National Service

This Veteran Helps Fellow Soldiers Tap into Their Artistic Sides

January 15, 2015
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This Veteran Helps Fellow Soldiers Tap into Their Artistic Sides
BR McDonald works on a Veteran Artist Program mural. Veteran Artist Program via Facebook
They're painting, writing and putting on plays.

It’s an understatement to say that Army veteran BR McDonald is multi-talented.

McDonald always dreamed of becoming a musician or an actor, but after the terror attacks on September 11, he decided to enlist in the military.

Growing up, McDonald’s parents were missionaries in Taiwan, so he was fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Perhaps because of this, the Army assigned McDonald (who graduated from the University of North Carolina in 2001 with degrees in vocal performance and religious studies) the task of learning Arabic. Graduating from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., at the top of his class, McDonald served as a linguist with the Joint Special Operations Command.

McDonald tells the Christian Science Monitor, “There are a lot of people in the intelligence community with a creative background. It’s the same side of the brain. Music is just another language. So when I heard something I could repeat it.”

In 2008, he felt a call to reengage with the art world and was determined to bring fellow vets along with him. So the following year, he founded the Veteran Artist Program (VAP). Its goal? To support veterans who wanted to start careers in the arts.

VAP sponsors events such as art shows, theater productions and writing workshops across the country. It also teaches veterans how to make a living as artists by connecting them to mentors, opportunities and grants. For example, in 2011 through Operation: Oliver, volunteers with VAP and other organizations cleared almost 60 tons of garbage from a low-income neighborhood in Baltimore and painted a bright, kid-friendly mural.

“A lot of people only see art as a means of therapy for veterans. That’s not what VAP is about, although we do work with art as healing,” McDonald says. “People have to understand that these are artists who happen to be veterans. The two are not mutually exclusive.”

MORE: Meet the Photographer Who Captures Veterans’ Emotions About Returning to the Civilian World

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