ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. - A traveling art exhibit that takes a unique approach to telling the story of America's veterans is currently on display at the Rock Island Arsenal Museum.
The EVAC exhibit - which stands for "Experiencing Veterans and Artists Collaboration" - will remain on display at the RIA Museum through Feb. 15. EVAC is an art project based in Ohio that began in 2017 with the intent of bridging the gap between veterans and those who never served in the military.
To create artwork for EVAC, curators for the project conduct interviews with veterans about their experiences in the military, and how these experiences shaped their lives. Transcripts of the interviews are then provided to selected artists, who interpret the veterans' experiences through visual representation.
Limited edition prints of the artwork are made using a variety of printmaking techniques, including etching, serigraphy, relief and engraving. The prints are displayed alongside excerpts from the transcribed interviews.
The intent, according to the EVAC website, is to create artwork that offers viewers insight into the genuine experiences of veterans, and that promotes understanding, engagement and empathy.
Veterans featured in the EVAC project come from all branches of the military and served in conflicts ranging from World War II to present-day deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Featured artists come from 23 states and one foreign nation. The project is ongoing, so more artwork continues to be added to EVAC.
The display at the RIA Museum includes 15 original works, including two based on the experiences of Rock Island native Bill Albracht, a decorated Vietnam veteran who earned three Silver Stars and three Purple Hearts for his actions during combat as a 21-year-old Green Beret captain.
Patrick Allie, director of the RIA Museum, said that he first heard of EVAC about one year ago, during a monthly conference call held among members of the Army's museum enterprise. An EVAC curator came on the call to offer Army museums the opportunity to display the exhibit.
"I was very interested," Allie said, "so I contacted EVAC soon after to arrange the logistics to bring the exhibit here."
Thanks to Allie's initiative, the RIA Museum is one of the first military museums to display the EVAC traveling exhibit. The exhibit has also appeared at the Army Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis, Virginia, and is scheduled to appear at the 10th Mountain Division Museum at Fort Drum, New York, as well as at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. In addition, EVAC artwork is scheduled to be displayed at the Pentagon sometime in 2020.
In keeping with the intent of the project, EVAC artwork has also been displayed in exhibit spaces off of military installations, including at both major airports in the Washington, D.C., area and at National Louis University in Chicago. Later this year, the traveling exhibit will come to Western Illinois University in nearby Macomb, Illinois.
In the process of arranging for the exhibit, EVAC curators asked Allie if he knew of a local veteran who could be interviewed for the project. Allie agreed to help and asked around about possible interview candidates.
"When I did, Bill Albracht's name kept coming up," Allie said. He then made arrangements for the interview, which resulted in the creation of two prints, both of which are included in the exhibit at the RIA Museum. One of the prints, titled "Welcome Home," was made by Joseph Lappie, a local artist who teaches at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa.
Allie said that both of the prints will remain in the museum's collection after the exhibit ends. Albracht also has been given copies of the prints.
Using visual art to interpret the experience of veterans is certainly not unique to EVAC, but Allie noted that the exhibit's approach to creating artwork sets it apart.
"I've seen a lot of veterans' art exhibits during my career," Allie said, "and most were of artwork created by the veterans themselves. What makes this exhibit different is how it uses the experiences of veterans to inspire artists who aren't veterans, and may have had little or no contact with those who served in the military."
Creating this connection is especially important now, Allie said, at a time when only a small percentage of Americans serve in uniform.
Allie said that the exhibit has been well-received so far by museum visitors, including one who deployed to Iraq during Operation Desert Storm and told Allie how the artwork gave him insight into his own post-deployment experience and how he shared this experience with veterans of other conflicts and from other generations.
"These are stories that need to be told," Allie said, "and this exhibit offers an original way to tell those stories."
The RIA Museum is free and open to the public; hours are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. More information is available by calling the museum at (309) 782-3518 or by visiting the website of the RIA Historical Society at www.arsenalhistoricalsociety.org.
More information on the EVAC art project is available at their website, www.evacproject.org.