EVAC Art Program Aims to Aid Disabled Veterans

evac-new-logo1Joe Williams, with his long blond locks and goatee, looks every inch the hip artist, far from his days as a Marine Corps sergeant. The distance from the military continues with him forging art from metals rather than earning medals. The Kansas City Art Institute senior finds solace these days in the sculpture studio. The art of today has helped with post-traumatic stress of his service time that included training schools and battle grounds.

Rather than spend time in a depressed condition, Williams found comfort in art. He is now the founder of the Endowment for Veteran Arts Campaign (EVAC), an organization created to advocate and encourage veterans to create art regardless of abilities or disabilities.

“I went to Rockhurst High School and really wanted to be a firefighter. I could volunteer and learned that if I was a soldier, I would be in better standing with the local firefighter programs so I enlisted in the Marines,” he explains. “I wanted to be one of the enlisted soldiers who rose in the ranks to an officer. However, a shattered ankle and poor treatment forced that change.”

During his seven years in the Marines, Williams saw the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, war in Iraq and training to be an officer. When that initial dream to move through officer training came to an end and Williams faced seven surgeries and years of physical therapy, dreams were in short supply. His medical discharge came Oct. 30, 2011, seven years after he enlisted. Depression settled on him. He went to the Veterans Administration and was told that resources to apply to art school were not applicable.

“I was depressed and suicidal,” he says. “I found that I was pouring my sadness and anger into my sketch book. I realized that I gravitated toward art anyway. The VA said no and the Wounded Warrior Project doesn’t have this sort of avenue so I ended up fumbling and stumbling my way through applying for art school, creating a portfolio, and figuring up what I needed.”

Williams decided that if he found comfort in art, there must be other wounded veterans who like art as well. Williams works in large metal and enjoys hard work and the ability to shape metal as he wants. “I want to be the one who creates a resource center that covers all these aspects including career services. For some vets, art may not be a career, but they can also find art to be therapeutic too. I found self-expression and a chance to get me out of my bad habits. I want to have the organization in place that can help others out too.”

In November, Williams, some veteran friends and artists will host a fundraiser to seek out support from the local community. “As vets, we have learned to rely on each other and we want to show others that veterans can find support within the community. We also want to get back into society and by doing art, we have an experience that many share.”

As for the future, Williams is working on gaining EVAC’s non-profit status. “We want to raise funding to create Iron Will Studios that will be handicapped accessible and disabled vets will be allowed to use the facilities for free. Able-bodied artist will pay a membership fee to help offset costs, but my goal is to see artists of all abilities working alongside each other,” he says. He equates the concept of Iron Will Studios to the shoe company TOMS where a person purchases a pair of shoes and a pair is given to a person in a developing nation. Williams hopes that when an able-bodied artist comes in, his or her fees will offset the needs of a veteran artist.

While the funds for the studio are in the works, other components can be achieved sooner. First Operation Art will be an online resource that provides educational, career and therapeutic tools. There will be counseling services, education aid, possible grants and scholarships, plus commissions for work. Along with these resources, a creative online gallery and marketplace will be created where veteran artists will showcase their work.

“After I graduate, I am going to need a place to go just like other artists,” Williams says. “I also want to be with other vets, showing them that art saved my life. EVAC is my dream and a gift I would like to share. I want EVACart.com to be a place that is full of incredible support. I understand the leadership involved in working with a non-profit a board and volunteers. I feel equipped for the challenges thanks to my lifetime of experience with the Marines. I have been in veteran entrepreneur programs, hoping that I am increasing my strengths with each step in building this dream.”

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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