Arts for Vets exhibition on campus through Dec. 21

In partnership with UND Art Collections, show features mix of paintings, photography, fabric and other media

A U.S. Army veteran and artist known as Tony Y has several acrylic paintings in the “Creative Forces: An Arts for Vets Exhibition” now showing through Dec. 21 in UND’s Columbia Hall. Photo by Janelle Vonasek/UND Today.

If you think you don’t have the time or place to get creative, artist Kimberly Forness Wilson knows just where you can find it.

That’s inside Arts for Vets — a little studio, gift shop and gallery in downtown Grand Forks. Unlike the name suggests, the executive director of the organization that’s run by veterans, active-duty military and family says it’s open to all.

“It’s a space where we like to encourage people to walk right in, pull out a canvas or watercolor paper and just go to it,” Forness Wilson said. “Too many times, people don’t follow through with their creativity because they don’t have that little corner where they can get inspired and do their own thing.

“They might start, but then they clean it up, put it away and forget about it. Here, everything is right there for you.”

And now the artists are sharing their work with the wider community in a special exhibit at the University of North Dakota. In partnership with UND Art Collections, “Creative Forces: An Arts for Vets Exhibition” will run through Dec. 21 in the University’s Columbia Hall.

The public exhibit is the group’s first big show since the start of the pandemic, and Forness Wilson says it feels wonderful to be out in the greater community again.

Before the coronavirus kept people cooped up inside their homes, it wasn’t uncommon, she said, for dozens of artists to gather for the studio’s weekly “salon” classes — complete with live music, laughter, food and drink.

Award-winning artist and U.S. Army veteran Zac Lee is a 2020 graduate of the University of North Dakota. After serving in Iraq, he suffered with PTSD. By sharing his art and the hidden “scars” in his memory, he hopes others will understand that PTSD does not need to be a debilitating disorder. Photo by Janelle Vonasek/UND Today.

Powering through

Though that had to stop for a time, Forness Wilson said the creative forces certainly did not. The group quickly adapted and took to Zoom to share their love of art.

“The cool thing about that crisis is we now have veterans participating in our online forums and art shows from as far away as Puerto Rico, New York and Georgia,” she said. “It gives me chills to think how our cohesive group was able to branch out. It’s really pretty awesome.”

Veterans, especially those who’ve been traumatized, can feel really isolated, she explained. So it’s important to connect and have that creative outlet.

“We evolve ourselves and then we try to lend a hand because service with veterans is extremely important,” she said. “It’s at the heart. It’s deep. It’s a primary drive to feel like you’re useful and have a purpose.”

Sometimes that purpose might be to paint masks for an upcoming show at the Fire Hall Theatre or to work on an art project and gallery show with youth at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

“We’re always looking for ways to bridge to the community at large,” she said. “What we really hope is people will come in and just hang with us. We love to put something up and discuss the medium and how it was created. It helps you appreciate art in a completely different way.”

“The Hippy Barn Daisies” is an homage to Kimberly Forness Wilson’s late father. A strong military man, he liked to keep things orderly. As the family once drove through the 1960s countryside, he saw a brightly colored “hippy” shed while she saw beauty. Photo by Janelle Vonasek/UND Today.

If you go

  • The show: The “Creative Forces: An Arts for Vets Exhibition” will be open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday through Dec. 21 in UND’s Columbia Hall at 501 N. Columbia Road. Weekend hours vary. Guests should enter the main doors on the east side of the building, and masks are required for the self-guided tour.
  • What you’ll see: Viewers can expect an eclectic mix of bright acrylics and whimsical watercolors, mesmerizing “pour” art and breathtaking photography. The exhibit also includes several thought-provoking pieces, as well as poetry and fabric art.
  • How to learn more: If you are interested in learning more about Arts for Vets, you can check it out on Facebook or call Forness Wilson at 701.330.3072. Artwork is for sale in the downtown gallery and gift shop at 215 N. Third St. It’s also available at etsy.com/shop/ArtsforVetsGallery.

U.S Army veteran Heather Krause conveys emotion and beauty through color and movement in her fluid art. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

A guest peruses through the exhibit inside Columbia Hall. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.