Veterans get creative through museum-hospital partnership

When Christine Maher heard about a self-portrait class at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center’s Uptown Division, she knew exactly how she wanted to paint herself.


“I’m bi-polar so I want to cut the face in half to show the different sides of my character,” said Maher, an inpatient receiving treatment at the hospital.

Nine veterans, a mix of outpatients, inpatients and one longtime volunteer, took part in the monthly art class on May 10 offered as part of an outreach program with the Morris Museum of Art.

The museum has provided programming at the hospital for about two years, but this group class, with more of an instructional component, is new.

“We’ve worked with smaller units with residents in the long-term care program and the psychiatric unit,” said Matt Porter, the museum’s curator of education.

This new project, which began last month, offers more of a class structure. Porter brought some prints of paintings and talked about the process of the self-portrait. The paintings didn’t have to be an actual rendering as in a photograph, but it could be like Maher’s, an interpretation of how she saw herself.

Maher has never had any art training, but she said she does enjoy expressing herself through paints and pastels.

“I like to go outside and work on things. Art is the best therapy in in the world,” she said.

The collaboration with the Morris Museum of Art isn’t an accredited art therapy program, but it does fill a vital niche and provides benefits to the patients, said Stephen Montgomery, one of the hospital’s music therapists.

“This is not treatment-based, but it provides really good opportunities for them to experience more and become engaged with the VA,” he said.

Through their contact with the art class, veterans may learn about treatment-based programs through the music and recreation therapy programs the hospital offers.

There are a couple of avenues the music therapy program takes at the VA, said Montomgery.There’s a 12-week program with components such as songwriting. Also there’s a more informal drumming for wellness program.

And participants don’t have to have any musical training, he said.

Music therapy can be used for a variety of mental health problems including treating post-traumatic stress disorder, isolation and anxiety issues. Montgomery has worked with patients with substance abuse issues. It also allows for self-expression and helping with the concept of self-image, he said.

Porter said the museum enjoys its partnership with the VA.

“It’s really important at the museum for us to give back to the community,” he said. “The military is such a huge part of Augusta.”

Montgomery said they hope to expand arts programming to bring in other artists to teach classes or work with veterans.