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Stratford-based program curates Veterans/UNH students in collaborative arts project

Veterans and UNH students collaborate on a moving arts mentorship program curated by Stratford-based Art Connections for Everyone.

Stratford-based arts project manager and curator Janet Zamparo announces the opening of "Exit 43: The Veteran Artist Mentorship Program" on Tuesday, April 16th. Opening reception is April 16th from 3 to 5 p.m. at the West Haven Veterans Museum and Learning Center.

The program is a collaboration between Zamparo, Project Manager and Curator from Art Connections for Everyone, the VA Connecticut Healthcare System’s Creative Arts Therapy Program, University New Haven Community Services, the City of West Haven, and the West Haven Veterans Museum and Learning Center.

The project incorporates visual arts and poetry, and chronicles music and drama from Veterans and UNH student visits to the VA's various Creative Arts Therapy Programs.

“It is an artistic collaboration, but it is also a lesson in empathy, in understanding, in the ways that loss and grief and hope are universal experiences,” Zamparo said “Art is disarming. If people build walls, art can help tear them down.”

Pieces of art resulting from the collaboration will be on display along with artifacts dating back to the Revolutionary War, said Beth Sabo, the commissioner of public works for the city of West Haven and vice president of the museum board.  “This is an incredible partnership,” she said.

Roberta Blake, a music therapist at VA Connecticut, said the UNH students took part in one of the VA’s creative arts therapy programs in visual arts, music, writing or drama run by VA creative arts therapists. “The students saw how creative arts can be used to tell a story, express a feeling, connect with oneself and others and communicate,” she said.

The UNH students participating were Samantha Guash, Emily Anne McGinty, Dannielle Gladu, Kristen Leining, Briana Mangiacapra, Kate Saccone, Kristie Patterson, Alexandria Rossy, Keegan O’Connor, Andrea Ortiz, Tannu Singh, Ahjahta McDuffie, Mahoganie Brown, Ashley Guzman, Amanda Blankson, Stephany Parra and Marissa Medina.

Emily McGinty, a UNH junior majoring in liberal studies, said she was apprehensive at first entering into "what was a very private experience."

"(But) when we arrived, we were welcomed with open arms. The veterans were proud of their work and were extremely talented. They also were very forthcoming, sharing as much as they could about their experiences in Vietnam. It was very humbling to see that the men who gave up so much to fight for the country were again giving back, but this time to the youth.”

Angela Cortese, coordinator of UNH’s Office of Community Service, said student feedback on the program “has been just amazing. The students found the experience very moving.”

Allan Garry, a Vietnam veteran, said he was struck by how engaged the students were. “The kids were caring, curious, intelligent,” he said. “When we talked with them about what the war was like, they had some real serious, thoughtful questions.”

Garry was just 22 when was sent to Vietnam and assigned to the American Division's Graves Registration, Search and Recovery unit, identifying fellow soldiers killed in combat. Upon his return to the States, he started college, began to write, had a family and hoped to become a teacher and writer. But he said he began to struggle emotionally and found he could no longer write. Diagnosed with PTSD, Garry has been in the VA’s PTSD outpatient programs for 17 years.

Today he is a published poet, playwright and musician. The creative arts therapy programs gave him back his writing, he said, and, in many ways, his life.

The project takes its name from exit 43 off I-95, the First Avenue-West Haven exit that leads both to UNH and to the VA hospital.

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Exit 43 will be open and free to the public Tuesday, April 16th through Saturday, May 3rd at The West Haven Veterans Museum and Learning Center, 30 Hood Terrace, West Haven. Besides the Tuesday opening, exhibit hours are Wednesdays and Fridays, noon to 4 pm, and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information, contact Karen Grava, Director of Media Relations, 203-932-7246.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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