And that led him to create the Art of War Project to help other veterans also struggling with the lingering trauma of PTSD.
“I wanted to give back to the community,” Bean said, “to connect with them in a way that no one else was connecting with them. And that was through art.”
The Art of War Project is housed in a former gallery in Denver’s Santa Fe art district. The building was purchased by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and donated for use by the Art of War Project.
The building also serves as a VFW post, although it looks and feels different than most VFW posts. There’s no food or drink. Instead, there are yoga, meditation and art classes. The walls are lined with paintings created by military veterans whose service dates all the way back to World War II — including a survivor of Pearl Harbor. Sculptures are visible throughout. And there’s a room filled with t-shirts imprinted with the designs of veterans participating in the Art of War Project.
“We’re not trying to do art therapy,” Bean said. But the artwork — which includes film, video, printmaking (including lots of shirts with vet-created designs), sculpture and painting — “turns out being therapeutic.”
“We try to give veterans as many resources and outlets as we can to allow them to be successful in their daily lives,” Bean said. “We do great art shows here. And a lot of them (veterans) sell their work.”
“There’s no better feeling,” he added, “than creating something and having a complete stranger come up and be moved by it in a certain way and being moved to the point where they want to purchase it for their home.”
People from throughout the Denver area pour into the art district on the first Friday of each month for the Santa Fe Art Walk. And Art of War Project participants are on hand to meet the throng of visitors who show up at their building during these monthly events.
The Art of War Project is free and open to all military veterans, regardless of when they served or whether they served in combat.
“We understand veterans go through trials and tribulations outside of combat,” Bean said. “We’re trying to give veterans outlets and help them for the rest of their lives, if possible.”
The artwork is just part of the value veterans get from the project, Bean said. Meeting other vets and sharing experiences with one another is another.
“They’re able to talk to these veterans, complete strangers, better than they talk to their family members” in many cases, Bean said. “It’s really beneficial.”
“There are healthy and positive options (for dealing with PTSD) other than medicating or self-medicating through prescriptions and alcohol abuse,” Bean said. “You just have to find the right option for you.” Another option Bean uses for dealing with his PTSD is cannabis. We’ll cover that in another video.