Supporting veterans through art

Navy Veteran and Uniting US artist Kelly McPhee creates art using salvaged materials from Community Forklift.

Nonprofit organization Uniting US provides therapeutic art wellness activities to help veterans work through PTSD and other psychological issues. During the isolation caused by COVID-19 social distancing, this amazing group is providing important support to veterans living in Veterans Affairs housing and elsewhere in Washington, DC. Through our Community Building Blocks Program (CBB), Community Forklift has partnered with Uniting US to provide free art supplies to veteran artists in their programs, many of whom have limited financial means.

One such artist is Kelly D. McPhee Sr., a Navy Veteran who was introduced to the veteran artist community in 2018. In addition to creating his own art, McPhee volunteers with the organization by helping with grant writing, assisting with transporting art to and from shows, and supporting the veteran artists by enrolling them in local shows and galleries. “We build portfolios and give each of our artists a chance to celebrate art and share their message with a large audience. I enjoy the friendships with my fellow veterans and the support that comes with a shared love for our country and art as a healing tool,” McPhee said.

With support from the CBB grant, McPhee has been able to use salvaged materials from Community Forklift in his artwork. “I discover history and memories in the small pieces that I find at Community Forklift,” he explains. “Sometimes I find a frame with an old canvas to paint over, or glue, or any of a number of things that I can use in my art. I use that energy to bring the artwork together or begin another piece.”

“Community Forklift has been a godsend. I enjoy using “old stuff” in my art as well as normal artist sundries. I was struggling to purchase art supplies and other pieces of my art process just to enjoy art as a hobby. Now that I am an artist with Uniting US, it has been extremely important that I have the ability to create meaningful work and share it with my fellow artists and the public. I want to continue the healing process that art brings to my life.”

To support McPhee and other Uniting US artists, The Hill Center is hosting an online art show from October 1 – December 31. The event features approximately 125 pieces and offers supplementary programming including virtual artists’ interviews. All artwork is available for purchase and a portion of the proceeds supports free community programs at Hill Center, a non-profit arts and cultural organization.

I am inspired by other people, artists or not. I think that all of us are artists at heart or at least have the capacity to share what we consider art with others. Art is a multidimensional tool that allows me to share my personal perspective on current affairs, past experiences or just to hide a riddle within the paint and canvas. Human nature is beautiful to me, but I prefer to see life as an abstraction.

Kelly D. McPhee Sr.

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Every time you donate or shop at Community Forklift, you’re helping us lift up local communities through reuse.  We turn the construction waste stream into a resource stream for communities in the DC region – by keeping perfectly good items out of the landfill, preserving historical materials, providing low-cost building supplies, and creating local green jobs.