A photo illustration by Cody Vance for the Open the Door project. Photo courtesy of Cody Vance.

“The desire of the Open The Door program is to spread the knowledge that through creative activity, art can help the healing process. PTSD sufferers – military as well as non-military – and those who are affected by other behavioral issues need creative outlets to help cope with daily stressors.

After its tremendous success in Houston, the Texan-French Alliance for the Arts public art program Open the Door has come to San Antonio to use art to help heal the city’s veterans. San Antonio was selected for the pilot program because of its long history of veteran support as “Military City, USA.” Altogether, veterans represent more than 10% of San Antonio’s population.

Our veterans experience significant transitions when they return from combat operations, as they resume the role of parent and spouse following a prolonged absence, and as they leave military service to return to a civilian lifestyle. Many also suffer from PTSD.

The Open the Door veterans program uses art as a visual dialogue between veterans, local artists, and members of the community. This citywide public art program provides a platform for veterans to express themselves and begin the healing process.

The door is a strong, universal symbol of transition and progression. Painted on one side of each door are the artistic interpretations of the experiences that the veterans want to share with their community, while the other side of the door depicts the community’s visual responses to the veterans’ messages.

These painted doors are the end product of a deliberate creative process, including therapeutic workshops, an exhibition documenting the veterans’ journeys, and a public art installation that activates interaction between veterans and their community. Installing the doors in public spaces enables the creation of a supportive network for veterans and expands their dialogue throughout San Antonio and its communities.

The first unveiling of the doors will be on Memorial Day – Monday, May 30 – at 5:30 p.m. at the VFW Post 76, the oldest post in San Antonio. The pilot program is also looking for a permanent venue in San Antonio for the doors to be installed for all to experience.

The doors created by the Open the Door teams will be on display for all to view and to provide their thoughts and comments about what they feel the artwork means.

Terry Ibañez and Polo Calimag discuss during an Open Door team workshop. Photo by Luis M. Garza.
Terry Ibañez and Polo Calimag discuss during an Open Door team workshop. Photo by Luis M. Garza.

The Open the Door teams will share their experiences and their individual stories about each door. Craft tables will be set up for all to create their own door on pieces of leather and to experience other creative outlets. A raffle for a door created using the leather pieces will be held to raise funds for the program.

Kim Bishop and Luis Valderas are San Antonio educators, artists and curators from Art to the Third Power, and were asked by the Southwest School of Art and the Texas French Alliance for the Arts to spearhead the project.

“At first we were a little skeptical … but when we found out that it involved working with veterans we couldn’t wait,” Bishop said. “The premise of the Open The Door project is to build bridges between the community, artists and veterans suffering with PTSD. Not only to help Veterans transition to civilian life but to help the civilian community understand the struggle of those suffering from PTSD.”

Bishop and Valderas put five teams together made up of one artist, one community activist, and one veteran each to create five public installation pieces out of large metal doors. In order to “help (the) teams gel,” they also designed and conducted four team building workshops to explore art and artistic practices.

“The results and the feedback from all involved has been overwhelming,” Bishop said. “Even our psychologists have stated that they could not have gotten the same results in such a short period of time.”

Participants also bonded as team, “and mentored each other in ways we couldn’t have imagined and created some amazing works of art.

“I can’t wait to see (the doors) on exhibit and to see the reactions of the participants as they experience the adrenaline rush of an art show,” Bishop said. “The next step after this is to expand the pilot program to benefit more veterans and bring in more community participation.”

Cody Vance, Open the Door pilot program manager, Air Force veteran, and professional artist, has also seen the program positively affect participating veterans.

“Our pilot program had one mandate, one question to answer – can art provide healing to PTSD sufferers? Absolutely,” Vance said. “There is not a single person in the program that hasn’t been strongly affected by the experience; it positively and permanently affected the lives of everyone involved.”

Local business owner Bill Fitzgibbons said he was honored to lend a helping hand in the process.

“These men and women have given so much for our country and have to struggle with this awful condition (PTSD) as a result of experiencing severe trauma or a life-threatening event,” he said. “I strongly believe in the spiritual and restorative effects of the art making process and do believe that this creative activity gives these veterans a pathway to emotional healing and a sense of well being.”

But according to Tony Fantasia, Army veteran, founder of Vet Craft, and owner of Fantasia Custom Designs, the program is more than just a creative outlet.

“The Open the Door project has been a wonderful experience for me,” he said. “Not only am I given a chance to express the way that art and the creative process have helped me with managing my stress, but it has also introduced me to a community of civilian and military artists and crafters that I would not have gotten to know otherwise.

“I appreciate the program and I look forward to incorporating into my life and business.”


Top image: A photo illustration by Cody Vance for the Open the Door project. Photo courtesy of Cody Vance.

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Cody Vance is an award winning Department of Defense military graphic artist, illustrator and stone sculptor in San Antonio. You can see more of his work at www.codyvancesculpture.com. He is the SA project...