Curtis Bean’s ice-blue eyes have seen far more than any 28-year-old’s ought to. During his two tours in Iraq, the former Army sniper, who enlisted at the age of 17, witnessed a Humvee blow up from a roadside bomb. The explosion killed four of his friends. Upon his return to the States, he saw the bottom of too many bottles, a way of dealing with his then-undiagnosed PTSD.
Today, though, Bean’s glacial blues are focused on providing veterans a path to healing through art with his Art of War Project. Once a month, Bean, a fine arts student at the University of Colorado Denver, offers free classes to veterans at South Broadway’s Hope Tank as an outlet for the sometimes ugly images locked in their minds. “The ability to put the thoughts and images in my head into a medium has been a healing I’ve needed for a long time,” says one veteran who attended
For Bean, the monthly meet-ups aren’t just about art and a necessary release. They also provide veterans with an opportunity to learn about resources. And Bean knows well the value of those resources: He completed the Denver VA Medical Center’s seven-week inpatient PTSD program in January 2013. “The help I received while I was there was inspirational,” Bean says. “I also realized how therapeutic art was for me.”
Shortly after he completed the program, he began running art classes at the Denver Vet Center; then he approached his former counselors at the Denver VA Medical Center about integrating art therapy as a regular part of the PTSD program. They agreed, and last August Bean started running art classes at the VA every other week.
“The veterans look forward to it. If they had it their way, it wouldn’t just be every other week,” says Stacey Carroll, a staff nurse for the PTSD program. “It’s Curtis’ way of paying it forward, and he has made a great impact. The connection he gets—it’s like no other.”
Invaluable, but not inexpensive. Bean buys all the art supplies himself, using money from the sales of the Art of War T-shirts and hats he designs to fund his project. Eventually, he hopes to have a small studio where he can host regular art classes, create his own art, and showcase veterans’ work. (In the meantime, the RedLine gallery will exhibit their work in an April show.)
Still, the shirts and hats do more than simply help purchase paint, paper, and clay. They help raise awareness about PTSD and the need for resources for veterans, and, perhaps most important, remind other veterans that they are not alone. “I just want them to know it gets better,” Bean says. “It’s still hard sometimes. But the more you realize what you’re dealing with, the easier it gets.”
5280.com Exclusive: See a slideshow of Bean’s and other veterans’ work at 5280.com/artofwar.
Get Involved: Veterans can attend Bean’s next seminar from 6–8 p.m., on Feb. 11 at Hope Tank, 64 S. Broadway, 720-837-1565. Or support the program by purchasing one of Bean’s T-shirts or hats or donating art supplies. hopetank.org
—Photography by Aaron Colussi