The 296 Project, More than an Art Space

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By Robert F. Murray, The von Brahler Ltd.

"Iwo" by Meg McKenzie.
“Iwo” by Meg McKenzie.
It’s a lot about the art itself, what it represents, whom it represents, what it does for the artist and the viewer and why for all of it in the first place. The 296 Project is, for one, a real place, an art space in the up and coming Art Underground in Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia. The 296 Project, more importantly, is a unique art therapy program created by Dr. Scott Gordon, a psychologist, with a passionate dedication to helping veterans and their families confront and deal with PTSD and TBI.

Scott Gordon’s 296 Project got under way in October, 2013 and now has a promising future and goals that are absorbing and will need backing. His education, application, and outlook pave a more open and clearer road for veterans with PTSD, one out of every five, returning from deployments. Gordon will soon launch “Operation Tarheal,” that will change people by therapy that will deliver onsite art-based trauma recovery units to locations where they are needed.

"Trident" by Navy SEAL and Maryland 5D Congressional Candidate, Kris Beck.
“Trident” by Navy SEAL and Maryland 5D Congressional Candidate, Kris Beck.
I felt the 296 Project’s positive environment in the various mediums of art, well-displayed in their modern, efficient space in the heart of the retail gallery world of the Crystal City Underground. The art, the painting, and the sculpture carry multiple messages, the many reactions, sentiments, grievances, the quiet heroism that many men and women carry deep inside their personas. There is certain strangeness to the beauty you’ll experience unlike in any other art gallery. It may be about war in general, but it brings out that shadowed side of humanity provoked to the surface by the horrors of human conflict, perhaps “subhuman” conflict to many in uniform. Through the use of art, the images and devastating damage and impressions left traumatically in one’s head has the chance get out, to be actualized, to be seen, to be dealt with in a way it has not been before. Dr. Gordon and his Deputy Director, Meg Yamato, have the opportunity to assist the veteran to adjust to normal society and deal with the variety of resultant conditions, like substance abuse and alcoholism as well as a host of other problems trapped in a PTSD or TBI sufferer.

This is a place for everyone to experience, military or other. Anyone can go there during regular business hours to take a look, hang out for awhile, have some dialogue about what is happening. Art teachers can get involved in workshops or set up to help out in individual ways. This 296 Project is a very positive place. The realities and vestiges of war are encompassing but presented as “artworks” and, like art, are therapeutic like nothing else so far manages to be in the same ways.

An acquaintance of mine told me of time he spent in jail. He said some former inmate had scratched into the wall, “The nightmare is…..” It seems to me that the nightmares of the PTSD conditions when juxtaposed against the therapy that the 296 Project offers can turn this deeply felt emotional freeze into a Spring, into a Summer. The process of art creates an awakening in the doing and, often, in the result of visualizing feelings that could not be seen before.

All artworks created here are not meant for sale. Some are not all displayed, but there are certain ones that are displayed and can be purchased directly from the person who created it. Better to say that the 296 Project place is not a hiding or a selling place, it is a “finding” place. It is a non-profit and does need funding.

If there was no other reason to go to the 296 Project gallery, “Winnie,” Gordon’s 3-year old canine assistant will make the entire experience a wagging joy. She is therapy with a tail. I feel pretty inadequate trying to relate in words what I found at 296. Since I am a visual arts character, I can at least prompt the reader to visit this place, see the art and what all is behind it. Words alone cannot express what you will observe and understand. It is more than an educational thing. Take a look at some of the “Artworks from Project 296” shown here. Hopefully, you’ll see what I mean.