By Alvin Townley
“When you’re in a combat zone, you exist in two worlds,” explained Colonel Randy F. Rizor. “You’re in a world of constant diligence, struggle and hurt whenever you’re on duty. Then you retreat to another world when your day’s mission ends. You create your own home, a place of escape – a place of peace, literature, art, and music. That construct allows you to relax and feel human. It reminds you what you’re fighting to protect.”
“The arts not only sustain soldiers in the field, they help them heal at home,” continued Rizor, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and also an Atlanta-area physician. “That’s why the Woodruff Arts Center Veterans Program is such a meaningful gift.”
Last year, more than 7,500 veterans, military family members, and their guests benefited from the Arts Center’s Home Depot Veterans Program, which provides no-cost access to the arts for this special population. It allows artists at the Woodruff Arts Center to inspire with art those men and women who inspire us with service.
The program provides free tickets to Alliance Theatre and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Delta Classical Series performances, along with free admission to the High Museum of Art and free parking. Gold Star families, those who’ve lost someone in the line of duty, send children to Alliance Theatre summer camps. The Center also hosts special events to celebrate service and recently unveiled a new Veterans Alcove featuring a mural by renowned Atlanta artist Steve Penley.
As part of the program, participants in the Shepherd Center’s SHARE Military Initiative for veterans suffering from forms of brain injury come to The Woodruff’s Midtown campus as part of their therapy. At the High Museum of Art, they can feel safety and beauty in the galleries. At the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, staff worked with one emotionally-wounded veteran to acclimate him to the bustle and noise of a symphony concert so he could feel comfortable enough to bring his girlfriend to a performance. Mission accomplished.
The Woodruff also weaves veterans-related themes into its artistic programming. The Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage recently featured Ugly Lies the Bone, a play that shines a light on visible and invisible wounds of returning veterans. In 2018, the Arts Center also hosted 41 black-and-white portraits from Stacy Pearsall’s Veterans Portrait Project, a nationally-acclaimed photography exhibition. Pearsall, a wounded veteran and two-time Military Photographer of the Year, visited the Arts Center with her service dog Charlie (the NBC TODAY Show’s Puppy with a Purpose) to share her story and open the exhibition.
Few would have expected an arts center to become a pillar of a major city’s veteran and military community. Yet through this unique partnership with The Home Depot Foundation, and with support from other Atlanta leaders like Delta Air Lines and the Shepherd Center, the Woodruff Arts Center has opened wide its doors to those who’ve served in the armed forces. These men and women have walked through in droves, demonstrating the broad reach and important role the arts play in lives throughout Atlanta.
Alvin Townley is a vice president at Atlanta’s Woodruff Arts Center and also serves as the Center’s Home Depot Director of Veterans Programs. A best-selling, New York Times-reviewed author, he has written five nationally-acclaimed books related to military service, helped produce an Emmy-winning film, and spoken at major venues including the White House and the U.S. Air Force, Military, and Naval Academies.