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National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum

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National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum

National Vietnam Veteran's Art Museum at 1801 S. Indiana Avenue, Chicago, IL

Jennifer Roche

Overview:

There is no other museum like NVVAM in the country, and perhaps, the world. While other institutions fill their halls with the artifacts of war, this Chicago museum is filled with the human experiences of war captured, examined, and expressed through art.

NVVAM's collection has more than 800 pieces representing more than 170 artists, three floors of exhibit space, and a theater space named in honor of comedian Bob Hope.

Location and Hours:

National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum
1801 S. Indiana Avenue
Chicago, IL 60616
(312)326-0270
National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum Home Page

Hours:
Open Tues to Sat, 11a-6p
Open Sat, 10a-5p
Also open on major veterans' holidays such as Memorial Day and Veteran's Day.

Admission:
Members and Personnel on Active Duty, Free
General Admission, $10
Students, $7

Location:
Link to Directions
NVVAM is located on the southeast corner of Indiana Avenue and 18th Street.

Mission Statement:

"The National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum inspires greater understanding of the real impact of war with a focus on Vietnam. The museum collects, preserves and exhibits art inspired by combat and created by veterans."

History:

NVVAM grew from a community of veterans who became artists in the aftermath of their wartime experiences. Their first exhibit was launched in 1980 and toured several U.S. cities. Mayor Richard M. Daley was so moved by the exhibit that he helped the artists find a permanent home for their museum in the South Loop area.
Although NVVAM was initially founded to display work from Vietnam veterans, its mission expanded in 2003 to include art created from experiences in all the nation's conflicts.

Statement on the Lobby Wall:

My guide for the morning, the amiable veteran, artist and volunteer Mike Brotkowski, told me to begin my visit by reading a statement the museum has posted on its lobby wall:
"If you hold a real weapon in your hand, you will feel its character strongly. It begs to be used. It is fearsome. It's only purpose is death, and it's only power is not just in the material from which it was made, but also from the intention of its makers.

"It is regreattable that sometimes weapons must be used, but occasionally, survival demands it. The wise go forth with weapons only as a last resort. They never rejoice in the skill of weapons, nor do they glorify war.
"When death, pain, and destruction are visited upon what you hold to be the most sacred, the spiritual price is devastating. What hurts more than one's own suffering is bearing witness to the suffering of others. The regret of seeing human beings at their worst and the sheer pain of not being able to help the victims can never be redeemed.
"If you go personally to war, you cross the line yourself. You sacrifice ideals for survival and fury of killing. That alters you forever. That is why no one rushes to be a soldier. Think before you want to change so unalterably. The stakes are not merely one's life, but one's very humanity."
--"Thoughts on War" quoted from Deng Ming-Dao, a Taoist monk, several hundred years before Christ.

Notes :

After such a remarkable introduction, I spent time viewing the artwork. The museum does not have many permanently-displayed pieces, but the choices from the collection I saw included paintings, drawings, pastels, sculptures, photography, and several temporary exhibits.

I found the art moving, and often intense, but rarely predictable. It was well beyond mere expressions of the experience of war. Rather, the art seemed to be the war internalized, experienced, and pieced back together through each artist's reckoning with aspects of his or her humanity.

When you enter NVVAM's lobby, be sure to look up to view "Above & Beyond," one of the museum's only permanent exhibits. It was created using dog tags to represent each soldier killed in Vietnam.
    "Above & Beyond"
  • Concept: Rich Steinboch & Ned Broderick
  • Design: Mike Helbing & Joe Fornelli

Nearby Attractions
While visiting the NVVAM, you may want to consider visiting these other attractions:

Cafe Society Coffeehouse
Located in the NVVAM lobby.
1801 S. Indiana Ave.
Chicago, IL
(312)842-4210

The Glessner House Museum
1800 South Prairie Avenue
Chicago, IL 60616
(312)326-1480

The Clarke House Museum
1827 S. Indiana Avenue
Chicago, IL
(312)326-1480

Prairie Avenue Landmark District
1800, 1900 Blocks of South Prairie Avenue
1800 block of South Indiana
211-217 E. Cullerton
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