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From war to watercolor

Unique nonprofit helps veterans heal through artistic expression

Painting, as a way of finding peace, at Bedlam Arts. Photo credit: Bedlam Arts

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The life of a military veteran isn't always a glorious one. The things that are witnessed, heard and felt can significantly alter the mind into a place of darkness and despair. In these instances, finding a healthy coping mechanism is imperative to make the healing journey as beneficial as possible. Artistic expression is one such method, and thanks to veteran and nonprofit founder Wes Davis, a valuable organization has been crafted in Bedlam Arts.

Formerly an SSG in the Army, Wes Davis served for 13 years before his honorable discharge in 2013. "I initially served as a crew chief for the OH-58D Kiowa Helicopter for four years, before reclassing to medical logistics where I remained for the next nine years of my Army career," Davis explained. "My time included deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan where I served in a variety of subordinate and leadership positions."

After his military departure, Davis set out on the next leg of his journey: continuing his college education. "Completing my undergrad in psychology while still in the Army as a noncommissioned officer, I felt a strong pull towards helping and coaching others in times of difficulty. I wanted to continue my education, so I visited all the schools at the education center on post and found Brandman University the most receptive for accredited graduate degrees," enthused Davis.

"When I left the military and found myself painting more, engaging my mind in art, everything seemed to fade into the distance and become more manageable," relayed Davis. "I wanted to package this in a way that was accessible to other veterans who struggle with finding peace."

This philosophy served as the catalyst for the formation of Davis' nonprofit organization, Bedlam Arts. "Initially inspired by fellow therapists at the Tacoma Vet Center, my mentor, team leader, and past Brandman University professor Debra Bretey helped me develop my first art group -- drawing on my lifelong obsession with painting," Davis recalled.

"The group was well-received and soon expanded to three different groups, with eight to 10 veteran participants each. I elevated the experience from small arts and crafts to fine art that takes time to complete, helping participants slow down and focus on the process, rather than on the final product. Through trial and error, I eventually stood Bedlam Arts up as a registered 501(c)(3) and pitched my group idea to the Vet Center."

What lies ahead for Bedlam Arts? "Short-term goals include earning funding for more groups including guitar, pencil drawing, writing, acrylic paints, watercolor, and more. Bedlam Arts is completely funded by donations, with all proceeds going back into the program. If readers have a moment, stop by our website and enjoy our gallery. Leave a donation if you're able. It's our hope for Bedlam Arts to eventually move into a facility where veterans, active-duty servicemembers and their families can access a wide range of creative media free of cost -- with knowledgeable veteran artists nearby to help guide."

Artistic expression wears many hats in terms of its usefulness in making the world a more aesthetically pleasing place. It also creates space for healing, self-confidence and the knowledge that the world is being transformed into a wholly better one, one brush stroke at a time. For more info about Bedlam Arts, please visit

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