Shortlist entry honors fallen serviceman

"HERO [series]," by Michael Hyacinthe, is an ArtPrize Nine Two-Dimensional entry on display at [HAS HEART] at Veterans Memorial Park. (Courtesy: ArtPrize)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – There’s an entry on the ArtPrize juror shortlist that pairs wounded veterans with professional designers.

It’s creating more than art, it’s also providing healing.

When visitors stop by the HERO[series] exhibit, Michael Hyacinthe usually has them start in the design room.

Shirts hang from the walls. They are custom-designed by men and women who served this country.

“For the past seven years we’ve worked with 35 wounded veterans,” explained Hyacinthe, the founder of [HAS HEART], an organization behind the HERO[series] entry.

Professional designers collaborated with five wounded veterans each of those years to create the walk-through exhibition.

It’s been different each year. You can find this year’s entry along Sheldon Avenue inside the memorial building there.

“Each of these designs has some very significant messages,” Hyacinthe said.

The messages are specific to each wounded vet.

Some of them weave in words that played a major role in their time while they were serving, words like “family,” “courage,” and “integrity.”

“This room is one of my favorite rooms,” the former Navy veteran said as he showed 24 Hour News 8 the “mail call room.”

On one side, there’s greeting cards with messages also inspired by veteran stories.

The other wall is peppered with other pieces of history.

“We were able to find very, very powerful letters that veterans communicated to loved ones back home during WWI, WWII and Vietnam.”

There’s a lot to see, learn and purchase inside the intimate space.

It’s a project Hyacinthe works on every year with vets, and this year it made the juror shortlist

He said that the idea blossomed from pain he felt during ArtPrize back in 2010, following the death of his wife’s cousin.

“This initiative, [HERO]series, was inspired by local marine Cpl (Dane) Deboer who was killed in combat,” he explained.

He said the West Michigan native was killed in Afghanistan.

“Everybody was happy. It was lively (during ArtPrize). We felt united outside of the house, but then we’d go back in the house we were mourning Dane’s death.”

Now, the yearly series keeps Cpl. DeBoer’s memory alive and provides wounded vets an opportunity to participate in the festive tradition.

“Our message is not just visual art, it’s heartfelt art. It impacts not just Grand Rapids, but it impacts and entire country.”

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