The National Veterans Art Museum
Chicago is fortunate to have many amazing and prestigious museums –- the Field Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Science and Industry -– that thousands of people, be they tourists or residents, visit each year. What many people don’t realize, however, is there are also dozens of smaller, lesser-known museums containing fascinating art and artifacts, waiting to be explored. You just need to know where to look!
The National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum (NVVAM) is one such gem in the city. Originally consisting of just a small collection of pieces with no permanent home, the museum was founded in 1981 by veterans. According to its website, the purpose of the space was to “inspire 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.” Creating art and conveying to Americans the pain and suffering many veterans experienced in Vietnam has helped vets with the healing process, especially for those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
The NVVAM is the only museum whose entire collection highlights war and its effects through art. Knowing the art displayed has such a profound and personal significance for its artist, visiting the museum can often make for an emotional experience. Mayor Richard Daley was so moved by the art when he visited that he gave the collection a permanent home, which, since August 1996, has been in the South Loop at 1801 South Indiana Avenue.
As detailed on its website, each of the museum’s 1,500 plus pieces, which include paintings, photos, sculptures, poems, and music, “provides a unique viewpoint on the controversial subject of war to all visitors. It is a tenuous and reflective balance of beauty and horror, giving unique insight into the psyche of combat veterans and consequential hindsight war leaves on its survivors.” When visiting the Vietnam Wall memorial in Washington DC, one is shocked by its enormity. The list of names seems never ending, and all you can focus on is how many men sacrificed their lives. The NVVAM’s art, on the other hand, lends itself to a more visceral, emotional reflection on the sacrifices these veterans made for our country.
As of Memorial Day 2001, the NVVAM has had the honor of housing the only other permanent memorial to all Vietnam veterans, besides the Wall in DC. This memorial, entitled “Above and Beyond,” is comprised of metal tags bearing the names of the over 58,000 people who gave their lives in Vietnam. Though the museum still focuses heavily on the Vietnam War, in 2003 it began to expand its collection and now includes art by veterans of any war. As a result, it is sometimes referred to simply as the National Veterans Art Museum.
The NVVAM is a nonprofit museum and receives funding via grants, private donations, and membership dues. Its dedicated staff works on a purely volunteer basis and is always seeking more eager volunteers. The museum also offers discounted group tours scheduled in advance. Hours vary based on the season, and there are often new, visiting exhibits, so it’s best to check the website or call in advance for a visit. Whether you go to be educated or inspired, visiting the museum will leave you with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the sacrifices made when serving our country.
Location: 1801 S. Indiana Ave.
Metra: Metra Electric District Line toward University Park to 18th Street
Bus: #1,3,4, 62
Driving: From 90/94 get off at 18th Street Exit. Go East on 18th for 7 blocks.
From Lake Shore Drive or Downtown: Take Michigan Avenue to 18th Street.
Hours & Admission Prices
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