GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The ArtPrize 2022 venue at Veterans Memorial Park features the work of 22 veterans, a number selected to represent veterans who die by suicide.

“It’s overwhelming for the veterans who made it through (their service),” said Pamela Alderman, the curator for [Has Heart] at Veterans Memorial Park, “and then their soldiers, their friends, they’re now committing suicide and that’s overwhelming to them.”

Alderman, who has active-duty military in her family, said she worked with the 22 artists to express their struggles, pain and triumphs through their work.

“This art is a healing art,” she said. “It’s a way to change the focus and do something positive that really helps these veterans experience peace.”

U.S. Navy veteran Dr. Kimberly Barrington’s entry, titled “Dis Is Not Me,” highlights the physical disability and mental challenges veterans face after their service.

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“’Dis’ is a prefix for disability,” she said. “I need to dismantle the perception that people have of a person with disabilities.”

Barrington uses a wheelchair after suffering a stroke years ago. But it is her mental health struggle that ties this artist to the 21 others whose pieces are featured at the park.

“Art sort of bypasses the head and goes right to the heart,” Alderman said. “So they can use this art to sort of work through the trauma and work through their fears.”

Barrington joined the Navy in 1984. While she said it was the best thing she could have done, she wished the Navy had handled her reports of sexual and physical assault differently.

“I just remember that day when I woke up and it just all crashed on me: The very thing that I loved, that I said that I would serve and I would defend this Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic… You didn’t give that back to me,” she said.

"Dis Is Not Me" by Kimberly Kennedy-Barrington on display at Veterans Memorial Park for ArtPrize 2022.
“Dis Is Not Me” by Kimberly Kennedy-Barrington on display at Veterans Memorial Park for ArtPrize 2022.

Barrington’s struggle led to some of her darkest days.

“When my kids went to school that day, everything that I had glass, I broke,” she said. “These pictures meant absolutely nothing to me. This life. And I took one of the pieces of glass from the picture frame and slit both my wrists.”

She survived. But according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the average number of suicides among veterans nationwide per day rose to 16.8 in 2020. Statistics from 2021 are not yet available.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached any time by dialing 988. Kent County Veterans Services also works with local men and women to provide information and services to help those struggling.