Army veteran Bill Richards served in Desert Storm and is working to make creative arts training available to as many as possible for free.
He started playing banjo at the age of nine and moved on to guitar when he was 11. He now specializes in multiple art forms, including drawing and digital design.
His vision for promoting the creative arts across Michigan and throughout the United States started when he moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan and he began receiving services from the VA. His mental health provider recommended that he explore the arts and music therapy programs at the VA.
During his experience with art and music therapy at the VA, he realized that there was a need for hands on instruction. In 2018, he investigated the Michigan Veterans Entrepreneur Lab, which held a cash prize competition for new business ideas. He won a $2000 prize for his idea to offer creative arts instruction, and he realized that he could meet a significant need for his community.
In 2019, his idea expanded to include giving veterans an outlet to promote, market and sell their products. After attending comic con tradeshows to sell his artwork, Richards had the idea to create a space for veterans to sell their artwork. He created a website called vetacon.com. The local Grand Rapids news stations interviewed him about his efforts to provide free creative arts services.
Richards says that people can help him meet his goals by buying artwork from a veteran. He says that this shows that veterans are important and that they have value. He knows from his own recovery journey how veterans struggle to recognize their self-worth and he expresses sorrow at how many veterans commit suicide. He wants to get them involved in something they enjoy that can get them feeling good about themselves.
Richards tries to lead by example. He has won many awards in various art competitions, but he doesn’t believe it is about a competition with others.
“It’s a competition within oneself,” he says, “To strive to be better than we were yesterday.”
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