Join with the Sonoran Arts League to create a monumental community veteran art project to “Honor Those Who Serve”

michael rioux
Veteran Michael Rioux suffered from severe PTSD until he started taking free art classes offered by the non-profit Sonoran Arts League ARTREACH program. The League is seeking veterans and others to create aluminum plates that will be part of a monumental "Honor Those Who Serve" sculpture. Photo courtesy of the Sonoran Arts League.

CAVE CREEK – Some people etch names of loved ones who passed while battling a war. Others are veterans, who inscribe a personal note, sign their name or draw an image that is meaningful to them. Over the summer, more than 200 people from all over the state have created their own personalized aluminum plates that will be assembled into a monumental 14-foot “Honor Those Who Serve” installation in November.

The non-profit Sonoran Arts League and its member artists are reaching out to the community to participate in this worthy project.

dennis desprois
Veteran and Sonoran Arts League artist Dennis Desprois creates a personal message on an aluminum plate that will be part of a monumental “Honor Those Who Serve” sculpture. More veterans and others are needed to make more plates. Photo courtesy of the Sonoran Arts League.

Healing wounds one plate at a time

The Cave Creek-based Sonoran Arts League, Industrial Metal Supply Company, the American Legion and Unexpected Art Gallery in Phoenix are partnering on the unprecedented community art project, which is also a fundraiser for the League’s ARTREACH programs supporting art education, scholarships and free veteran outreach projects.

Once complete, the community art sculpture will be installed at the Unexpected Art Gallery, 734 W. Polk St., in Phoenix and on display from November 4 through 23, 2016.  Designed so people can view it both inside and outside, the massive sculpture will feature 700 three-inch by six-inch aluminum plates. The interior will also be wheel-chair accessible.

“Our veterans have sacrificed so much to keep our country and freedoms safe, but we know that many of them struggle with physical and emotional wounds,” Pat Bell-Demers, Sonoran Arts League executive director, said. “We hope by offering this collaborative project, veterans and their friends and families will come together to create something truly special that is both inspiring and enriches their lives.”

Bell-Demers knows the pain that veterans live with well. Her brother, Michael Rioux, served in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, and while he had been in the Army since 1979, serving in the war-torn country that was riddled with land mines and other horrific experiences took its toll on him.

Rioux, a Glendale resident, suffered from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) before taking the art classes.

“I was 100 percent disabled and completely detached from my feelings,” he said.

With no art background, he was not sure what to expect from the free veteran art classes. He started with drawing classes, using a photograph he had from Afghanistan.

“Several of us rescued a dog that had been caught up in barb wire. We nursed him back to health and he now lives on a farm in Vermont,” he said, adding that, with the help of the League’s volunteer artists, the drawing turned out so well, he will enter it into the Arizona State Fair this year.

The art classes lifted his heart, and he challenged himself to try working with other media. “Right now I’m sculpting a marble piece for my granddaughter,” he said.

Rioux said being involved with the free veteran art programs at the Sonoran Arts League has allowed him to view life in a whole new perspective and add new skills and interests he never had before.

“Through art, I have a sense of purpose again and my self-worth has returned. I thought I could never get back those things back, and I’m only limited by my creativity now,” he said, adding that he hopes other veterans will take advantage of the free art classes and contribute to the community project.

Create Your Own Aluminum Art Plate

Veterans who would like to participate in the “Honor Those Who Serve” community art project can create an aluminum plate for free on the first and third Thursday of every month, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 pm during free veteran art classes at the Sonoran Arts League ARTREACH Community Studio, in Cave Creek. Friends, family members and others also can create their own plates for a suggested minimum donation of $10.

In Phoenix, veterans and others can create aluminum plates at the Unexpected Art Gallery, 734 W. Polk St., on the First Friday event of every month from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. or on the third Wednesday of every month from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The Sonoran Arts League will also bring aluminum plates to groups of 15 or more if employers or civic groups would like to participate. For more information, call 480-575-6624, or visit