ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A first-of-its-kind, non-profit art center meant to help veterans now needs some help of its own.
In June, 10News first got a look at how the newly opened Veterans Art Center Tampa Bay was providing therapy and support through art to local veterans and first responders.
But the center’s executive director says he is worried there won't be enough funding to keep it open for much longer.
Retired Army Major Scott Macksam, or “Mack” as he is known to most, spent three years working to get the center off the ground. It officially opened in March.
Macksam said his focus is on mental health and suicide prevention. Work being done through the center has already prevented one suicide, he said.
“This is a very unique endeavor for the first time in Florida that we’re trying to do,” Macksam told 10News.
“But understand that this is now a community and Tampa Bay endeavor, that it’s everybody’s responsibility to try to give back or get involved.”
Macksam said that while programs and interest from local veterans and first responders is increasing, fundraising has lagged.
“We need help just like any other non for profit,” he said after the center missed its fundraising goal for September. Macksam blamed Hurricane Irma which forced the cancellation of an event.
The center needs at least $3,000 each month, Macksam says, to keep the lights on and several programs going. But even Macksam admits that comes up short. He estimates annual operating and program costs at roughly $31,000 and $21,000, respectively.
“It’s month by month and we’re trying to get out 6-8 months,” he said, referencing the desire to achieve sustainable, long-term funding.
Art therapy sessions, music classes, an outreach agreement with Pinellas County Jail, and an enrollment aid initiative with Morean Arts Center are among some nine programs that Macksam says the center currently offers to veterans and first responders.
John Katerberg, an Army veteran who severed in Afghanistan, met Macksam shortly after moving to the area a year ago.
“He didn’t know what I did, how good I was, but he gave me a lot of hope during a time that I was really depressed,” Katerberg said.
“That is really what the Veteran Arts Center Tampa Bay does, it gives a lot of people, no matter their artistic ability the opportunity to make art, to express themselves.”
Katerberg said it would be a “tragedy” if the center were forced to close. He hopes to offer classes teaching art basics to veterans who might be interested but intimated.
Veterans can display their artwork for free. If a piece is sold, a portion of the profits benefit the center.
An exhibit entitled “Innocent Souls: Vietnam 1968,” is currently being featured at the center, which includes dozens of photographs taken by Glenn Hoover of Key Largo, who was a first lieutenant in the Army at the time. The exhibit runs through the end of October at 6798 Crosswinds Dr. North, B106, St. Petersburg.
The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
►Make it easy to keep up-to-date with more stories like this. Download the 10 News app now.