Sunday, 03 October 2021 19:41

Warm Hearts

Written by  Michaela Stock
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HAS HEART | 50 States. HAS HEART | 50 States. Courtesy Photo

Storytelling has the power to bring people from opposite ends of the earth into a space of empathy. Saugatuck Center for the Art newest exhibit, HAS HEART | 50 States, does just that. 

Showcasing the stories of veterans who have served all over the world, HAS HEART uses the power of design and creativity to unravel the complexities of a veteran’s experience. Executive Director Kristin Armstrong described the gallery as “both profound and elegantly simple”, which also summarizes the idea of storytelling itself. 

For an even deeper insight on the HAS HEART exhibit’s already resonant message, Elizabeth Ablan, the education assistant at SC4A, provided another angle to the ongoing dialogue that is the story of veterans in America. 

In your own words, can you give our readers an elevator pitch on what the HAS HEART | 50 States exhibition is all about? 

The HAS HEART exhibition gives the greater community the opportunity to see the often hidden stories of our veterans through visual representations. The original idea took place over a cup of coffee, where a veteran and a graphic designer sat down and shared with one another their experiences. What birthed out of this unique mash up was the idea to give veterans across the nation the opportunity to express their stories of resilience, strength and hope through a visual representation. 

What about this project strikes you personally? 

What strikes me the most about this project is that the making of the final piece can only happen when both parties communicate openly and honestly. It showcases the power of vulnerability in sharing one’s story and the beauty of capturing one’s story and message through a visual collaboration.

What can a viewer expect to see when they walk into the HAS HEART gallery space? Are there 50 pieces of art that represent the 50 states?

Yes, the end goal of 50 States is to highlight one veteran and one designer pairing from each of the 50 states. At the moment, HAS HEART has visited 15 of the 50 states. When viewers come to the HAS HEART gallery space, they will see a sampling of these pieces of art through highlighted vignettes. Each vignette would showcase behind the scenes and in-depth details of the design process of the veteran and designer pair. Viewers will be able to follow the painted road signs and path of the HAS HEART 50 States through the selected states and learn more at the various stops. 

Why is this exhibit making a stop at Saugatuck Center for the Arts?

The Saugatuck Center for the Arts is committed to building community by providing spaces for the community to connect, grow and learn more about each other through the arts. The HAS HEART mission of elevating the voices of veterans through a collaborative and community building process is exactly the kind of exhibit we love hosting at the SC4A. 

How does the HAS HEART exhibition fit specifically into the greater West Michigan community and current dialogue?

I think the HAS HEART exhibit plays an important role in providing the greater West Michigan community an opportunity to learn more about each other. I think now more than ever, we are in need of slowing down and really listening to one another and learning about one another. The pairing of a veteran and designer does exactly that. It models for us how to sit across from someone with different lived experiences, ask questions, listen, and learn that our differences can indeed make us more connected than we ever thought possible.  


To celebrate the debut of HAS HEART | 50 States, the Saugatuck Center for the Arts is hosting a free, all-ages outdoor concert — featuring Mark Lavengood — on Friday, November 12. The HAS HEART founders, Michael Hyacinthe and Tyler Way, will be on-site presenting about the project alongside art samples and merchandise.

Guests are invited to enjoy cocktails at the SC4A bar, as well as food from a Veteran owned food truck. Kid-friendly activities will be spotlit at the event as well, including a postcard station where we will be writing encouraging notes and drawing pictures to send to Veterans and active service members.

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