Creativity lends comfort to veterans via new program by Studio Arts Dept.

By Ziba Kon
In Motion Staff Writer

Ceramics instructor Trent Berning is turning past experience into a new program for veterans at Daytona State College. All told, he has 15 years teaching experience, five of which he’s spent at DSC.

Brandi Matzek, one of the veterans in the Vet Arts program, and Erin Hamilton engrossed in their creations in the Wednesday night ceramics class.
Brandi Matzek, one of the veterans in the Vet Arts program, and Erin Hamilton take part in the Wednesday night ceramics class.

Before joining the staff here, however, he worked at Palomore and Mar Costa community colleges in Southern California. His most profound teaching experience was at Camp Pendleton, the famous Marine base at the southern tip of the state.

“I have family in the military and my previous work led me to write the grant,” says the Associate Professor of Art, who applied for and recently received a grant creating the Veterans Art Project. “Supporting our veterans clearly fits in with Daytona State’s core values and mission. I have a large ceramic studio for the students to take advantage of and a number of differing class times for them to choose from. Such a program will be beneficial to our military veterans, both mentally and physically. Ceramics is an excellent medium for artist expression that is accessible to everyone with no restraints of experience.”

Now in progress, the program has a half-dozen veterans who attend ceramics classes twice weekly, but he expects that number to double as more hear about the opportunity. At present, Berning says almost 1,000 military veterans attend classes on campus.

Mark Poole, Karen Kennedy and Melanie Valez enjoying themselves in the Vet Arts ceramics class.
Mark Poole, Karen Kennedy and Melanie Valez enjoying themselves in the Vet Arts ceramics class.

The plan is to use their work for future exhibitions. Berning says that there are many possible venues on campus and on satellite campuses that could showcase their work, including the teaching gallery in building 520 used for student art shows and special projects; the Veterans Center on campus, which could make a nice show space, while exposing the program to more veterans; and the News-Journal Center, which also boasts a gallery space overlooking the Halifax River.

In addition, every spring semester there is a juried student art show that displays a wide diversity of student artwork in various mediums.

“With the veterans being mixed in with the general studio course they would be eligible to apply for the show and potentially win scholarships and art supplies,” says Berning. “I believe in the healing nature of the ceramic medium and love to pass on my passion to veterans and their families. This is an issue that is close to my heart because I have had a number of family members serve in both the Army and Marines.”

The art instructor also plans to engage Daytona State’s marketing department to help promote shows and has the full backing of the administration. Doug Peterson, Chair of the Mike Curb College of Music, Entertainment and Art, which oversees the art department, was instrumental in helping Berning obtain the grant through letters of support.

Two veterans from his night class are retired Air Force sergeant Brandie (NAME TO COME) and Mark (NAME TO COME), who served in the Army and Coast Guard.

Originally from Florida. Brandie retired from the Air Force after 21 years of service and is now earning a degree  in photography. Mark ??, from Baltimore, is a decorated soldier who served in Operation Desert Storm. During the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, he was stationed in Washington, D.C. with the Coast Guard. After his service, he also was homeless when he moved to Florida, but received assistance from Veterans Affairs and was able to obtain housing.

Both (LAST NAMES HERE) agree that ceramics class is therapeutic for the many issues they encounter, as they continue to transition from military to civilian life.

Mark often would wake up wondering what his purpose was after the military.

“I have found the course is giving me the motivation to overcome the angst of my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” said Mark (LAST NAME), “and the chance to go home with something good made from my own hands.”

Brandie enjoys the relaxing feeling and free thinking Berning employs in the class, even allowing the playing of music while they work.

As Berning sees it, “Art allows individuals to express themselves in ways that can often be difficult strictly verbally. Ceramics is physically and mentally beneficial by being a creative outlet to produce a physical interactive object and as a mode to express one’s self.

“Ceramics is also said to improve focus by escaping the worries of life and shifting to a creative frame of mind. Other physical and mental benefits of the ceramic medium are the encouragement of sociability, stress relief and the freedom to express oneself through the infinite possibilities of the ceramic medium.”

Anyone interested in knowing more about Veterans Art Project can contact Berning at 386-506-3347 or go to