Veterans + Artists United

December 2017 – during the year-end meeting, the AIGA Los Angeles board talks about giving back and becoming more engaged in the community of Los Angeles and surrounding areas and revising its vision statement to reflect these goals. January 2018 – during its first Board Meeting of the year, the Los Angeles chapter announces a revised vision statement, a North Star: To create a well-connected design community that strengthens design’s impact on society.

Flashback to Summer of 2017 – [HAS HEART], a Michigan-based nonprofit organization, after five years of partnering veterans with designers through their annual HERO[series] projects, becomes one of the 2017 AIGA Innovate grant recipients for their 50 States: Veterans + Artists United project tour. The mission of the project is to utilize the mediums of art, design, and fashion to benefit, inspire, and enrich our Nation’s Veterans. Their 20th stopLos Angeles, California.

This interview took place during the two-day design process when Tyler Way and Kendra Clapp Olguín, the 50 States project co-leaders, were conducting the Los Angeles project. Danielle Jones is a U.S. Air Force Veteran who agreed to share her powerful story for the purposes of this project. Danielle served at Lajes Field, Portugal, on the Terceira Island in the Azores where she worked as an Air Traffic Control and Air Maintenance specialist. For Danielle, the military became an escape from an abusive and lonely childhood and represents, to this day, one of the most stable times in her life. Anastassia (Ana) Zukova is a Los Angeles based Graphic Designer and Illustrator as well as a Board Member of AIGA Los Angeles. Last but not least, Noel is Tyler and Kendra’s extremely photogenic runt-of-the-litter Maine Coon cat.


AIGA LA: Describe the 50 states project as if you are talking to one of your close friends back at home, preparing to set out on this journey.

[HAS HEART]: We are traveling to all 50 states to partner a Veteran and graphic designer in each state, sharing Veterans’ stories through art, design, and fashion. There is a widening divide between the civilian and military worlds and there ought to be more aware of what service members experience. That’s not going to happen unless we start having conversations and sharing stories in order to also relate to one another. The idea of the tour is to connect all of these places and people geographically. Project by project, we’re stringing together a community that will continue to grow across this nation. We are experiencing a moment where we can be distanced further by technology. Instead, let’s use all of these resources and the arts to connect in a few different ways.

AIGA LA: Did Noel get any say in leaving the comfort of your home back in Michigan for 18 months?

[HAS HEART]: Sadly, Noel did not have a say in the planning of this project but we always took her into consideration. She had a moment the first night where she clearly wanted to back out as she cried for several hours in the car (she was in a crate). The next morning, however, she vocally agreed to the adventure by hopping up on us in bed, meowing and chirping in excitement. Since then, she has done great adapting to life on the road and loves the changing scenery.  We’re proud cat parents!

AIGA LA: What is your daily routine like?

Kendra: Every morning, Tyler gets up before I do, crawls over me to get out of our super comfy custom bed my dad and brother-in-law’s mattress company made for us, and has a nice quiet routine of making coffee, journaling, and reading. When the coffee is ready, he pours me a mug and brings it to me in bed. Amazing, I know. It’s a beautiful slow morning that allows us to frame and plan out the day ahead. Because we’re all over the place, both in terms of planning and traveling, we like to create consistencies and routines for ourselves to rely on. After having our first cup of coffee to ourselves, him in the dining area or outside and me in bed, I get up and make a breakfast of a yogurt bowl filled with fruit, seeds, and granola. If it’s the weekend, sometimes I will make eggs and hash browns with some soy sausage patties or pancakes. Tyler will clean the dishes as I get ready for the day, and when it’s his turn, I start working or packing. With limited space, we’re conscious of taking turns and respecting each other’s space. I think we have it down at this point.

AIGA LA: Being almost half-way through this project, what would you say have been the biggest surprises along the way so far?

[Has Heart]: The biggest surprise is how diverse this country is – in terms of landscape as well as inhabitants. It’s natural to only be familiar with what is around you. Unless you’re exposed to a variety of places and people like we’re fortunate enough to experience, your frame of reference is limited. It may seem like a cliche response because theoretically, we all understand its vastness and diversity, but it’s different to actually experience it.

AIGA LA: What was the most recent/memorable moment on this journey when you both thought “This is exactly why we set out to do this.”?

Kendra: I think the most recent and memorable moment has been the Los Angeles, CA, project in which we worked with Danielle, an Air Force Veteran. If we hadn’t set out to do this project, leaving our comfy little home in West-Michigan, the chance of meeting Danielle would have been slim to none. Homelessness among Veterans has consistently been a national topic but to meet Danielle, who struggled with addiction and homelessness, we got to expand beyond the topic and had the privilege of getting to know her, her experience serving, a talent for languages, passion for literature, and goals for her future in social activism. We feel this project after project, meeting people we wouldn’t have otherwise. It fuels us to share their stories so others get to “meet” them as well.

AIGA LA: What do you miss most about your “normal” on-the-grid life, if anything?

Tyler: I miss access to reliable wifi and watching sports.

Kendra: I think I miss the slower pace of life. Constantly changing places is amazing, yes, but it always takes me a moment to adapt to the change.

AIGA LA: What can you say to the young people who might be aspiring to make impact in the world but might feel overwhelmed by the logistics and nuances of such undertaking?

[HAS HEART]: Put all of your thoughts on paper and organize them. Write out your intention and goals to refer back to. Then, just start small. The biggest hurdle is to simply start, to push past your anxieties and insecurities. Don’t bother comparing yourself to others. There are so many cool things and success stories that can be the inspiration, but it’s difficult not to fall into the trap of comparison. So, yeah, just start, start on a small level, circle back to your core visions and goals, and do what feels right. You’ll know.

AIGA LA: What is next for HAS HEART?

[HAS HEART]: Once the tour is complete, we will be continuing to work on the releases for all of the state project designs and merchandise. At the same time, we will be compiling content for the traveling art exhibit, coffee table book, and documentary film. Additionally, we will be connecting with the AIGA chapters we partnered with, implementing our project template, initiating designer-Veteran projects across the country, and guiding it all to become a sustainable process that the AIGA chapters can continue.

AIGA LA: Want to tell us more?

[HAS HEART]: We wanted to thank AIGA Los Angeles and Ana for all of the help in executing this LA project. We found out the designer we had originally scheduled wasn’t able to make it the morning of the event and we were fortunate enough to have Ana eager to step in. It truly goes to show things happen for a reason because the project was an impactful experience for all. We’re extremely appreciative of her and AIGA LA’s support.

AIGA LA and [HAS HEART] would like to express their endless gratitude to everyone who helped make this project possible, including but not limited to WeWork Santa Monica, Pono Burger Santa Monica, Reuben Herzl (Groundmaking), Anai Garcia, and Bryan Sims (Good Friend Films).

If you want to know more about the AIGA Los Angeles project or want to follow Tyler and Kendra on their journey, you can do so on one of the channels listed below. The video for Los Angeles project will be announced on AIGA LA social media and on the [HAS HEART] website.


All photography in this post was provided by [HAS HEART].
By AIGA Los Angeles
Published April 24, 2018
AIGA encourages thoughtful, responsible discourse. Please add comments judiciously, and refrain from maligning any individual, institution or body of work. Read our policy on commenting.
Stay connected and learn about the latest news and events in our community!