Presented by:
California Humanities
Audience: All, public, Veterans

Through the medium of an online interpretive exhibit, War Ink creates a virtual public space in which 24 California veterans share stories about their experiences of war and homecoming – stories they have previously inscribed on their skin through the medium of tattoo artistry and whose meaning they are now reflecting upon and examining.

This online interpretive exhibit of veteran’s memorial body art – tattoos – enabled a group of California veterans to share their experiences of war and homecoming through an innovative form of storytelling that invited the broader public to hear and learn from veterans themselves, and to look at veterans and the veteran experience in a new way. Growing out of Contra Costa County Library’s prior efforts to assist returning veterans, and supporting the library’s mission to serve as a center of community memory and history, the project received initial support through a $10,000 Community Stories grant.

The exhibit, which launched on Veterans Day, November 11, 2014, has received over 41,000 visits, generated extensive media coverage, and garnered awards and recognition from the library, media, and design communities. These powerful testimonies about what it is like to go to war and to navigate the journey home open up a window onto the world of military culture, inviting visitors to make the simple but all-important decision to listen in order to begin to bridge the cultural gulf that exists between veterans and “the rest of us.”

Creating connection through the storytelling “exchange”, War Ink ultimately offers an opportunity for community healing and empowerment, encouraging dialogue and opening up the possibility of understanding between two groups in American society that are increasingly separated.

Judges extolled this program’s creativity, originality, and innovation. One judge stated that the “project was captivating for its novel approach to veterans and their stories,” adding that “the country needs new ways to process the urgent story of veterans and this [project] is unlike any other I’ve seen.”

This program won a Schwartz Prize in 2015 for outstanding work in the public humanities. To view the full nominating statement please click here.

Schwartz Prize Winner 2015