Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts Institute for Community Development and the Arts, fosters arts and cultural activity that encourages and enhances civic engagement and dialogue. It is based on the premise that democracy is animated when an informed public is engaged in the issues affecting people's daily lives. The arts and humanities can contribute unique programs, settings, and creative approaches that reach new and diverse participants, stimulate public dialogue about civic issues, and inspire action to make change.
Throughout this week the overriding question has been: why do we use the arts in this complex space where individual and community health, veterans, and the military intersect?
On day 1, the resounding answer was that the arts promote the health and wellness of our veterans and active duty members. Two experts in the creative arts therapy field, NICoE Healing Arts Program Coordinator Melissa Walker and Semper Sound Military Program Director Rebecca Vaudreuil, made science-based arguments for the place of art-making and music in opening up channels of communication and guiding service members down the path towards healing. Susan Rockefeller’s experience documenting Nell Bryden’s band as they played for troops serving in Iraq gave anecdotal evidence of the impact that music can have on those thousands of miles from home.
As part of a natural progression from individual health to community wellbeing, on day 2, bloggers spoke to the power of the arts to aid in community reintegration. Punctuated by beautiful writing from the Veterans Writing Project, blog posts by Combat Paper Project founder Drew Cameron and Executive Director of Maryland Citizens for the Arts John Schratwieser asserted the need for everyone and particularly, artists/arts administrators as bedrocks of their community, to engage in the work of re-connecting veterans to home.
Looking at the intersection of the arts and the military from a global perspective, day 3 explored how culture plays a significant role in the success of missions and military communities abroad. From David Diamond’s observations of theater on military bases to two posts by General Nolen Bivens and American University Professor Dr. Robert Albro, we saw a shared acknowledgment of art and culture’s importance to the military (both in protecting cultural assets and, also, as a tool for creating and maintaining social and political stability), as well as diverse viewpoints on the challenges associated with this work. Read the rest of this entry »
Since the spring of 2005 I have been working on a project entitled “100 Faces of War Experience: Portraits and Words of Americans Who Served in Iraq and Afghanistan”. In some ways this work can be seen as a memorial, yet it differs from a traditional memorial in a key aspect. Most, if not all, American war memorials are built around an official representation of the American experience of war or a vision of that experience decided upon beforehand by an artist. The 100 Faces project is, instead, an experiment in self representation by people who gone from America into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When complete the 100 Faces project will consist of one hundred painted portraits of, and statements by, Americans who have gone to the theaters of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The paintings are done in a traditional portrait style and show the person’s head and shoulders at life size. Each painting is started from life in a meeting between the artist and the person pictured.
The statements that accompany each portrait are the place where self representation enters the picture. These statements are chosen by the person pictured and are not edited or censored. Every effort is made to make sure that the participants in the project know they have complete freedom of speech. The only restrictions on these statements are that they be no more than 250 words and that each person must make their statement in some way different from all of those that have come before them. In this way the project becomes more than a series of individual accounts, it becomes a complex collective narrative of the American experience of these wars. Even though all of the portraits and statements look independent when hanging on the wall, the entire group is meant to be kept together as a single unit in order to preserve this narrative.
As art consultant to The Patterson Foundation (TPF) in Sarasota, FL, I manage the commissions of public art for the assembly space in Sarasota National Cemetery. The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), National Cemetery Administration, builds and administers 131 national cemeteries in the US. TPF an endowed charitable foundation and is fully funding the design and construction of the ceremonial amphitheater called Patriot Plaza, as a gift to the VA to honor the military ties of the family whose fortune endowed the Foundation. The theme of Patriot Plaza is Honor Veterans, Inspire Patriotism, and Embrace Freedom.
To select artists we followed best-practices for public art process, as defined by the Public Art Network of Americans for the Arts. However working within a military space has implications that are not typically encountered when placing art in public spaces. It is impossible to make meaningful art about the military without encountering the historical, political, art-historical and personal context. Typical questions for a public art project took on nuances and complexities: Who is our audience? What is this space used for? A national cemetery is a place where active duty military killed in the line of duty are buried, and where men and women whose honorable service took place decades earlier choose to be interred. It also provides burial space for eligible family members of veterans. Read the rest of this entry »
“I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late,” wrote hunger striker Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel in his 11th year of detention. Our eyes have looked away before: twenty years ago this month, another group staged a hunger strike to bring attention to their indefinite detention at GTMO. They were Haitian refugees seeking asylum in the United States, first rescued at sea and then held in makeshift tent cities behind barbed wire while their cases were considered. In 1993, the hunger strike drew international attention. After an intense legal battle supported by a strong social movement, in June a US district court judge “closed Guantánamo.” So why is it still open?
GTMO has over a century of history before 9-11. It’s been used and reused to contain a whole variety of perceived threats, from communism to communicable disease. While the Haitian camps were closed in 1993, the government’s right to hold people at GTMO indefinitely was ultimately upheld – allowing “Gitmo” as we know it to open just a few years later.
But for many military families, GTMO has never been forgotten. “My most vivid memories of Guantánamo was everything just being free down there,” says Anita Lewis Isom, whose father was stationed there in the early 1960s. “I would give anything to be able to go back.”
How can Guantánamo represent both freedom and confinement? What can we learn from this contradiction? Read the rest of this entry »
In the past half-century, the mechanisms for remembering and honoring service members have been evolving: from statues of proud figures gazing off into the distance to approaches that are more multi-faceted, process-oriented, and democratic.
A natural continuation of yesterday’s look at artists working to enrich the public narrative around the military and war, today we dive a little deeper into the question of how the arts are contributing to and changing the way that we memorialize and commemorate those that have served. As evidenced by today’s bloggers, the public art and museums of today are placing less emphasis on permanent structures and the values that the military as an institution lives by and aspires to (e.g., valor, loyalty, discipline) and focusing on enabling multiple voices to form a collective, realistic narrative of their experience. Check back later on today for posts from Ann Wykell, the art consultant managing commission of public art for the assembly space in Sarasota National Cemetery; artist Matt Mitchell; and Director of the Guantánamo Memory Project, Liz Ševčenko as we bring the Arts & the Military Blog Salon to a close.
“Every artist worth a damn in this country was terribly opposed to that war….We formed sort of a laser beam of protest. Every painter, every writer, every stand-up comedian, every composer, every novelist, every poet aimed in the same direction. Afterwards, the power of this incredible new weapon dissipated. Now it’s like a banana cream pie three feet in diameter dropped from a stepladder four feet high…”
- Kurt Vonnegut http://progressive.org/mag_intv0603
It’s been over forty years since the Vietnam War, the time of protests in the streets underscored by the visceral antiwar response that erupted from artists in the 60s and 70s. Now at the end of a decade of war, critics have complained about the dearth of new American plays about Iraq and Afghanistan, but it isn’t because they aren’t being written. Many American playwrights have been taking this subject on since the first Gulf War and while war stories still feel very much part of the male mythology grab bag, women playwrights, such as Naomi Wallace, Karen Malpede, Arlene Hutton, E. M. Lewis, Andrea Stolowitz, Jami Brandli, Caridad Svich, and many others are writing plays that dig into this grab bag in personal and political ways.
Given the climate for politically minded plays in this country, I asked myself as I was about to write a play about rape in the military: why would I do it? Plays take a long time to research, write and get produced. I was looking at a commitment of three to five years maybe longer and I had a number of roadblocks, not the least of which was the fact that I knew next to nothing about what it was like to be a woman in the military. What do I have to say – and maybe more importantly what good does it do? Given the coterie nature of the theater in this country, we often feel like we’re preaching to the choir. Read the rest of this entry »
The cultural chasm separating the civilian and the warfighter has never been wider. Most of the conflicts in 20th Century American history have relied on conscription, better known as the draft, to fill the ranks of our armed forces. The Global War on Terror of the 21st Century has been and continues to be fought by an all-volunteer force and because of this, the gap continues to grow as more and more professional soldiers shoulder the weight of a decade of conflict.
The typical soldier joins the military right out of high school, most have never lived outside of the town they grew up in and even fewer have visited another country. These men and women are just out of childhood when they join the military and many of them have fired a weapon in combat multiple times before their first drink in a bar at age 21. The military culture is all they know of adult life and once they are separated from this family of sorts, the civilian world is as alien to them as the sands of Iraq were when their boots first hit the ground. After multiple years in combat, witnessing man’s inhumanity to man, they are forever changed and trying to relate to their generational civilian counterparts is almost mission impossible. This is the divide, the cultural gap that separates those who have witnessed the horrors of combat firsthand and those who have simply watched the events unfold on CNN. We, as a nation, must construct a bridge over this divide to bring together this fractured generation and not let yet another war separate so many of our military heroes from their civilian brothers and sisters. Art, in its many forms, can be that bridge we so desperately need and art is what inspired our project, the Graffiti of War, which aims to bridge the divide and join our nation together like never before. Read the rest of this entry »
On the website for the Combat Paper Project, founder Drew Cameron (who issued a brilliant call to action in our blog salon on Tuesday) is quoted:
The story of the fiber, the blood, sweat and tears, the months of hardship and brutal violence are held within those old uniforms. The uniforms often become inhabitants of closets or boxes in the attic. Reshaping that association of subordination, of warfare and service, into something collective and beautiful is our inspiration.
Today’s topic gets at the heart of why the arts are and have the potential to be so effective in this intersecting space with the military. Whether contributing to national interests abroad or supporting service members here in the U.S., artists are core to changing and enriching the public narrative around the military, war, and service members. Today’s bloggers will speak to the ways that artists from within and outside the military are creating art that impacts the public narrative about the politics of war and military culture, and the effects on those actively engaged as well as those left behind.
Up until this point in this salon, we’ve talked about the connection between the arts and the military as something new and ground-breaking. However, in his post later on today, Artistic Director of Outside the Wire, Bryan Doerries places the company’s innovative Theater of War Production within the context of storytelling and a history that stretches back to the ancient Greek tragedies. Picking up on this thread of connectivity – between past and present; military and civilian – Graffiti of War Project founder, Jaeson Parsons articulates that “art, in its many forms, can be that bridge we so desperately need” for this generation. On the civilian side, Tammy Ryan, having never experienced war firsthand, provides some insight into the forces that drive us as artists to create work that gives voice to an issue, sparks conversation, and contributes to larger social and policy change.
Over the past two decades cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, has become an increasingly evident – and fraught – subject of foreign affairs. One reason is a recent proliferation of multilateral conventions by UNESCO, among others, more specifically articulating international frameworks for the protection and conservation of cultural heritage globally. These include the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, the 2005 Diversity Convention, and the 2008 ratification by the U.S. of the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, among other precedents. New collaborations between cultural professionals and the U.S. military, in the context of this increasing attention to heritage, constitute non-traditional opportunities for cultural diplomacy.
One effect of the recent push for international normative frameworks governing the conduct of persons, communities, and states with respect to heritage has been to identifiably constitute “cultural heritage” as a kind of scarce local or national resource, as a well-defined potential subject of state action, and as a basis of international relations and of conflict. Tracking this trend, some historians have referred to the contemporary onset of “heritage crusades,” which can lead to “heritage wars.” In other words, attitudes about cultural heritage have changed over time, and international actors increasingly seek legal redress, or take violent steps, in relation to an increasingly prevailing conception of heritage as: rivalrous, non-renewable, specific in time and place, and exclusively owned by people, communities, or nations.
Not coincidentally, the potential destruction of cultural heritage has become a major preoccupation, not only for particular communities and nation-states, but also for the U.S. military. Recent history is replete with multiple examples of the destruction of heritage sites or objects in active conflict zones, or leading to conflict. A short list would include the 2001 demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, the 2003 looting of the Baghdad Museum, the devastation of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the destruction of Timbuktu’s sacred tombs during the conflict in Mali, and ongoing heritage loss as part of the conflict in Syria, among others. Heritage destruction, looting, and the illegal antiquities trade are one front in these heritage wars. Conflicting claims, the definition of heritage as property, and calls for repatriation, are another front. Read the rest of this entry »
The conditions have been set and it’s now time to use the arts and cultural engagement at ground and grassroots level to further enhance cultural diplomacy and effectiveness of military security cooperation operations.
The model for military operations has six phases. The recent withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq and the goal of drawing down troops in Afghanistan beginning in July of this year, returns the focus of U.S. Military leadership to preparing for the future and the point in its operational phasing model known as Phase Zero – shaping the environment.
In the 12 years since beginning combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, joint U.S. Military Forces, other governmental and non-governmental organizations, and coalition members have demonstrated unprecedented courage, sacrifice and even creativity to protect national interest in the Middle East region.
Realizing that a key component to success during these operations is winning the hearts and minds of the people, they also learned how vital and necessary the “whole of government” approach is during all phases of military operations; that is, integrating activity across the whole of society – the political, military, economic, social, infrastructure and information components.
Examples include bringing the curatorial skills of the Archaeological Institute of America, Iraq’s Cultural Ministry and U.S. Army Reserve soldiers to address the ransacking of Iraq’s museums and archeological sites by looters and insurgents. For those not familiar with the story, in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad, “Mobs of treasure hunters” tore into “Iraqi archaeological sites, stealing urns, statues, vases and cuneiform tablets that dated back 3,000 years and more to Babylon” according to some archaeologists. From a nongovernmental perspective, Greg Mortenson, author of “Stones into Schools” built 130 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan – an effort that did not go unnoticed by four-star U.S. military commanders. His 2006 book “Three Cups of Tea” was “required reading for all Special Forces soldiers deploying to Afghanistan.” Read the rest of this entry »
First of all, who knew that there were theatre companies on US Army bases? Who knew they had annual one-act play and full-length play competitions? Who knew that working as a mentor to the directors of those plays existed as a job?
My supervisor, Jim Sohre, recently retired as Chief, Entertainment (Music and Theatre) Program, U.S. Army Europe, created the Mentoring Program in 1995: “I started the concept when we got actor, director (and personality!) Charles Nelson Reilly here to judge our Army Europe One Act Play Festival in Heidelberg. He not only critiqued, he got right up on stage and re-worked scenes with the groups. So it was more a working Masters Class.”
I began working as a Mentor Director for the same Festival. This involved traveling from base-to-base throughout Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Turkey and Northern Italy. There are about 20 bases that participate in the annual competition; I visited 14 of them. As Jim explains, “Well, first, by bringing in mentors/judges from the US we are able to get top notch industry professionals who can provide contemporary input and training that is not available here in the English language.”
Each base I visited has a theatre company that regularly presents plays and musicals for the residents of the base. These companies include not only soldiers, but their families, other military personnel, non-military base workers, etc. Since the funding for the theatre companies and their facilities is at the discretion of the base commander, they operate under wildly different conditions. In Stuttgart, you have an entire performing arts complex with theatres, rehearsal spaces, everything state-of-the-art; in Grafenwoehr, plays are presented in a corner of a former basketball court using only clip lights and a boom box for tech. Still, it is remarkable what they are able to produce. Read the rest of this entry »
After moving from the individual warrior to families and communities of service members, we’d like to widen the lens even further. Our first post of the day by theater artist, David Diamond, transitions us from work with service members returning home to arts activity supporting military communities abroad. His reflection on experiences working on army bases abroad gives a personal context to the topic of day: the relationship of the arts to cultural diplomacy and military missions abroad.
In the past couple of decades, the arts have gained legs as a tool for diplomacy and as a transformational lever to build transnational community connections, bridge cultural distinctions, strengthen foreign relations, and support military communities abroad. However, this growing appreciation for the power of the arts and culture carries with it additional challenges and questions:
- What is the role or responsibility of the military to protect other nations’ culture?
- How do arts and culture strategies contribute to the success of U.S. missions abroad? to stronger civic structures?
- What are the ambiguities for artists and cultural workers helping achieve “soft power” objectives?
Check back in later today for posts from General Nolen Bivens, U.S. Army, Ret. and Professor of International Communications at American University, Dr. Robert Albro, which will offer differing insights around these important questions.
…And now, just now, there is something about the way the light hits the glass or the smell of the dust in the air or the shudder of the helicopter as it turns, something, and I know that this is my last field mission. I’m done. I’ve seen enough.
So the French Lieutenant and I sit side by side in the aircraft flying back to Abeche, both settling into the recesses of our iPods. I choose “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones; he chooses “Civil War” by Guns ‘N Roses. I’m sure this means something, but I’ll have to wait to think about it. This place is complex enough without trying to draw some great metaphorical significance out of the music two westerners choose to listen to while we fly away from the problem.
-excerpt from Ron Capps’ “The French Lieutenant’s iPod”
By Maritza Rivera
I used to dance
and carry your weight
I used to walk
the distance of your gaze
keep cadence when you marched
kick a soccer ball past the goalie
score winning runs
dash to the finish line.
A bullet whispered your name
before you heard the shot
before you felt the sting of it.
When you regain consciousness
I will be a ghost of searing pain
reminding you of how I felt
before the lights dimmed. Read the rest of this entry »
Like many recently separated veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan era of wars, I enrolled into community college as soon as I left active duty. The war I had been a part of was just two years old and I remained uncertain about identifying as having been in the military. I was a diligent student and kept to myself but enjoyed the classroom dialogue. Occasionally related material about the wars would surface and I would share my perspective with the class. There was always a sudden quiet when I chose to speak about the war as a veteran, as if I had a just trumped the other’s ability to have a contribution any further in fear of offending or denigrating mine. “I can’t imagine what it was like over there,” was the collective sentiment much to my dismay.
Fast-forward a few more years of deployments, a growing population of young veterans filtering back into towns across America, the demanding fervor of war fighting and the inevitable growth of arts groups, workshops and collections of activists seeking to illuminate the complexity of it all. Yet still, our common greeting of the day for those who have returned from war is, “Thank you, welcome home, I don’t know if I have the framework to understand your experience.” There it is, but if you honestly asked yourself, don’t you want to know?
Since beginning to facilitate workshops with veteran and civilian communities in 2006 with the group Warrior Writers and then Combat Paper Project, I have noticed a growing trend in others seeking to do the same thing. Historically there is a strong tradition of individuals, groups, and organizations turning to the arts to investigate and connect affected communities in warfare. Today, whether it intuition or mandate, I am encouraged at how the arts are once again connecting not only the veteran population but civilians as well through a massive growth in workshop based practice.