Jaeson Parsons

Jaeson Parsons

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 »

Richard Crespin

Richard Crespin

When Capital One bought ING Direct last year in the first big bank acquisition since Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act, the deal was subject to a high level of scrutiny. While regulators poured over the facts and figures, what they really wanted to know was could Capital One be trusted?

“We had hearings with the [Federal Reserve] in three different cities. Numerous nonprofits testified on our behalf about our corporate character,” said Carolyn Berkowitz, Managing Vice President for Capital One Bank and President of the Capital One Foundation. “They all said, ‘…this is a company that’s going to add to our community, not detract from it…’ That kind of commitment doesn’t come from just writing a check.”

Milton Friedman famously said, “the business of business is business.” Corporate responsibility skeptics often ape Friedman, asking how these programs impact the bottom line. But for most publicly traded firms, over 80% of their market value – the real test of shareholder value – lies on the balance sheet in good will and brand. Capital One’s good will, built through skills-based volunteering, added to its brand value and its book value because it helped ensure the purchase of ING Direct.

Although Capital One’s skills-based volunteering program is more than ten years old, in 2008 the company expanded and restructured it to make it a cornerstone of their brand. At its founding, Capital One was “a company that was a new idea, knocking down the price of credit. That was a mission unto itself,” said Berkowitz. “For our associates, taking on pro bono is like a new mission. Having the opportunity to use their very honed skills, taking them into the community and back to the company is a reward for our people and has a big impact on our ability to grow.”

Capital One joined 365 of America’s largest companies and well-known brands in taking the A Billion + Changepledge to “donate their best talent to tackle tough problems in their communities and around the world.” The pledge inspired the donation of the equivalent of $1.998 billion of volunteer time and the organization wants to get to 500 participating firms by this summer (Source: Billion + Change). But skills-based volunteering isn’t an easy story to tell. Read the rest of this entry »

Bryan Doerries

Bryan Doerries

One of the first people to speak after a Theater of War performance was a perfectly kempt military spouse with blonde hair, striking blue eyes, and a soft, unassuming voice. She leaned into the microphone, took in the crowd of nearly 400 Marines and their spouses seated shoulder-to-shoulder in a dimly lit Hyatt Regency Ballroom in San Diego, cleared her throat, and said: “I am the proud mother of a Marine, and the wife of a Navy Seal. My husband went away four times to war, and each time—like Ajax—he came back dragging invisible bodies into our house. The war came home with him. And to quote from the play, ‘Our home is a slaughterhouse.’”

The Marines all held their breath, as if kicked in the gut with a steel-toed boot. In the back, a small group congregated around a cash bar, nursing Budweisers, staring at the floor and waiting out the silence. In the far back, there was even a dinner buffet, though no one seemed in the mood for eating.

Those Marines who had elected to attend the reading of scenes from Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes, or as one Marine called it, our “little skit,” had been attending a conference in August of 2008 on Combat Operational Stress Control, the Marine Corps’ way of referring to post-traumatic stress without pathologizing it. They had freely chosen ancient Greek dinner theater over tickets to a San Diego Padres game, and many of them had brought their spouses and girlfriends to the performance. The bar and buffet certainly helped draw the crowd, as did the presence of several well known actors, including Jesse Eisenberg and David Strathairn, but no one who showed up that night had any idea of what was about to happen.

Many of the Marines came expecting to see a fully staged reenactment of the 300 Spartans bravely standing down the Persian Army at the Battle of Thermopylae, featuring hack-and-slash swordplay and pyrotechnics. But when they discovered four actors in their street clothes sitting at a long table in front of microphones, wielding scripts instead of battle-axes or spears, many of them were visibly disappointed. Read the rest of this entry »

Joanna Chin

Joanna Chin

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.

Dr. Robert Albro

Dr. Robert Albro

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 »

Brigadier General Nolen Bivens, U.S. Army, Ret.

Brigadier General Nolen Bivens, U.S. Army, Ret.

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 »

Soldiers on Stage

Posted by David Diamond On May - 15 - 2013No comments yet
David Diamond

David Diamond

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 »

Joanna Chin

Joanna Chin

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”

Walking Wounded

Posted by admin On May - 14 - 2013No comments yet

Walking Wounded
By Maritza Rivera

I used to dance
and carry your weight
effortlessly across
the floor.

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 »

Talia Gibas

Talia Gibas

Four years ago, when I first heard the phrase “turn STEM to STEAM” – i.e. add the arts to the federally-recognized acronym for science, technology, engineering and math — I was skeptical.

As a theater geek born to a physician and biologist, I understood that the artistic process and scientific process have a lot in common, and that participants in each arena can learn a lot from one another.

My skepticism was not rooted in whether the arts and sciences are connected. What was missing for me as the “STEM to STEAM” mantra started to pick up more and more (ahem) steam was an articulation of how they are connected. Sure, there are elements of geometry in visual art, and yes, you need to understand basic math in order to read music or follow rhythms in dance. But arranging letters on a page is one thing; bringing different disciplines together in a thoughtful and authentic way is something entirely different.

In my mind, the ability to articulate and explore the authentic relationships between the S, T, E, A and M is crucial.  The arts and the STEM subjects have similar processes, but provide different means of understanding what currently exist, as well as imagining what does not yet exist. If we want the STEM to STEAM movement to have longevity, we need to get specific about what those relationships are. Read the rest of this entry »

Drew Cameron, photo by

Drew Cameron, photo by Kari Ovik

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.

Workshop in progress, photo courtesy of Combat Paper

Workshop in progress, photo courtesy of Combat Paper

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

John Schratwieser

John Schratwieser

Something very special happened at the 2013 Maryland Arts Day in Annapolis. It was a spontaneous standing ovation from the crowd of nearly 400 arts professionals from all over the state. The ovation was not for a Hollywood star, nor a seasoned lawmaker, nor a favorite professional athlete. No, on that day, the ovation was for four men and one woman. These were regular people, people who in fact studied art and voice and film in college, and the in the wake of September 11, 2001, a fierce sense of duty clicked in. They put their art on hold and served their country.  Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines were all represented in this unassuming group of heroes.  These five individuals are founding members of the Veteran Artist Program (VAP), a nonprofit organization based in Baltimore, whose mission is simply “to foster, encourage and promote Veteran artists.” VAP reconnects the artist in the warrior to the mainstream arts community through mentorship, networking, collaborations with professional artists and arts organizations, and through original productions.

My first introduction to VAP was at one of these original productions. “The Telling Project” directed by VAP Founder BR McDonald, was performed all over Maryland in 2011 and the first part of 2012.  Put simply, this work was a collection of stories from service members, woven together into a script, and then rehearsed and performed by the same service members. There was no sugar coating. This was an opportunity for the citizens of Maryland to hear firsthand about the experiences of our men and women in uniform (and, in this case, from their families too.) VAP is also currently engaged in a juried exhibition process for a major show of veteran artwork which will hang in the Pentagon in Arlington, VA. Using all artistic disciplines, VAP is one of many organizations springing up around the country whose primary purpose is to use the arts to help veterans “re-enter”.  Helping our veterans re-connect to home is work we should all be engaged in.

It was Maryland Citizens for the Arts’ (MCA) Board Chair, Doug Mann, who first suggested we should find a way for the arts sector to honor our veterans at the 2013 Maryland Arts Day. When I mentioned my experience with VAP it was obvious that we would involve them. With VAP, we had an opportunity not just to honor, but to engage, promote and collaborate with veterans through our everyday work. It was the perfect partnership.  VAP is just three years old and although they have had many large scale successes already, Maryland Arts Day was the ideal venue to connect them to the creative and diverse organizations from every corner of our state.  Read the rest of this entry »

Joanna Chin

Joanna Chin

Everyone writes one. At least, everyone who fights in a war does. Some of us seal it in an envelope and tape it on the door of our wall locker so our buddies can easily find it. When the First Sergeant, the senior enlisted man in the company, packs a dead soldier’s shit, he makes sure to weed out all the porn and anything else that the wives or parents might not want to see. The folks back home receive a sanitized version of a man’s wartime possessions. They also receive the death letter.
–except from “Death Letter,” by David W. Peters, published in 0-Dark-Thirty (Fall 2012)

As evidenced by yesterday’s posts by Rebecca Vaudreuil and Melissa Walker, it is nearly impossible to talk about the role of the arts in promoting healing and wellness for military personnel on an individual level without beginning to tackle the question of what happens to those individuals once they are discharged and return to civilian life. In the second day of the salon, we will explore the ways that the arts are aiding service members reintegrating into their home communities. We’ll focus on two programs that are helping to bridge the gap in understanding between service members and their families and communities and, even contributing to employment and workforce development. The first post, by Drew Cameron will explore his experience initiating the Combat Paper Project while Executive Director of Maryland Citizens for the Arts (MCA) Jonathan Schratwieser’s post will consider how recent efforts have not only benefitted veterans and the community, but also enriched MCA’s core arts and arts advocacy work.

Throughout the day, we’ll also give you a deeper look into the creative power of those trained and given a platform for expression through the Veterans Writing Project (VWP) by interspersing posts with excerpts from essays and poems like David’s piece above. Founded and directed by Ron Capps, VWP provides no-cost writing seminars and workshops for veterans, active and reserve service members, and military family members. Embodying the theme for the day, VWP has three main goals: to provide a platform for healing; to foster understanding between the less than 1% of the American population who have served and the more than 99% that have not; and to produce great literature. VWP has a sister site, O-Dark-Thirty and a literary journal under the same name.

There is so much potential in this space. To explore further examples of how the arts help build resilience and foster understanding between service members and their families and communities, take a look at Animating Democracy’s newest trend paper, Art in Service: Supporting the Military Community and Changing the Public Narrative, by Maranatha Bivens.

Susan Rockefeller

Susan Rockefeller

It was through a fluke really that I learned how much the arts-––in this case music––can help military service men and women heal, even those struggling with issues as complex and embedded as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My son, Henry, was taking drum lessons from a musician who’d recently toured Iraq playing for the troops as a part of Nell Bryden’s band. They were headed back for a second tour in a month. He described to Henry and me what it felt like to see these men and women start the evening often withdrawn, sullen and exhausted, then, with the first chord of the guitar, to watch smiles blossom across their faces and their shoulders relax, many of them even jumping out of their chairs to dance. After the show the troops would line up to express their deep gratitude to the band for having volunteered their time to bring them a moment of joy.

Something about this story captured my heart. And while I knew very little at that point about the high rates of suicide amongst our returning service members or about how prevalent PTSD was or even about the true healing powers of music, by the very next day I was already making arrangements to document Nell Bryden’ upcoming tour.

I’m glad my instincts lead me in this direction. Eventually I learned that music could supply more than a moment of joy. It could kickstart a lifetime of profound healing. As Concetta Tomaino from the Institute for Music & Neurologic Function notes “Music reaches the depths of our being – and when our connection to self has been damaged by trauma and loss – music can be a powerful tool to revive us.”

I couldn’t agree more. As I began editing my film I was struck by how music opened up these troops’ hearts and minds. Especially the live performances. The music seemed to act as a conduit between the service members and those around them. This felt profound to me. So often when we are experiencing any sort of suffering, we think we’re alone in that experience and that sense of isolation then heightens the baseline suffering. In other words, our own perceptions of our situation can make us suffer more, albeit unintentionally. Watching these young men and women come together, I could see some of the protective walls they’d build crumbling, even if it was only for the duration of the song. But the fact that it could happen at all was a very promising sign. Read the rest of this entry »

ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

Arts Education

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Taking Communities to the Next Level

New Methods & Models

Public Art

Best Practices

Evaluation

Arts Marketing

Audience Engagement

Winning Audiences

Powered by Community

Animating Democracy

Arts & the Military

Scaling Up Programs & Projects

Social Impact & Evaluation

Humor & Social Change

Private Sector Initatives

Arts & Business Partnerships

Business Models in the Arts

Local Arts Agencies

Cultural Districts

Economic Development

Trends, Collaborations & Audiences

Art in Rural Communities

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.