Memorial Day is coming. Back in elementary school, I remember this (and Veterans Day) as the only time(s) we talked about war in a contemporary sense or what it meant to serve your country. Now the politics of war, service, military culture, and their effects on military personnel are ever present in all corners of the U.S. These issues pervade our conversations, float across newsfeeds, fill our TV screens, and sometimes touch even closer to home.
Among organizations that serve veterans, their families and communities, the arts are becoming an increasingly essential means and end to understanding, reckoning, and moving forward. Nowhere has this movement been so clearly evidenced than the April 10th announcement by Americans for the Arts and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) of a nationwide “Blueprint for Action” designed to make arts programming widely available to service members, veterans, and their families throughout their lifespan, including the continuum of military service. The announcement took place at the second “National Summit: Arts, Health and Wellness across the Military Continuum” at Walter Reed Bethesda, and represents an unprecedented coming together of military, veteran, health, arts and federal agencies to work together to find arts solutions to some of the military’s most pressing problems.
While the national momentum is building to act, the challenges our military servicemen and women and their families face are felt most deeply at home and in their communities. As writer and “former military kid,” Maranatha Bivens, stated in her Animating Democracy trend paper, Art in Service: Supporting the Military Community and Changing the Public Narrative: “…the military is now far from a niche community. Today’s all-volunteer force has 1.4 million active duty service members and nearly 400,000 members of National Guard and Reserve components.” As combat operations come to a close, an unprecedented number of returning service members are joining an estimated 23 million citizens already classified as veterans. The wave of returning service members includes many suffering from physical and emotional traumas, as well as families, communities, and a society in need of ways to understand, adjust, and heal. Read the rest of this entry »