Soldiers on Stage

Posted by David Diamond On May - 15 - 2013
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 »

Advancing Cultural Diplomacy

Posted by Joanna Chin On May - 15 - 2013
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.

The French Lieutenant’s iPod (excerpt)

Posted by admin On May - 14 - 2013

…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 - 2013

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 »

Start Your Own Workshop

Posted by Drew Cameron On May - 14 - 2013
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 »

The Arts as a Medium for Veterans’ Re-entry and Healing

Posted by John Schratwieser On May - 14 - 2013
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 »

Aiding Community Reintegration

Posted by Joanna Chin On May - 14 - 2013
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.

How Music is”Striking a Chord” in Healing

Posted by Susan Rockefeller On May - 13 - 2013
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 »

Music Helps the Military and Healing

Posted by Rebecca Vaudreuil On May - 13 - 2013
Rebecca Vaudreuil

Rebecca Vaudreuil

Military service members are returning home in mass quantities nation-wide, some locations more prevalently populated and therefore more noticeable than others, such as in San Diego where Resounding Joy’s Semper Sound Military Music Therapy Program is based. 13% of all active duty military service members are stationed in California and San Diego has one of the largest military populations and is home to thousands of service members and their families. The need for service is ubiquitous and it is our calling to serve those who protect our freedoms as Americans.

The ever-compelling questions of, “WHY music?” and more commonly , “HOW can music therapy help returning veterans?” is answered  in the complete music therapy  definition as released by the American Music Therapy Association stating,Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”  Music therapy was founded after WWII when psychologists at the VA in Topeka, Kansas saw the advantageous affects that music created by volunteer musicians had on the veterans. Psychologists began to train these volunteer musicians in the realm of behavioral psychology and hence the commencement of the music   therapy degree, which can be earned on the bachelors, masters, and PhD levels from accredited universities.

In addition to this concise yet comprehensive definition, music therapy is used to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication, promote physical rehabilitation and very importantly with the military, provide reintegration opportunities.

Table 1:1  Pre/Post Music Therapy Pain and Anxiety Scales ; Observation Length- 8 weeks; n= 15New Picture (5)

Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to the Blog Salon on the Arts and the Military

Posted by Joanna Chin On May - 13 - 2013
Joanna Chin

Joanna Chin

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 »

Singing & Moving into Kindergarten with ArtsBridge & Reading in Motion

Posted by Kerri Hopkins On March - 22 - 2013
Kerri Hopkins

Kerri Hopkins

ArtsBridge America is one of many national programs working to bring the arts back into public school classrooms through arts-integrated projects. Visual arts, music, dance, theatre, and media arts are all crucial art forms that children should be able to explore “for arts sake.”

But in the age of teaching for the test, sometimes the only way we can bring programming to the schools is to look at the arts as a means of enhancing learning in other core subjects. It is not always ideal, but some exposure to quality arts programming is better than none. ArtsBridge aims to provide this type of consistent high-quality programming, while having a lasting impact on everyone involved.

The number one priority of ArtsBridge is to provide much-needed, hands-on arts experiences for K–12 students who may not be getting it on a regular basis. The number two priority of the program is to facilitate a unique opportunity for university students, with a specialty in the arts, to work with classroom teachers who are seeking professional support in those areas. This partnership can be incredibly valuable for everyone involved.

University students, or scholars as we like to call them, receive a scholarship for their efforts while they gain valuable teaching experience in the controlled environment of the classroom. They help to build the capacity of the classroom teacher by training them in their art form as they work side by side with the class on a weekly basis over the course of a semester or sometimes an entire school year.  Read the rest of this entry »

And the Oscar Goes to…Arts Education

Posted by Kristen Engebretsen On February - 26 - 2013
First Lady Michelle Obama presented the nominees for Best Picture and announced "Argo" as the winning film via satellite.

First Lady Michelle Obama presented the nominees for Best Picture and announced “Argo” as the winning film via satellite.

The big winner at Sunday night’s Academy Awards was arts education. In two key moments, a spotlight was shone on the important role the arts play in children’s lives.

At the end of the broadcast, there was the wonderful statement of support by First Lady Michelle Obama. She said, “They are especially important for young people. Every day they engage in the arts, they learn to open their imaginations and dream just a little bigger and to strive every day to reach those dreams.”

But before the First Lady’s surprise appearance, there was another big moment for arts education during the Best Documentary Short category. The winning film, Inocente, is the story of a 15-year-old girl who refuses to let her dream of becoming an artist be stifled by her life as an undocumented immigrant forced to live homeless for the last nine years.

Inocente was introduced to the arts through a program in San Diego called ARTS | A Reason To Survive, which uses therapeutic arts programming, arts education, and college & career preparation to create pathways to success for youth facing adversity. Founder Matt D’Arrigo is a member of Americans for the Arts and we featured his programs in our December 2012 edition of the Monthly Wire, our member newsletter.

The following video from San Diego’s ABC affiliate shows the arc of events for Inocente—starting homeless, then participating in ARTS’ programs, all the way up to production of the documentary and standing onstage at the Oscars after Americans for the Arts Artists Committee member Kerry Washington revealed her story as the winning documentary:  Read the rest of this entry »

The (In)Efficiencies of Scale (Part Two)

Posted by Michael Hickey On January - 25 - 2013

Michael Hickey

(Editor’s Note: Michael continues his response to our Animating Democracy Blog Salon from December 2012 in this post. It was originally published on his Man-About-Town.org site January 13, 2013.)

The Means of Production

When you “produce” something, that’s a very different process from “creating” something. Production is about assembly, and scaled production means you can bring all the pieces together in an orderly, timely fashion. Again, this works best when both inputs and outputs are standardized.

Automobiles, microfinance, and high school educations all share this in common. In my comments to Ian’s blog post, I noted that the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with it’s $300 million annual budget, “produces” quite a bit of art: that is, it has assembled a stunning diversity of work created by others. But the process it uses to produce this art is highly standardized, as is the way that we consume it.

When it comes right down to it, the Metropolitan Museum of Art actually creates very little art itself. The same is true for the other captains of the NYC cultural sector (Lincoln Center, MoMA, the Guggenheim, Carnegie Hall), and the rule holds true in other sectors as well.

Therefore: Greater scale = Greater standardization. Read the rest of this entry »

The (In)Efficiencies of Scale (Part One)

Posted by Michael Hickey On January - 22 - 2013

Michael Hickey

ARTSBlog recently hosted a [Blog Salon] called: “Scaling Up: Does Size Matter?” The short answer is hell yes it does, but I disagree with a few of the writers about why.

I found the best piece in the series was penned by the whip-smart Ian David Moss (“Economies and Diseconomies of Scale in the Arts – Take Two”), and it was his post that inspired both me to both write an initial comment, and then to take on the subject more fully below.

You see, dear reader, like many of my fellow funders and financiers I’ve often touted the benefits of moving toward greater scale: improved operational efficiencies, greater programmatic reach, increased access to resources, heavier political punch. But I’ve also struggled with the oft recognized but seldom addressed reality that scale is not an answer in and of itself, and that sometimes scaled solutions leave even larger problems in their wake. Thanks to Ian, I think I got the mental kick in the epiphany I needed.

I hope you’ll enjoy this two-part miniseries on why I think scale sometimes, well, stinks up the joint.

The Mechanics of Moving Capital

I don’t care how you’re doing it, when it comes to getting money out the door it’s always easier to do it in big chunks. Whether you’re making a grant, extending a loan, or placing private equity, cost per transaction is lower if you make fewer, larger transactions. This is axiomatic. Read the rest of this entry »

Happy New Year from Americans for the Arts

Posted by admin On January - 3 - 2013

As your first week of 2013 gets closer to an end, Americans for the Arts wants to be sure to wish you a Happy New Year! Cue music, lights, photos!