Art’s Creative Healing Connections for Members of the Military

Posted by Naj Wikoff On November - 1 - 2013
Naj Wikoff

Naj Wikoff

The arts help bring home those who have put and continue to put their lives in harm’s way to protect and promote the values and way of life we cherish.

Tom Smith should not be alive. In Vietnam he was a helicopter scout pilot for the 1st Cavalry Division. In Vietnam, helicopter pilots flew through the heaviest concentrations of enemy fire and an attrition rate twenty times that of U.S. Air Force pilots, and of them, the Cavalry pilots were hit hardest having a forty to fifty percent survival rate and a life expectancy of three weeks. His job was to fly at treetop level, often at 30 mph or less to locate the enemy usually by drawing their fire.

Smith describes the cause of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) not as a result of such horrific experiences of being shot down, the rotors being snapped off by the trees, or looking at the gunman bellow whose bullets are ripping through the fuselage, but by living with the daily grind of fear.

For me PTSD comes from living in an environment of fear more than the events that precipitated it,” said Smith. “When I got shot down and was on fire that was really scary. There was no place to put the helicopter down. I had to fly a burning helicopter for an inordinately long time to crash it and that was terrifying. When I got shot down through 150 feet of trees and had the rotor blades ripped off it was quite terrifying and painful as my jaw and back were broken. I went in knowing what I was getting into, but it’s the daily living in an environment of fear – the fight or flight fear that doesn’t go away, that stays with you after you leave the hospital and into civilian life – it changes you as much if not more than the combat situation itself.

For Smith, it was writing, taken up decades later, that helped him come to terms with and finally be able to speak openly about what it means to living with PTSD and its impact on himself and on his family. Smith’s experience is one that many veterans across the country are increasingly coming to realize; the arts can help them connect with themselves, with others who have shared similar experiences, with their family, and with their community. Read the rest of this entry »

Arts and Health in the Military: An Introduction

Posted by Marete Wester On October - 2 - 2013
Marete Wester

Marete Wester

The purpose was to get control of my problems, medical, personal, at home, family…basically trying to fight and conquer my demons. The angel has the authority, the power over this demon. That’s where I want to be. I want to have control over my problems, to have resiliency. It’s a struggle all the time but I’m slowly learning to control these issues I had before. Pinning down the demon, pinning down my problems…” SM, Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune

“St. Michael Conquers the Demon,” photo courtesy of The Art Therapy Program at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune (NHCL)

“St. Michael Conquers the Demon,” photo courtesy of The Art Therapy Program at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune (NHCL)

Since 2001, more than two million U.S. troops have been deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF, War in Afghanistan), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND). The nature of these conflicts is unprecedented in the history of America’s all-volunteer force: over the course of more than a decade of war, America’s military service men and women have endured extended and multiple deployments, exposure to nontraditional combat (e.g., use of improvised explosive devices) and shortened time at home between deployments. The number of service members returning home who suffer from both physical and psychological traumas, including post-traumatic stress, loss of a limb, brain injuries and depression, has increased.

With the conflicts winding down and more troops returning home, there is a growing awareness among the public and private sectors, and the military itself, that the challenges facing service members, veterans, and their families require more than medical treatment to resolve.

Is there a role for the arts to play in addressing these challenges? Over the past two years, that question has been posed to more than 500 thought leaders, practitioners, and decision-makers from the military, government, corporations, foundations, and nonprofits  through a series of national convenings under the auspices of the National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military. The results have been released this week in the new report, Arts, Health and Well-Being across the Military Continuum—White Paper and Framing a National Plan for Action.

Co-chaired by Americans for the Arts and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the National Initiative represents the first time the military has come together with a coalition of civilian public and private sector partners to ensure quality access to the arts for the health and well-being of service members, veterans, and their families in communities across the country. The White Paper chronicles the more than 2-year investigation and national conversation on how the arts help mitigate the challenges our military and veterans communities face. It provides a framework for how various stakeholders can work together to remove barriers and engage in greater cooperation and partnerships. It summarizes the extent of what we know about the National Initiative’s three critical areas of interest—research, practice, and policy—and provides an introduction to the kinds of programs and services currently taking place in the realm of arts and health in the military. The recommendations it contains are bold and inspirational. They are intended to stimulate further conversation and inspire action among all stakeholders, military and civilian. Read the rest of this entry »

Scaling a Project: As Easy As Alpha, Beta, Charlie

Posted by KJ Sanchez On December - 11 - 2012

KJ Sanchez

As the CEO of American Records, a theater company devoted to making work that chronicles our time/work that serves as a bridge between people, scale is always on my mind and an important part of how we produce.

For your information, I’m the CEO, not the artistic director because American Records is an S Corp, not a nonprofit. We have the soul of a nonprofit in that every dollar we make we spend on artists and programing (i.e. we have no profit margin), which allows us to work under the fiscal sponsorship of Fractured Atlas.

This is a great partnership because being a corporation keeps us light and lean and able to work very quickly, and the fiscal sponsorship allows for grants for particular projects. Right now, our average earned/contributed ratio is 80/20 (80% earned, 20% contributed). We’re not the only ones pioneering this model. Rainpan 43 Performance Group and Universes are also S Corps with fiscal sponsorship. Other companies are pioneering the L3C.

I bring up our company structure because it is fundamentally tied to how we work on scale. The way we’re working on “going big” and the reason we have such a high level of earned income is because we tour. Our tours go to traditional theaters like Actors Theater of Louisville and Roundhouse and traditional presenters like The Hopkins Center at Dartmouth but we also tour to conferences, hospitals, lecture halls, and military bases.

Last year I contracted with the Department of Defense to take our play ReEntry to Army bases throughout Germany and Italy, where command used the performances as post-deployment training. ABC News covered the play as part of a larger story about veteran suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder. Read the rest of this entry »

Eugene O’Neill’s Grant Writer Walks Into A Bar….

Posted by Bill O'Brien On December - 7 - 2012

Bill O’Brien

…and spots the dramatist hunched over in a corner booth, scribbling in his notebook. He walks over to the playwright, drops the first draft of Long Day’s Journey Into Night on the table and says, “That’s great, Eugene—but how am I supposed to prove economic growth or improved health and well-being with this?”

Obviously, this never happened. But if it did, it would be a great example of the conundrum we sometimes find ourselves in when we try to “scale up” societal benefits via the power of the arts. Identifying positive outcomes we’d like to pursue on policy levels at 20,000 feet can sometimes feel far removed from the missions being pursued by artists on the ground.

Trying to harness the power of the arts to provide broad public benefit in a strategized way is a good idea. The idea that our greatest American playwright should bend his art-making towards these aims is not. So if we’re trying to organize a way to share specific impacts of the arts so more people can benefit, how should we proceed?

In an art-science post called “The Imagine Engine!” on the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) Art Works blog this spring, I stated that it may be possible for artists and scientists to “borrow freely from each other’s methods and practices and share insights with each other that they might be unable to find on their own.” This fall, through a program we’ve established via a partnership with the Department of Defense, we’re beginning to see evidence suggesting this hypothesis may be true. Read the rest of this entry »

From Boots to Brushes

Posted by Joanna Chin On June - 10 - 2012

Joanna Chin

Beginning and sustaining work using the arts to serve veterans’ needs is an exercise in translation. While the need is great, it is also daunting to move into that space or grow existing programs to meet that need.

The insights that emerged from the Boots to Brushes session at the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention is that many of these obstacles (and some of the solutions) are, at their core, an issue of translation.

Here are a few of those:

Because of the structure and culture of the military, partnerships are a foreign concept. For the most part, the military just takes what it wants. For the arts, collaboration and community are essential pieces of the process.

One insight that emerges for arts organizations interested in addressing veterans’ needs is being cognizant of how foreign the concept of partnerships is to the military.

To tackle the hurdle of getting a foot in the door with the Veterans Association, one key insight was to use the veterans that you’ve worked with in the past as your spokespeople.

It might be an unintentional consequence of doing good work and transforming someone’s life that s/he spreads the word about your organization; however, veterans themselves can be the best ambassadors into hard-to-crack groups.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Art of Combat

Posted by Tim Mikulski On January - 20 - 2012

The official United States Marine Corps YouTube channel, MARINES TV, posted a video highlighting the fascinating role of combat artist Sgt. Shawn Sales, an instructor at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, MD, how the work of combat artists impact the Marine Corps.

*Hat tip to the USMC and National Endowment for the Arts’ Twitter accounts for sharing the video this morning.

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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.