The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently announced 26 organizations, including two based in Texas, as inaugural recipients of the Creative Forces® Community Engagement grant. The grants total over $750,000 and support arts programming serving military-connected populations.
In 2004, NEA and the Department of Defense (DOD) partnered to launch Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, a program that assisted U.S. troops and their families in writing about their experiences related to the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. For troops, the program helped them process and communicate their overseas experiences, and for the family, that remained stateside, it provided an opportunity to share how their lives were affected. Operation Homecoming ran for a number of years and has now become part of a creative arts therapy program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.
Since 2017, the NEA and the DOD have partnered to support other therapeutic arts programming through the Creative Forces program, which seeks to improve the overall health and quality of life for military and veteran populations experiencing trauma, and their families and caregivers. In 2021, in collaboration with the Mid-America Arts Alliance, the two agencies announced a call for emerging and established non-clinical arts engagement projects to apply for the Creative Forces® Community Engagement grant.
In a press release announcing the grantees, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough stated, “I am pleased to see that through the Creative Forces Community Engagement grants, there will be more opportunities for arts engagement available to more Veterans and their families and caregivers, and in more places across America. It is vital that we care for and support those who have served and the arts can play an invaluable role in contributing to their health and well-being.”
Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts added, “It is inspiring to see how arts programming is being utilized by local arts organizations and communities to support and promote healing for our nation’s military, veterans, and all those who care for them. Engagement with the arts—the act of doing, seeing, creating, teaching—is crucial to living healthy and artful lives. The expansion of Creative Forces from clinical sites into community settings provides significant opportunities for this critical work to reach more people and make a difference in their lives.”
The following Texas-based organizations are among the grantees (project descriptions are provided by Creative Forces):
Bihl Haus Arts Inc. in partnership with Vet TRIIP
San Antonio, TX
Forward, Arts! offers professionally taught drawing and painting classes free of charge, including all art supplies, to veterans with PTSD, MST, and depression with the goal to help ease veterans’ emotional and physical pain through arts immersion. This project will support the expansion of Forward, Arts! classes to reach a new population of veterans, as well as training for new teachers and expansion of accessibility for Veterans.
Center for African American Military History in partnership with The Jung Center of Houston
Military Inspired Art Showcase (M.I.A.) is a multi-month art exhibition and programming schedule intended to leverage the power of the arts to help create stronger community connections and enable local military service members, veterans, and their families to unleash their inner creativity. Artwork and exhibits reveal the effects of war upon our nation’s heroes, provides veterans with a creative venue for expression, and promotes patriotism in a positive light.
In a separate press release, Kellen McIntyre, Bihl Haus Arts’ executive director said, “Since its inception four years ago, our Forward, Arts! program has had a profound effect on our veterans and is helping them heal through the arts activities they participate in.”
A Forward, Arts! participant described his experiences in the program: “I came with a desire to learn to draw but a greater expectation was to find some relief from my symptoms. I was able to relax, focus on drawing and forget everything else. The neuropathy and pain levels decreased. Drawing was initially challenging because of my tremors. However, I was able to find ways to make them work for me. This has helped me work around them in other aspects of my life.”