Thursday, February 1, 2018

From Combat to Community

I spent Monday and Tuesday of this week in the Killeen area and at Fort Hood for the Texas Creative Forces Summit. This convening of veterans, current military personnel, artists, arts providers and veteran service providers was the start of something big. Although, a focus on the arts as a healing tool for veterans is not a new idea. In fact, we have been focusing on this issue at VSA Texas since 2009. But it is nice to see more growth in this area and to have backing by federal organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the Department of Defense.

The first day started with speeches by Texas State Representative Hugh Shine and Mayor of Killeen Jose Segarra. Our keynote speaker was local veteran artist Chris Van Loan who has participated in some of our programs.

"Ascension" by Chris Van Loan from the 8th Annual Distinguished Artist Veterans Exhibition

We learned about the programs happening at the Intrepid Center of Excellence including their robust Art Therapy and Music Therapy programs. Fort Hood soldiers with PTSD and TBI work through 8 weeks of intensive therapies that include these modalities. But as we learned, only 50% of people who need services seek services clinically. So community arts programs like the writing classes we offer at VSA Texas can fill those gaps.

At lunch we were treated to speeches by special guests Cecilia Abbott, the First Lady of Texas, and Karen Pence, the Second Lady of the U.S. Both are strong supporters of the arts and especially art therapy. We already knew that about Mrs. Abbott because we had been approached by the Governor’s Office last November to find a veteran artist interested in drawing the Governor’s Christmas card. We chose artist Lucia Miron, a Veteran from North Texas who captured a room in the governor’s mansion decorated by Mrs. Abbott for Christmas in a Fiesta style. She also featured the family dog.

A draft of the Texas Governor’s 2017 Christmas Card designed by Veteran Artist Lucia Miron

Karen Pence speaking about the importance of Art Therapy

Our afternoon was filled with ideas and information from artists, arts organizations, storytellers, and musicians.

The next day we went to Fort Hood and watched a performance piece called Re-Entry by American Records. It was a powerful work that used direct language from interviews with returning service members and their family. After that we had small group discussions to synthesize what we learned and what our strategies would be going forward to make the IH-35 Corridor from San Antonio to Fort Worth a robust area for our current service members, veterans, and their families to participate in the arts. As Retired Brigadier General Nolen V. Bivens said throughout the conference, we need to bring our military “from Combat to Community” through the arts!

Left to right: Rick Perkins, Glenn Towery, April Sullivan, Bart Pitchford, Miriam Conner at the Creative Forces Conference

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