Blog Posts for arts and healing

Artists in the Wounded Warrior Unit at Walter Reed Hospital

Posted by Shanti Norris, Nov 17, 2013 0 comments

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Shanti Norris

When Smith Center for Healing and the Arts first brought professional artists into the Wounded Warrior Unit at Walter Reed to work directly with patients, the clinical staff said "we don’t know who you are, but please stay out of our way." They told the artists to avoid patients that they considered difficult or depressed.  Within a few months, they were giving the artists referral lists of patients that they wanted them to visit with – and asked them to please be sure to visit the difficult and depressed patients.  The staff have come to see the artists as part of their healing team and even request lunchtime sessions for themselves to reduce their own stress.

Four years ago we were invited to bring our successful hospital based artist-in-residence program into what is now the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to work with Wounded Warriors in the surgical unit.  Our artists had been working with adult cancer patients at area hospitals for many years. They came to Walter Reed where we trained them in military culture and the specifics of Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other injuries of modern day warfare.  They learned hospital protocol, were trained in HIPPA regulations and went through medical and background screening requirements.  They were educated in the surprisingly extensive history of the arts in the military.  Then they went to work knocking on patients’ doors and offering sessions for family members in the family lounge.

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Art's Creative Healing Connections for Members of the Military

Posted by Mr. Naj Wikoff, Nov 01, 2013 0 comments

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.

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Arts and Health in the Military: An Introduction

Posted by Ms. Marete Wester, Oct 02, 2013 1 comment

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.

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Happiness Is The Arts

Posted by Stephanie Milling, Aug 14, 2013 3 comments

Stephanie Milling Stephanie Milling

The last couple of weeks, two interesting news stories that shared conflicting perspectives of the arts were reported on the NBC Nightly News. The first report told the story of a failing school in Boston that was turned around when the principal chose to eliminate the funding that customarily subsidized the security force and invest it in the arts. This move that some considered controversial at Orchard Gardens , a school in Roxbury, MA, resulted in one of the fastest student improvement rates statewide. The other anecdotal evidence that students, teachers, and the principal shared during the report reinforced evidence that arts advocates have always had statistics to support: students who study the arts in school perform better in the classroom and demonstrate more prosocial behavior. As an arts advocate, this feel good story tugged at my heart strings. I was satisfied that this principal’s quest to prove the value of the arts in education proved fruitful. As a former teacher in schools like Orchard Gardens, I was delighted to see a failing school turned around.

The second report featured the retailer, The Children's Place, and the demands to stop selling a girls t-shirt after complaints that it portrayed a sexist stereotype. The shirt said “my best subjects,” and featured checkboxes next to shopping, music, dance, and math. The boxes next to shopping, music, and dance contained checks while the box next to math was empty. While the controversy surrounding the shirt was motivated by individuals who viewed the shirt as sexist—and I am not denying that it was sexist--I was also bothered by the fact that it trivialized dance and music as core subject areas. By selling such a product, The Children’s Place and the t-shirt designer communicated that young women are intellectually inferior to their male peers and that studying the arts is equivalent to shopping.

While the first news report portrayed the type of story that supports the work arts advocates do in this country, the second illustrates the need for continued dialogue with those who fail to understand the value of the arts in education—even if the faux pas was unintentional. While there are many ways to approach the dialogue of why students benefit from studying the arts with statistics and research to support this perspective, lately I have been thinking of a more straightforward point of entry into the conversation that might resonate with multiple audiences: engagement in the arts can lead to happiness. While approaching a conversation about the value of the arts in education with the idea that it makes us happy might sound facetious, I think it might help develop some common ground between those advocating on behalf of the arts and those who need to be more receptive to the idea that engagement in the arts leads to success in other academic subjects and life.

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Wrapping up the Arts & Military Blog Salon

Posted by Joanna Chin, May 17, 2013 0 comments

Joanna Chin Joanna Chin

Throughout this week the overriding question has been: why do we use the arts in this complex space where individual and community health, veterans, and the military intersect?

On day 1, the resounding answer was that the arts promote the health and wellness of our veterans and active duty members. Two experts in the creative arts therapy field, NICoE Healing Arts Program Coordinator Melissa Walker and Semper Sound Military Program Director Rebecca Vaudreuil, made science-based arguments for the place of art-making and music in opening up channels of communication and guiding service members down the path towards healing. Susan Rockefeller’s experience documenting Nell Bryden’s band as they played for troops serving in Iraq gave anecdotal evidence of the impact that music can have on those thousands of miles from home.

As part of a natural progression from individual health to community wellbeing, on day 2, bloggers spoke to the power of the arts to aid in community reintegration. Punctuated by beautiful writing from the Veterans Writing Project, blog posts by Combat Paper Project founder Drew Cameron and Executive Director of Maryland Citizens for the Arts John Schratwieser asserted the need for everyone and particularly, artists/arts administrators as bedrocks of their community, to engage in the work of re-connecting veterans to home.

Looking at the intersection of the arts and the military from a global perspective, day 3 explored how culture plays a significant role in the success of missions and military communities abroad. From David Diamond’s observations of theater on military bases to two posts by General Nolen Bivens and American University Professor Dr. Robert Albro, we saw a shared acknowledgment of art and culture’s importance to the military (both in protecting cultural assets and, also, as a tool for creating and maintaining social and political stability), as well as diverse viewpoints on the challenges associated with this work.

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A Collective Representation of the American Experience of War

Posted by Matt Mitchell, May 17, 2013 0 comments

Matt Mitchell Matt Mitchell

Since the spring of 2005 I have been working on a project entitled “100 Faces of War Experience: Portraits and Words of Americans Who Served in Iraq and Afghanistan”. In some ways this work can be seen as a memorial, yet it differs from a traditional memorial in a key aspect. Most, if not all, American war memorials are built around an official representation of the American experience of war or a vision of that experience decided upon beforehand by an artist. The 100 Faces project is, instead, an experiment in self representation by people who gone from America into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When complete the 100 Faces project will consist of one hundred painted portraits of, and statements by, Americans who have gone to the theaters of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The paintings are done in a traditional portrait style and show the person’s head and shoulders at life size. Each painting is started from life in a meeting between the artist and the person pictured.

The statements that accompany each portrait are the place where self representation enters the picture. These statements are chosen by the person pictured and are not edited or censored. Every effort is made to make sure that the participants in the project know they have complete freedom of speech. The only restrictions on these statements are that they be no more than 250 words and that each person must make their statement in some way different from all of those that have come before them.  In this way the project becomes more than a series of individual accounts, it becomes a complex collective narrative of the American experience of these wars. Even though all of the portraits and statements look independent when hanging on the wall, the entire group is meant to be kept together as a single unit in order to preserve this narrative.

You can see the on line exhibition by clicking here.

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