The Charge: For over 10 years the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College has supported our military community and their families through the Military Artistic Healing program. The alliance between the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and the college provides the opportunity to support current programming and increase access to the artistic process for active duty military and veterans through high-quality programming at Bemis School of Art. Bemis has been a leader in the region by providing opportunities for service members, veterans, and military families to engage in artistic practices to help build health and wellness. As part of the Bemis School of Art Implementation Plan, current offerings will be expanded and new ones will be created through partnerships so more people can participate. These military-centric classes are always free to participants, as a way of giving back to the community.
What’s Happening: Arts have the power to heal. Bemis School of Art continues to work with active-duty and retired service members and their families by offering award-winning (and often life-changing) courses to provide healing opportunities for individuals and families dealing with trauma and post-traumatic stress issues. The FAC’s Military Artistic Healing classes are taught by certified art therapists and the classes are a safe place to learn how to use artistic expression as tools for stress management and coping. Creativity promotes healing and trauma resolution, and self-expression ignites self-motivated behavioral changes while simultaneously helping participants gain the skills necessary for coping with stress and loss.
Creative art therapist Kim Nguyen explains, “The benefit of having these classes at Bemis is that they are removed from any clinical setting, which allows all disclosures to be honored and confidential. That increases the trust between myself as the therapist and the participants.” Also, during classes, participants have the opportunity to tour the Fine Arts Center’s galleries and often meet working artists as sources of inspiration.
Creative art therapists use a wide variety of art-based techniques in the assessment and treatment of adults. Art therapy techniques are used to reduce the debilitating symptoms of PTSD and provide opportunities for expression and resolution of painful memories while enhancing stress reduction through art-based relaxation techniques and coping skills. The four goals of Military Artistic Healing are to:
- Reduce anxiety and mood disorders common to military personnel with PTSD
- Reduce behaviors that interfere with emotional and cognitive functioning
- Externalize, verbalize, and resolve memories of traumatic events
- Reactivate positive emotions, self-worth, and self-esteem
Feedback from participants has been extremely positive, and many participants sign up for numerous sessions. “The Military Artistic Healing program allows me to express my feelings in a positive way — to put things on paper that I couldn’t express in any other medium. It gave me a new lease on life — it saved my life. I slowly began to realize that when I was depressed, I would get to work with my paints and get out whatever was in my heart. And when I was finished, I would feel better!” Tommy J. Darbe, Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Petty Officer (Aviation Anti-Submarine Warfare Operator) United States Navy, retired
Over the past two years, a weekly expressive arts program has been developed and implemented in partnership with Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center in Colorado Springs in order to broaden the impact of the Military Artistic Healing program. Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center provides transition and employment assistance, behavioral health and wellness, supportive services, connection to community resources, and safe event space for over 35,000 veterans, military members, and their families.
Bemis School of Art also joined the Creative Forces: National Endowment for the Arts Military Healing Arts Network from its initial inception through execution. The National Endowment for the Arts has created a community-based military and veteran family support network at the Creative Forces clinical sites to provide increased arts opportunities. These networks will extend support for current and former creative arts therapies patients and their families as they transition from treatment in a clinical setting to arts programming in their community. Being part of this program allows us to provide increased arts opportunities for military service members, veterans, and their families and caregivers.
A series of classes and workshops is offered in hot glass, woodturning, and ceramics taught by artists who are also veterans. These classes create camaraderie and a safe place to talk about shared experiences.
One of these veteran-taught classes will be offered in Spring 2020: War & Survival: A Veteran's Journey: Words on Clay will provide a grounding experience that will bring together the written word with hands-on clay creations in the art studios of the Bemis School of Art. Active-duty military and veterans will be led through therapeutic writing exercises by a local veteran and writer, Matt Stys. These exercises will be tied together to create a story for each participant. The written word will be transcribed onto the surface of sculptural clay pieces with the guidance of Bemis instructor and professional potter Maggie Quinn. The transcribed messages will be added to their clay forms with incorporated textures and patterns. Each participant will learn the properties of clay and the steps of construction in preparation for pit firing. Each participant’s message and vision will be a completed archival piece to hang or stand as a physical reminder of their mental and emotional progress.