The Creative Forces® Community Engagement Grants is a National Endowment for the Arts-funded grant program that promotes the health, well-being, and overall quality of life for military and veteran populations exposed to trauma, and their families and caregivers, through support of arts engagement activities designed to cultivate creative expression, increase social connectedness, improve resilience, and support successful adaptation to civilian life. The inaugural 2022-2023 cohort of 26 grantee organizations are now engaging their local and regional communities in art-making experiences that include a variety of artistic disciplines including visual arts, crafts, dance, creative writing, theater, and music.
Here are a few examples of how the Creative Forces Community Engagement grant projects are supporting military service members, veterans, and their families and caregivers and are working toward meeting the shared outcomes for participants, which include:
- Creative Expression: Participants have a better understanding of themselves and others by creating or engaging in art.
- Social Connectedness: Participants have supportive relationships in their life and a sense of belonging to a community.
- Resilience: Participants feel they can rebound from stress, unexpected events, or life’s challenges.
- Independence and Successful Adaptation to Civilian Life: Participants have both an individual and shared sense of purpose, as well as a positive self-worth, that supports adapting and readjusting to civilian life.
Veterans making visual art in Virginia
Art for the Journey began their Veterans Art Program in 2017 as a quarterly event and annual exhibit of veterans’ art at the Hunter Holmes McGuire Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, part of the Central Virginia VA Healthcare System. Since then, this collaboration has grown into a monthly program serving up to 80 veterans a year who have been referred out of the McGuire Hospital’s rehabilitation and mental health programs. Participants relax, socialize, and create art to take home under the guidance of artists and key hospital staff. The art-making projects ranged from painting to clay-work to collaged “journey boxes.”
Caretakers building community through art in Missouri
Caregivers on the Homefront is a community non-profit based in Kansas City, Missouri, with a mission to serve those families who are caring for the warriors of all military eras who have been afflicted with the invisible and/or physical wounds of wars abroad and at home. Their project, Art on the Homefront, recognizes that caregivers and their children, sometimes referred to as “Hidden Helpers,” encounter their own trauma as well as that of the veterans for whom they provide care. Art on the Homefront gives veteran family caregivers and their children an opportunity to connect with their peers through artistic workshops to decrease feelings of isolation while increasing their resilience throughout the caregiving journey. These virtual and in-person weekend art workshops allow caregivers and their children the chance to experience a fun time of painting and creative expression while feeling connected to a larger caregiving community.
Veterans and Afghan and Iraqi refugees sharing their stories in New York City
Exit12 Dance Company aims to bring together military veterans, their families, and Afghanistan/Iraq refugees to tell their stories through Exit12’s creative writing and movement workshop – Movement 2 Contact. The workshop will take place on the aircraft carrier Intrepid in New York City, where participants will create poems, choreography, music, and prose over the course of eight weeks and share their individual stories with one another. The stories will be turned into a choreographed stage production that will be performed in front of a public audience during Fleet Week/Memorial Day Weekend 2023. Post-performance, the audience, artists, and participants will engage in a dialogue about the human impact of war, amplified by the words, movement, and art of the people impacted the most.
Veterans hand-making paper from military uniforms in New Jersey
Based in New Jersey, Frontline Arts will present a community-oriented Veterans’ papermaking program that teaches veterans of all service eras and branches the transformational practice of making handmade paper from military uniforms. Through a process of deconstruction, reclamation, and communication, veterans connect with each other and different communities, sharing their personal stories with the world through handmade paper, printmaking, and participatory art-making. The workshops utilize a creative method of introducing people around a table via generative writing prompts or shared sketching to help everyone feel comfortable and welcome. This community engagement program teaches the process of hand papermaking to participants using military uniforms from all service areas as the raw material—cutting them up and pulping them to transform them into sheets of paper. Facilitators also teach printmaking techniques, which the participants can immediately apply to produce an original piece of art, using the paper they made. The workshop usually ends with a public exhibition, where participants showcase the art made during the workshop and share their stories.
Coming soon for the Creative Forces Community Engagement Grants
The Creative Forces Community Engagement Grants program is just getting started. Mid-America Arts Alliance received applications from over 150 organizations in the first round of the grant program, which confirms that our nation’s nonprofits, state and local governments, and federally recognized tribal communities have immense capacity and desire to enrich the lives of military-connected individuals and communities. Recognizing this demand for support of creative arts engagement projects, Mid-America Arts Alliance and the National Endowment of the Arts will announce a second grant application period on November 1, 2022.