Benefits for Military-Connected Individuals
The Community Connections projects were intended to use the creative and healing benefits of the arts to promote health and wellness among service members and veterans as well as their families and caregivers. As part of the Community Connections Projects Study, community arts providers, as well as the participants, identified four primary outcomes for targeted military-connected individuals as described below.
Improved Mental Health or Quality of Life
Across Community Connections projects, participants shared that the project activities and relationships built improved their mental health and quality of life. Several participants shared examples of how they were able to relax and reduce anxiety while engaging in the arts. “This all relates to me. Besides learning a new skill and understanding a new medium, I can shut off my left brain and use my right brain. It is a chance to relax and focus on me.”
Another shared, “We are wired differently, and we have difficulty finding comfort when we walk into a new place. I wasn’t assessing threats here, but I do that [in other areas]. We need to be around other people doing the creative work, and it tricks us into mindfulness when we engage in a creative project.”
The arts also helped them to tell their stories and by sharing their work, they felt heard and empowered. A participant commented, “You take on a role [in a play] that you can put your experiences into, a role that can relieve some stress.”
Improved Sense of Community
Within the network of each Community Connections project, there was an incredible sense of community. Participants across branches of service and generations, from the Vietnam era to the ongoing Gulf War, have created communities centered around the arts. One participant said, “It gives us an opportunity to work together as a team and work toward a common goal, which is what you do in the military…There is give and take between actors in the play. You rely on others; they rely on you.”
In many cases, friendships that developed in the confines of the project moved into the community. A participant shared, “This has enabled me to connect with the outside world and with my family. That happened because I met some new people here, and this program bridged that gap.”
Improved Artistic Skills
Participants reported increased artistic skills within their discipline of interest. For example, one participant has taken several writing classes and recently enrolled in a master’s degree program in creative writing: “I want to learn to master my craft, improve my writing, explore my needs, and publish my work. I want to teach it to others to tell their story.” Several have demonstrated their skills or displayed their work through exhibits, performances, or published documents. Some have gone on to enter their art into state and national competitions.
Several participants said they developed leadership skills by volunteering, leading or facilitating Community Connections classes or workshops, or receiving paid employment in the arts. Ultimately, this increased their sense of ownership and empowerment. A participant commented, “We teach each other – find the talents others have. The fact that [another participant] is willing to give up his time when he is not a social person shows that he is growing.”
Informal peer mentoring is also part of this, as one participant described: “People who have been here longer can help and give advice based on their experience.” A teaching artist observed, “The program has helped [participants] develop a sense of agency, has made them advocates, and they are not just partaking of the program.”