Community Connections Projects
Between 2018 and 2020, Community Connections Projects (CCPs) provided community-based arts activities in locations near existing clinical Creative Forces sites for military-connected populations, including service members, veterans, families, and caregivers. The projects were intended to improve health, wellness, and quality of life for the populations served by Creative Forces and to contribute to the learning goals of the Creative Forces network: specifically, to understand how community arts engagement can bridge the connection between clinic to community and advance the health and wellness of Creative Forces target populations. Several of the organizations involved in the CCPs continued under contract in 2021 participating in MEL consultations, which included monitoring, evaluation, and learning work.
California: Pop-Up Community Creative Arts Cafes
Resounding Joy convened a group of San Diego-area partners including arts organizations Combat Arts San Diego, So Say We All, and The Veterans Art Project (VETART), and veteran service organizations San Diego Veterans Coalition and Vets' Community Connections to host and lead the implementation of six pop-up cafes throughout San Diego County. These events served service members, veterans, and families by bringing the arts community and military-connected individuals together through collective arts experiences. The cafés included performances, hands-on activities, and exhibits of visual arts, storytelling, and music. The project took place between October 2018 and June 2019, and created a bridge from the clinic at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton to the community. These pop-up cafes connected clinic patients and their families to the community, fostered relationship-building between local arts organizations, increased access to appropriate arts opportunities for the broader military population, and built awareness of arts engagement opportunities in the region.
Photo: The Veterans Art Project (VETART) instructor Daniel Garcia watches as a workshop participant works a piece of clay. Photo courtesy of Resounding Joy
Colorado: Military Arts Connection
The Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, in partnership with Colorado’s state arts agency Colorado Creative Industries, launched the Military Arts Connection (MAC) program, which included developing and delivering two training modules for local organizations and artists and took place from November 2018 through October 2019. One module provided training for the arts community to prepare artist facilitators and cultural organizations in providing high-quality and meaningful arts engagement experiences for military-connected individuals. The second module was for local military and veteran service organizations and was designed to familiarize these organizations with the local creative sector, to provide education and research about the value of creative arts therapy as a recognized healing tool, and to demonstrate the effectiveness of arts engagement activities as a strategy for facilitating the transition from clinic to community. After the training modules were offered, the MAC website was launched as an online resource that connects military service members, veterans, and their families to a variety of local arts enrichment experiences.
Photo: Masks on display as part of Military Arts Connection Creative Forces events. Photo courtesy of 3 Peaks Photography
VetArtSpan, led by the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, encompassed a wide range of activities providing a gathering point for Straz’s work in the military-connected community while engaging a range of collaborators and galvanizing new partnerships with the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and the Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Health Care System. Through podcasts, dance workshops, veteran-civilian dialogues, a new website, and in-theater presentations, the project partners collaborated to leverage the therapeutic benefits of the arts and create a pathway to connect veterans to the community. The program provided an opportunity to share veterans’ stories to help the veteran community with the healing process while also encouraging the civilian community to build an understanding of military life. The program took place October 2018 through October 2019.
Photo: Dancers collaborate in a Patel Conservatory workshop at David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. Photo courtesy of David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts
Maryland: Shakespeare Project
The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company partnered with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to present an artist-in-residence program that included military service members, veterans, and family members, as well as staff, students, and faculty at Walter Reed. The program offered training in ensemble-building, performance techniques, and language interpretation, and workshops focused on storytelling, improvisation, theater crafts, playwriting, theatrical design, and theater history. The program, which began in November 2018, culminated in three public performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in September 2019. These performances took place throughout Maryland at Walter Reed Bethesda, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in Baltimore, and at Maryland Ensemble Theater in Frederick.
Photo: Cast members rehearse A Midsummer Night's Dream as part of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's Community Connections project. Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company
North Carolina: Creative Forces Open Studio
Jacksonville-Onslow Council for the Arts collaborated with Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune to offer Creative Forces Open Studio. The council sought the collaboration to stabilize and expand an existing open studio program that serves military-connected individuals. From December 2018 through January 2020, the Creative Forces Open Studio project provided weekly drop-in, open studio sessions with structured and unstructured opportunities to make art and to learn art skills. The artist-in-residence or a guest artist provided structured activities while unstructured opportunities gave participants the option to work independently or collaborate with other program attendees. Though the program focused on visual arts, the council also offered additional classes in writing and performance through guest artists and connections with other arts organizations. Participants also could display their work through local and traveling exhibitions.
Photo: Grover C. Lewis III views the Beirut Memorial group project canvas created during Creative Forces Open Studio. Photo courtesy of Jacksonville-Onslow Council for the Arts
Texas: Stories for Creative Forces Project
The Stories for Creative Forces Project (SCFP) was a collaborative effort among Texas Folklife, Fort Hood Intrepid Spirit Center/Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, Art Spark Texas, and other community partners. The project included a series of workshops in storytelling and audio production as well as technology training for service members, veterans, and their families. The project took place October 2018 through October 2019. SCFP was modeled after the Stories from Deep in the Heart, another Texas Folklife project, and was designed to help current and prior service members express their stories and folklore (customs and traditions) through workshops guided by military folklorists. The result was finished, broadcast-quality audio documentaries that were shared during a culminating event in partnership with Art Spark Texas and are featured on Texas Folklife’s SoundCloud channel.
Photo: Kate Murray conducts an audio editing workshop during Stories for Creative Forces Project. Photo courtesy of Texas Folklife
Texas: Ink Stick Project
Art Spark Texas worked with eight partners to offer Ink Stick Project, an expanded version of a previous six-week writing project offered by Art Spark Texas. The program took place from October 2018 through September 2019. Writing classes were offered in Temple, Texas, at the Cultural Activities Center and at the Fort Hood Intrepid Spirit Center. Participants read an assigned reading before the class, discussed the reading with their peers and instructor, learned different writing styles, responded to writing prompts, and received feedback from their peers and instructors. Following the series of workshops, participants were encouraged to share their work at a final event co-produced with Texas Folklife, and Art Spark Texas collected participants’ writing for inclusion in the Re-Integration Project publication.
Photo: A veteran reads from her work in class during Create Your Story! A Writing and Art Workshop for Veterans at the Austin VA Outpatient Clinic. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Decker
Virginia: Creative Forces Network of Fort Belvoir and the Creative Forces Network of Hampton Roads
Virginia Commission for the Arts (VCA) partnered with organizations in northern Virginia and in Portsmouth to develop two networks of local arts organizations, each network surrounding one of the two Creative Forces clinics in Virginia. VCA’s goal was to convene these two networks to better coordinate with their respective clinic as well as among themselves to provide a pipeline of community support, arts activities, and services for military service members, veterans, and their families and caregivers. Northern Virginia partners formed a network around Fort Belvoir and included George Mason University (GMU), Workhouse Arts Center, and The Art League. Programs offered were adaptations of these organizations’ longstanding military-arts programs. These programs included GMU’s ukulele classes, which were based on their popular guitar classes for veterans and included military families, and Workhouse Art Center's open studio sessions. In Portsmouth, partners Peninsula Fine Arts Center and Armed Services Arts Partnership engaged in activities that identified other organizations in the community doing similar work. Teaching artist training specifically for military-connection populations to build their network and strengthen their skills in serving this population also took place. Virginia partner organizations met on a recurring schedule to plan and refine their response and offerings based on feedback, drawing from each other’s experiences and the distinct populations they were serving in different parts of the state. The program took place August 2019 through June 2020.
Photo: Ukulele workshop for veterans and military families at Veterans and the Arts Initiative at George Mason University. Photo courtesy of Dr. Niyati Dhokai
Washington: Creative Forces Summit II: Serving Washington’s Military and Veterans through the Arts
ArtsWA, in collaboration with over a dozen partners, hosted Creative Forces Summit II: Serving Washington’s Military and Veterans through the Arts in October 2019, an expansion of their Summit I event held in 2017. Summit II brought together arts organizations, artists, military personnel, arts and military administrators, funders, supporters, national, state, and local partners, and service and volunteer organizations. The goal was to advance the caliber, number, and depth of arts opportunities available to military personnel, veterans, and their families as tools to improve health and wellness. Over the course of two days, Summit II hosts and attendees engaged in training that led to the creation of logic models. The training was designed to improve the capacity of arts organizations and artists to use logic models to devise, deliver, assess, and evaluate their creative work and programs in this arena. ArtsWA’s Community Connections project took place April 2019 through October 2019. The project kicked off with arts engagement activities provided by Music Works 4 Veterans, which included social music-making on and off base at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Photo: Musicians perform at Spring Vet Jam. Photo courtesy of Brenda Maltz
Community Connection Project Sites
Between 2018-2020, the Creative Forces Network supported 10 community connection projects implemented in community settings around clinical sites by community arts providers throughout the United States. Read about Creative Forces, Community Engagement, and COVID-19.
Participants in Community Connections projects reflect on their experience.
When I take ukulele and guitar lessons with the Creative Forces Veterans Workshops I feel like I'm doing something important. I know that it's improving the connection between my mind and body. I know that it's improving my spirit and my mood. And while it has always increased my sense of community, it does so now more than ever."- D.G., veteran, U.S. Army
Before this program I used to stay inside for weeks at a time, just in a funk and afraid to go out and interact with other people.… This program has built my confidence in going outside and seeing Manitou Springs and I've been here since 2009.”- Krystale, active duty service member
Creative Forces helps keep us sane as a family. It gets us out of the house together. This is something my husband, a Marine Corps veteran, will agree to go to. We like that there’s no pressure to create anything specific and we can just come in and enjoy the company or not. I like the freedom to be able to create whatever I feel like at the moment.”- Nicki Padilla, military spouse
Meeting veterans is always like accessing a box of chocolates. Every conversation is an adventure like experiencing a window of the kaleidoscope of military service that you happened to have missed.”- Stories for Creative Forces Project, Texas Folklife participant
[I enjoyed] the attention to each person's confidence in writing their own story.”- Art Spark Texas participant