Community Engagement Program

Engaging in the arts can help military-connected people, including their families and caregivers, enhance creative expression, build relationships, become more resilient, and adapt to civilian life.

Since 2017, Creative Forces has invested in community-based arts engagement activities that take place in healthcare, community, or virtual settings.

The Community Engagement Program expands the reach of Creative Forces to more military-connected people nationwide. It also provides continued, community-based opportunities for supporting health and well-being for people who have received or are currently participating in creative arts therapies through the Clinical Program.

How we support community arts programming

Creative Forces began its community arts engagement efforts in 2017 by convening military and arts communities in areas near Creative Forces Clinical Program sites. From 2018 to 2020, we funded ten pilot Community Connections projects near Clinical Program sites.

In 2022, in partnership with Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA), Creative Forces officially launched a grant program to support community-based arts programs and activities and expand the reach of Creative Forces nationwide.

A variety of community programs

Every year, approximately 30 Creative Forces Community Engagement Grants, ranging from $10,000 to $50,000, are awarded to eligible organizations. In 2022, grants totaling $750,385 supported 26 organizations. In 2023, 34 organizations received a total grant amount of $764,783. In 2024, 41 organizations will receive a total grant amount of $769,136.

Community Engagement Grants support organizations that offer diverse arts engagement opportunities, including writing workshops, culinary arts training, glassblowing, improv classes, and more.

Community Engagement Grants also support these programs to increase their capacity to serve military-connected people, including improving their military cultural competency.

A group of children gather with a facilitator in a circle with paint and brushes at the center.
Open Studio Project facilitator Hannah Levine-Drizin shows a painting technique to elementary school students during a summer camp program in July 2022. A 2023 NEA Creative Forces Community Engagement grant will support Open Studio Project’s Summer Camp for Families of Veterans, a two-week half-day camp for elementary-aged children in Evanston, Illinois. Photo by Rob Lentz

Community Engagement grant projects

The Creative Forces Community Engagement grant program has supported 101 projects in 33 states and the District of Columbia in the first three years of grantmaking.

Map of the United States with dots indicating the locations of grant projects. A full list can be found at each link following the map.

Measuring our impact

Research and evaluation is a core component of the Community Engagement Program. Through a rigorous approach to both qualitative and quantitative research, we are dedicated to demonstrating the power of art in addressing trauma. Our monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) activities, tools, and best practices specifically benefit our grantees. We measure local impact with participants and community partners, and national impact across the fields of military arts and health. 

Even the most hesitant of veterans were willing to dive head-long into a Shakespeare play, and they gained experience with de-escalating themselves from triggering moments through speaking his text. We experienced a hunger for conversation, laughter, tears, personal reflection, and emotional growth amongst the veterans, and we observed improvements in how the veterans communicated with each other and clinicians.

Tennessee Shakespeare Company, Program Evaluation

How to apply for a grant

Matching grants are awarded in two tiers, “emerging” and “advanced,” which reflect the capacity of the project at the time of the application. Grant recipients can work in healthcare, community, or virtual settings. Creative Forces works in partnership with the Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA) to provide:

  • Matching grants of up to $25,000 for one-year advanced projects
  • Matching grants of up to $10,000 for one-year emerging projects
  • Matching grants of up to $50,000 for two-year advanced projects

Grant application materials are available in November, and applications are due in January. Grants are announced in late May to early June. 

For a complete list of applicant eligibility requirements and other details, please visit the M-AAA website

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