Art in Service: Supporting the Military Community and Changing the Public Narrative
Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced a wave of returning veterans suffering from both physical and emotional traumas as well as families, communities, and a society in need of ways to understand, adjust, and heal. Writer and “former military kid” Maranatha Bivens characterizes ways that art is raising awareness of the issues facing service members, bridging gaps in knowledge and communication between veterans and civilians, and offering veterans paths to healing and reintegration in family and community life. Artists are creating work that enriches the public narrative about service, military culture, and the politics and effects of war through commentary, bearing witness, and protest. A breadth of artistic engagement at the personal and organizational level includes: documentary and classical theater, original artworks made from the pulp of old uniforms, and documentation of war zone graffiti, to name just a few examples. Some of the most compelling work is led and created by veterans themselves. Arts and creativity are being applied significantly as tools for health and well being. The National Initiative for Arts and Health in the Military brings together the military branches with civilian agencies and nonprofits to advance policy and practice toward integrating arts in holistic treatment. On the ground, creative arts therapists, artists, and arts organizations work across the military lifecycle, providing therapeutic and educational services. Finally, the paper reflects on how the arts may be applied as a tool for diplomacy to build transnational community connections, bridge cultural distinctions, and contribute to economic vitality.