Posted by Ms. Marete Wester, Feb 08, 2019

This February reflection takes me squarely into the midst of the incredible people working at the intersections of arts, health, and the military. One of the fastest growing networks at Americans for the Arts is the National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military (NIAHM) Facebook Group. I am feeling the love for everyone who shares their programs and stories regularly in the NIAHM group, whose contributors represent a dynamic mix of individuals and organizations, state and local arts agencies, VA programs, arts and veterans service organizations—representing all branches of service, and all forms of art and art-making.

Each day brings new postings of happenings across the country, new programs, new milestones, new art, and new inspirations. Our member postings run the gamut of understanding the deep historical roots of the arts in the military, to examples of how today’s veteran artists are carving out the unique history of the 21st century through their art. A sampling of the postings from just the last two weeks tells a rich story of the history and diversity of the arts as part of the military culture.

As we enter Black History Month, connectingvets.radio.com shared the story by Julia LeDoux of Jason Moran’s work to raise visibility of WWI’s “Harlem Hell Fighters” in How the Harlem Hell Fighters introduced American Jazz to Europe. Jason Moran, the artistic director for jazz at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, is bringing the “Harlem Hell Fighters” history to life through a series of concerts and projects telling the story of how this unique African-American Army unit of soldiers and musicians spent six months in combat fighting alongside French troops, earning the nickname “hell fighters” from the Germans, and were awarded the highest regimental honor, the Croix de Guerre, from France.

Minority Veterans of America (MVA) has issued a call for veteran writers and their allies to write about their experiences in honor of Black History Month. Founded in 2017, MVA is helping to change the narrative around the identity of the American military veteran by building community around the unique identities that veterans hold. Their goal is to flood the internet with stories of service for #BlackHistoryMonth2019. I’m staying tuned!

The War Horse, a nonprofit site covering the military, is working to elevate another group of underrepresented voices, this time from the “Silent Ranks”—the military spouses and children supporting their enlisted family members. The War Horse is sponsoring a series of writing seminars, providing attendees with time and resources to develop their stories, which The War Horse hopes to publish.

The Creative Transitions: Military Veterans in Creative Careers podcast is giving advice on helping veterans transition their creative passions into careers by interviewing those who have become directors, producers, actors, game developers, and more. In a testament to its popularity, the podcast ranks in the top 10 military transition podcasts at Military.com.

Many of the stories coming out are from groups new to me. Others, I’m delighted to say, are familiar. It’s inspiring to see these groups grow, connect with each other, and continue to gain attention nationally and even internationally.

A veteran artist who lent his voice and perspective to the National Initiative in its earliest days was musician and Iraq veteran Jason Moon, who performed and spoke at the very first National Summit: Arts and Healing for Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. I love this podcast of his conversation with BriGette McCoy, CEO and Founder of the Women Veteran Social Justice Network, discussing their mutual challenges of being both founders of a nonprofit organization and veterans with PTSD. As if launching the Warrior Songs – Women at War CD with a 2000+ distribution wasn’t enough, Jason also hinted in another post at a possible new collaboration with the Milwaukee-based Feast of Crispian, a “Shakespeare with Veterans” organization. Can’t wait!

Roman Baca, a veteran artist prominent in the 2013 National Summit and in the international world of dance, is making waves across the pond as a Fulbright scholar. Roman and his dance company EXIT12 have a new film, EXIT12: Moved by War, produced by Square, that tells the story of how his classical ballet training helped him cope with the experiences of being a combat Marine in Iraq. Americans for the Arts recently honored Square with the David Rockefeller pARTnership Award for their support of the arts.

The Combat Hippies, an ensemble of Puerto Rican military veterans, performed for us at the 2017 National Summit held at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Their major new work, AMAL,delves into the impact of war for both combatants and noncombatants as people of color, and shares experiences of veterans’ adjustment to life after war, as well as those of civilians from war-torn countries. The piece also explores the search for meaning, purpose, and identity through enlisting in the military, specifically focusing on Puerto Rico’s cultural and military heritage. Written and performed by The Combat Hippies, AMAL was developed and directed by Teo Castellanos, featuring original music produced by Brimstone127.

Learning about the extraordinary work of dedicated artists and their supporters on a daily basis is one of the great joys of my career and wonders of the National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military network. Join us in the NIAHM Facebook Group, check out ArtsAcrossTheMilitary.orgfor information and resources, and don’t forget to list your own programs and services in the National Directory.