Transforming War and other Trauma Experiences Through the Arts

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YOUR BRAIN ON RESILIENCE | Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPAT, LPCC – International Art Therapy Organization, & Art Therapy without Borders | August, 2011


A Project of Tappert & Associates with the Veteran Artist Program

In Partnership with – 

Smithsonian Institution, George Mason University, Corcoran College of Arts + Design,

Library of Congress-Veterans History Project, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts,

and Create Arts Center

In May 2012, an unprecedented partnership of major arts, education, and research institutions will unite to save lives, and provide the foundation for those individuals to begin life again – with a deeper, richer, and more fulfilling life than they may have known before.

THE ARTS AND THE MILITARY: Transforming War and Trauma Experiences Through the Arts Workshops, Film, and Exhibition May 13-18, 2012, will bring together veterans, military family members, arts practitioners, and experts from a variety of scientific healing modalities with extensive workshops focusing on the arts as a means of therapy and a viable vocational option for returning veterans.

Dr. Tara Leigh Tappert, who initiated the workshops and exhibition, explains the urgency and impetus for launching the program, which hopefully will become a model nationally, and perhaps internationally, to help the healing and transformation process resulting from war – worldwide:

“The drawdown from Iraq and Afghanistan of nearly 73,000 U.S. troops will continue through the summer of 2012. Service members will return home to a new and different world. Over the past ten years, experience has shown that readjustment to civilian life is often difficult. Many soldiers, sailors, and airmen have come home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury. Others return with life changing physical wounds. Nearly everyone faces the challenge of finding meaningful employment and personal direction.

Art-making for healing and well-being has a long and honorable tradition with the U.S. military. Throughout the twentieth century, service members and veterans have used art-making for rehabilitation, vocation and recreation.

VETERAN ARTIST PROGRAM REHERSAL FOR THE TELLING PROJECT: BALTIMORE | Workshop participants prepare for a performance at the Walters Art Museum and Towson University Veteran Artist Program Studio, Baltimore, Maryland April, 2011

This project has attracted people from a wide range of political persuasions. It’s a project about “heart” and about people that cuts across politics.

As early as World War I, arts and crafts making were used as rehabilitation tools for the war wounded through occupational therapy and vocational training. Beginning with World War II, concern for the wellbeing and morale of active duty service members was addressed institutionally when arts and crafts centers opened on military installations throughout the world.

To continue this honorable tradition, the purpose of this pilot project is to provide opportunities for collaborative arts-focused programming intended to foster bridges between three important, yet disparate, worlds – the military, the healing arts, and civilian arts and crafts.

Workshops, a film screening, an exhibition, and a presentation on the history of the arts and the military provide opportunities to highlight the myriad ways in which arts and crafts and the U.S. military intersect.

The intended audience is matriculating veterans attending higher education institutions; the Washington, D.C. and nationwide military community; arts therapy practitioners; artists and interested civilians. Advance registration will be required for Workshop participation. Receptions and films will be open to the public, whom we hope will avail themselves in great numbers.”

Q: This is a remarkable and comprehensive program, which could very well provide the foundation for similar programs nationally, and internationally. How did this concept and project come to fruition?

Tappert: In October, 2010 I received seed funding from the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, a center of UNC Asheville ( for a research project to investigate two significant ways in which the U.S. military has embraced arts and crafts-making.

The first, beginning with World War I, was [art] as rehabilitation for healing and vocational training. The second, looking at World War II, [was art] as recreation to promote well-being and efficacy.

Helen Frederick, Chair of the Printmaking Program at George Mason University, was instrumental in submitting a letter of recommendation that made the grant possible, and provided great support in a collaborative partnership with the Combat Paper Project.

The plan to develop workshops and a Combat Paper Project exhibition emphasizing military-focused artistic expressions for healing and well-being through art-making, paper making, writing, and performance began taking shape at a planning meeting sponsored by the Printmaking Program at George Mason University on February 12, 2011.

Drawing more than twenty participants – from the military, from arts and healing, and from the museum and arts and crafts worlds – I, and Printmaking Program BFA student Patrick Sargent (USAF, retired), presented ideas for the project through a PowerPoint presentation, an introduction to a Windows Live site devoted to the collection of research materials about the arts and the military, and in an open forum discussion on how best to move forward in developing the project.

Patrick Sargent also provided participants with a tour of the School of Art facilities. Ideas for the workshop and the accompanying Combat Paper Project exhibition came out of this initial planning meeting, and in later discussions with Helen Frederick, Lynn Sures, and Jane Milosch.

Q: What is the format for this unprecedented partnership of major arts, education, research institutions, military, and healing practitioners?

Tappert: The project will involve several workshops – two focused on arts therapy for those working with veteran populations and military families, one focused on art and writing exclusively for veterans, and one focused on arts and performance for both civilians and veterans. Also, for the general public, there is a film screening of Where Soldiers Come From, featuring a Q & A session with the filmmaker and subjects of the film, as well as a Combat Paper Project exhibition. Workshops will be limited to 35 participants per workshop. This will allow workshop leaders and participants to fully benefit from the experience.

The workshops will open on Sunday afternoon, May 13, at the Smithsonian Institution with introductions by the hosts of each workshop venue: Helen Frederick (Chair of the Printmaking Program at George Mason University), Lynn Sures, (Director of Art and the Book, Corcoran College of Arts + Design) Jane Milosch  (former Curator, Renwick Gallery – Current Director, Smithsonian Institution Provenance Research Initiative, Heena Genti (Executive Director, Create Arts Center), and Monica Mohindra (Director, Library of Congress, Veterans History Project).

On behalf of the Program, I will give a history-focused PowerPoint Presentation on the role of the arts for the military. The evening will end with a reception for workshop participants, sponsors, and other invited guests.

Workshops will run all day from Monday to Friday at George Mason University, the Corcoran College of Arts + Design, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts,  the Library of Congress, Veterans History Project, and Create Arts Center.

Where Soldiers Come From will be screened on Wednesday evening at at the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts.

On Friday evening, the event will close with a reception for the Combat Paper Project exhibition at the Corcoran. We will showcase the artwork of workshop participants, readings from their poetry and writings, and they will present a theater performance.

Q: What is one of the compelling examples of workshops that will be offered?

Cathy Malchiodi: “While art therapy is often used as a form of treatment, it is equally compatible with more normalizing ways of supporting veterans’ reintegration and reparation stateside. Resilience-enhancement is a popular approach that is emphasized in current positive psychology research [including the work of] Martin Seligman and colleagues. It uses a strength-based approach to using art for health and wellbeing. One workshop will be for professionals, students and support group leaders who are interested in exploring the connections between resilience-building and creativity to support positivity through art making, mindfulness practices, stress reduction and narrative. The emphasis is on how these strength-based art therapy approaches can support veterans and their families in normalizing, rather than pathology-driven ways.”

Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPAT, LPCC, is with the International Art Therapy Organization, and Art Therapy without Borders • Workshop Facilitator: Art Therapy and Resilience Enhancement

Q: The Veteran Artist Program (VAP) is fundamental to providing an understanding of the needs of veterans interested in the arts, and has been instrumental in crafting significant aspects of the program for the workshops. Can you give us a foundational understanding of the perspectives and needs of so many veterans who are artists, or desire to become an artist?

Brian B.R. McDonald Jr.– Founding Director of Veteran Artist Program (VAP): Success in the arts is all about putting a long-term creative vision into tangible success stories on a day-to-day basis. The hardest thing for veterans, who are also artists, is that we have missed out on the youth, timing, and networking necessary to be successful in this fast paced industry. Our advantage, however, is that we have significant life experiences that shape our creativity and we have gained the motivation and discipline necessary to make things happen.

The Veterans Art Project is an organization that focuses on propelling veterans into the mainstream creative arts community in order to re-shape the narrative about veterans’ issues and be part of the creative process at every level. We provide a path for the veteran artist to become an intentional artist.


Q: There are very vibrant writing, paper making and performance theater components of the workshops. What is the outline of those aspects of the program?

Corcoran College of Arts + Design will sponsor From Uniforms to Paper and Creative Writing: Combat Paper Project and Warrior Writers an Arts and Writing Workshop Exclusively for Veterans. Drew Cameron of the Combat Paper Project and Lovella Calica of Warrior Writers will co-facilitate the workshop.

George Mason University, School of Art will sponsor Paper Making as Art Therapy for Trauma Interventionan Arts Therapy Workshop for those working with Veterans and Military Families. Gretchen Miller of Art Therapy without Borders and Drew Matott from Peace Paper will co-facilitate the workshop.

The Library of Congress, Veterans History Project will sponsor In the Telling – an Arts and Performance Workshop for Veterans and Civilians. Jonathan Wei and Max Rayneard of The Telling Project, in collaboration with Veteran Artist Program will co-facilitate an intensive “telling theater” workshop.

Q: Can you tell us a little more about the film that will be screened?

Tappert: Where Soldiers Come From, by filmmaker Heather Courtney, features Dominic “Dom” Fredianelli – a veteran in the film.

Where Soldiers Come From looks beyond the guns and policy of an ongoing war to examine the effect on parents, loved ones and the whole community when young people go off to fight and return to deal with post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury – the new, silent, signature wounds of the Afghan war. From a snowy small town in Northern Michigan to the mountains of Afghanistan and back, Where Soldiers Come From follows the four-year journey of childhood friends, forever changed by a faraway war. This documentary about growing up is an intimate look at the young men who fight our wars and the families and towns they come from.

Returning to her hometown, Director Heather Courtney gains extraordinary access following these young men as they grow and change from carefree teenagers in a Northern Michigan town, to 23-year-old disillusioned veterans.

Q: There is going to be a documentary film team recording the workshops and exhibition. Who is spearheading this important aspect of the project?

Tappert: Josh Davidson of Vets on Sets, which is part of the Veteran Artist Program, will be on hand to document the four workshops and then work with a film editor to develop the story of the workshops.

Q: Whom do you hope will attend and participate in the Arts and Combat Workshops and Exhibition?

Tappert: The military community including active service members, military family members, veterans; students, staff and faculty from other higher education institutions; arts therapy practitioners such as care givers, arts and dance therapists; artists, and museum, library, and archive professionals among them – art historians, curators, arts and design practitioners; and all interested civilian allies.

While there are a number of intended audiences for these workshops, we are particularly interested in attracting participants who currently work with or plan to work with a military community.

Our marketing initiative is certainly involving outreach to military, arts therapy, and arts and crafts organizations, publications, and institutions.

“This project is tapping into a real need, with answers and opportunity, for the soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are re-evaluating what it means to be alive, what is freedom, and how to live—which they know involves more than making money. Art and craft develop skills and new ways of looking at reality and a chance to discover new possibilities, and through their own personal experiences. This is powerful stuff.”– Jane Milosch, former curator, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

PRATT CENTER FOR FINE ARTS | Combat Paper Project Workshop Seattle, Washington, May, 2011


Registration and Event Information: Dr. Tara Leigh Tappert, Principal, The Arts and the Military, A Project of Tappert & Associates 301.326.1735,

Veteran Artist Program is the fiscal partner for the project.

Donations to support this workshop and future workshops of THE ARTS AND THE MILITARY: TRANSFORMING WAR AND TRAUMA EXPERIENCES THROUGH THE ARTS: Veteran Artist Program/The Arts and the Military Project, 2400 Boston Street, Suite 102, Baltimore, MD 21224. 831.262.7136,,

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