Active military and veterans express themselves during Creative Forces Summit

Mask created by a member of the military as part of the art therapy program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, a part of Walter Reed National Medical Center. Displayed during the Creative Forces Summit in Colorado Springs. (Courtesy photo / National Endowment for the Arts)

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By: Tony Peck
March 4, 2018

A recent summit of art therapists, mental health experts and veterans in Colorado Springs highlighted a strong desire to broaden the reach of art therapies in the military.

The Creative Forces Community Summit, held last month at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, brought together a host of experts, active military and veterans to share ideas on how best to treat traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder with the arts.

Pre-existing art and military communities are what attracted Creative Forces to Colorado Springs, explained retired Army Brig. Gen. Nolen Bivens, military engagement adviser for the National Endowment for the Arts.

“Because you are already doing so much, you may be uniquely positioned to demonstrate what a fully integrated model would look like,” Bivens said.

Creative Forces is an initiative formed by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs. It delivers therapy at 11 locations across the nation, with Fort Carson representing its newest location.

Bivens described a model that includes a clinical capacity to deliver therapy, a military community willing to seek therapy and a local civilian community with a desire to help.

“All of those nodes are really strong here,” Bivens said. “You have an opportunity to see how the arts and community can come together to help.”

And Bivens believes that as much as the military helps its personnel, real healing happens in the local community.

Community art programs provide active duty and veterans an alternative to seeking mental health treatment through traditional means, which are often stigmatized, Bivens explained.

To clarify, he described the difficulties that his soldiers faced at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: “They didn’t have any alternatives to deal with their demons without exposing a weakness.”

“Art gives them a way to talk about what they have been through without having to necessarily use their words,” Bivens concluded.

Planning the summit allowed local and state organizations to build relationships with the Creative Forces partners.

The Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region took the lead in orchestrating the summit, said Deborah Thornton, a member of the summit planning team. Planners were responsible for coordinating with local military commanders, artists, therapists and nonprofit leaders, she said.

“We really wanted to celebrate the local efforts,” said Andy Vick, the executive director for the cultural office.