By Ryan Whirty
Participants at a day-long gathering last week that focused on ways artistic endeavors might offer needed therapy for troubled military veterans said such art programs could especially help veterans of color.
However, at the Louisiana Military and Veterans Arts and Humanities Summit that was held Oct. 8 at the New Orleans Jazz Museum, speakers, military officials and citizens concerned for the welfare of veterans, those involved in the day-long summit, said that negative stigmas might pose particular challenges for Black, Latino, Asian and other minorities working through battle trauma and other psychological disorders.
“African Americans going through the healing process need to understand the value of the art,” said Nolen Bivens, a retired Army brigadier general and now president of Leader Six, a management and consulting firm involved with veterans programs.
“Art can give them the means to self-help,” he added, “that [art] can be natural to them, without a stigma.”
Attendees said that many veterans of color might view enthusiasm for the arts and humanities as a weakness or as something that’s foreign or unusual. But on the other hand, civilians and the general public might doubt the potential healing effects of art therapy for veterans, including those of color, said Xiaobin Tuo, an active-duty lieutenant in the Coast Guard.
Tuo said that mutual stigmatization and perceptual schism between the public and veterans needs to be bridged in order for veterans who have post traumatic stress disorder or other psychological and emotional scars from their service.
“How do you connect the public and veterans?” Tuo posed. “People have to get past their conceptions [of art therapy], and it does start with building those bridges.”
While those challenges remain to be conquered, one general theme of the summit last week was that Louisiana, and New Orleans in particular, has always been a melting pot of culture and individual expression. Whether it’s by making music, painting murals or creating sculptures, the culture-rich city is a natural fit for art therapy programs for veterans.
Army veterans Ray Facundo, who gave a performance and testimonial at the gathering last week, said the summit will hopefully start a discussion about the benefits, funding and implementation of art therapy programs for veterans and even soldiers and officers still serving.
“Art is important,” Facundo said. “It’s not for everyone, but it is for folks who have something to say, whether they know it or not. Without this expression, there might be less opportunities to heal and to create a dialogue.”
Alejandra Juan, communications director and women veterans outreach coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, said later in the week that art therapy and art instruction can help bring service members closer to the people they protect.
“When a veteran can participate in the visual, musical and performing arts in his or her community, not only is this a step forward in that veteran’s journey back home, but that community gets to know our veterans personally,” Juan said.
“The arts afford all of our veterans – no matter their race, creed or branch of service – a place to tell their story, sing their song, paint their picture so that we here at home never forget what our veterans mean to our country – not only on the battlefield, but in what each veteran contributes when he or she comes back home,” Juan added.
Last week’s summit was organized by the office or Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, with involvement from the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs; the Louisiana Division of the Arts; the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities; Americans for the Arts; and several other organizations.
Featured speakers and moderators included Bivens; Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Mike Cushman; Alejandra Juan, retired Air National Guard officer and the communications director for the LDVA; Marete Wester, senior director of Arts, Policy, National Initiative for Arts & Health Across the Military and Creative Forces Military Healing Arts Network, Americans for the Arts; and Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities president and executive director Miranda Restovic.
Other highlights of the summit included a discussion, “National and State Perspectives: State of the Arts and Humanities across the Military Continuum,” a breakout session in which smaller groups brainstormed ways to enhance and promote arts therapy programs for veterans; and a musical and visual-art performance by David St. Roman, Doug Gay and Sarah Burke, members of the Veterans Songwriting Workshop and Songs of Survivors. Song of Survivors is a long-running, popular effort dedicated to creating and making music by veterans.
This article originally published in the October 14, 2019 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.
This article originally appeared in The Louisiana Weekly.