Two Big Foundations Team Up to Gauge How the Arts Can Support the Military Community

According to recent statistics, there are over 2.5 million armed service veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraqi conflicts. And major foundations are paying attention.

As we've repeatedly noted here on IP, major funders have stepped up their giving to help veterans navigate the challenge of reintegrating into society. This post from March alludes to a few of these philanthropic organizations, including J.P. Morgan Chase and the MetLife Foundation. The latter has been instrumental in supporting Theatre Communication Group's Blue Star Theatres Grant Program, which funds efforts that deepen the relationship between participating theaters and their local military community, including veterans, children of active duty military, military spouses, and/or active duty military.

In short, foundations are increasingly viewing the arts, and particularly the immediacy of theater, as a powerful tool to bring healing to the military community.

For further evidence, let's turn to New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), which, with the help of a $101,250 grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, announced plans to convene artists and experts from the military and health care worlds to discuss the role of performing arts projects that focus on military and veterans' issues. This endeavor, dubbed "Art in the Service of Understanding: New Perspectives from Artists and the Military Community" will convene in the fall of 2016 with the goal of identifying best practices and lessons learned.

"We are proud to support NEFA in this effort, which will bring key voices together around a powerfully important subject—the transformative potential of the arts to promote healing, build empathy, and create important connections between civilians and those in the military," said Ben Cameron, program director for the arts at DDCF. "This conversation to examine the most effective methods for doing so is fruitful ground, and we look forward to the ideas that come out of it."

It make sense, doesn't it? After all, no two retuning veterans are the same. A one-size-fits-all approach toward programming can't work, as some veterans and communities may respond differently to identical works. At the same time, certain works may serve different aims—some may focus on issues like PTSD while others may address issues like finding work or reconnecting with family or friends. Other pieces, meanwhile, may focus on the challenges faced by spouses and family members with a loved one on active duty or returning home.

Come 2016, the NEFA will have a lot of data to pull from. It has invested a half-million dollars over the past five years in creating and touring dance and theater pieces that have addressed military issues. These works have been performed in 42 communities across 21 states. Examples of funded projects include Oakland, Axis Dance Company's "To Go Again," Knoxville's Carpetbag Theatre's "Speed Killed My Cousin," and the Takoma Park, Maryland-based Liz Lerman Dance's "Healing Wars."