by Patricia Woolsey, Executive Director
In honor of Veterans Day, I want to tell you about ArtStream’s Allies in the Arts Program at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. ArtStream was founded on our belief in the healing power of the arts, and we take our programs into the community where the need is. Wounded servicemen and women can’t come to us, so ArtStream artists go to Walter Reed two evenings per week to work with wounded service members, their families, and caregivers.
Some patients love a visit from Jude, a musician. Others prefer writing with Roseanne or storytelling with Ermyn. Still others enjoy making things with Nancy, a visual artist. One of the highlights of my job as Executive Director of ArtStream is reading the artists’ reports of their work at Walter Reed.
For example, musician Jude Crannitch writes:
“I played/demonstrated harmonica techniques to one patient — how to bend notes, breathing techniques, single note isolation, music theory-chord structure, keys — all in response to his questions. I played Rev. Gary Davis’ You Gotta Move, with and without guitar accompaniment. The patient showed me a bracelet with the names of his buddies who had died and described his vision of honoring and consolidating their memory and presence through mastery of the harmonica. He told me he was “shaky” before I came, about his surgery in the morning, but was empowered and focused by the visit.”
Storyteller Ermyn King works with words instead of music.
“The patient was cringing, wincing, and moaning with nerve pain in his injured leg, yet he welcomed the Allies arts session in determination to use it for pain distraction. He chose to work with the magnetic poetry board and “Healing Words.” After concentrating on this and maneuvering words on the magnetic slate, he said that the set didn’t have the words needed to express his thoughts and feelings adequately. I quickly gave him a tablet of paper and pencil so he could use all the words that he needed. He poignantly expressed the guilt that he feels in having survived the attack that killed three of his comrades. He said he feels this guilt “every second of every day.”
We are so grateful to be part of the Artist-in-Residence Program at Walter Reed and proud to be on the cutting edge of the “Arts in Healthcare” movement. ArtStream’s work at Walter Reed is featured as a model program in The National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military’s report, Arts, Health and Well-Being across the Military Continuum: White Paper and Framing a National Plan for Action, presented to every member of Congress before Veterans Day.
The paper is a result of a growing number of military leaders recognizing that art helps heal the wounds so prevalent in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, depression, and lost limbs. Fortunately, they also understand that artists have expertise and training worth investing in. At the moment, ArtStream supports this program entirely, but one of the findings of the report is that a public/private partnership benefits the military, artists, and the community. “Today, with only 1% of our population in the military, many individuals have no connection to the military yet are concerned and eager to help,” said Judy Rollins, lead writer.
Community support is important to the seriously wounded servicemen and women we work with. Many of them are very young, yet have given so much. Their lives are changed forever in ways that can’t always be expressed in words or treated with medicine. We are honored to share the healing power of the arts with them.
To learn more about ArtStream and the Allies in the Arts program, visit our website at: www.art-stream.org.