Military Arts Connection: Joining Creative Forces

    With National Endowment for the Arts funding, the local Military Arts Connection moves forward to provide healing through creative arts programs for members of the military community.

    creative forces military arts connection masks
    Photo by Mike Pach, 3 Peaks Photography, courtesy Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region

    Music has always played a role in Cory Sandoval’s life, from participating in high school band to playing drums and guitar to writing song lyrics. It wasn’t until he needed to process a major incident, however, that Sandoval leaned on music as more than fun or a simple escape. 

    In 2014, the Air Force battlefield weather forecaster was driving his pregnant wife to the hospital after her water broke. Their car was T-boned in an intersection on the driver’s side. The couple, their newborn son and his stepdaughter all survived, but not without serious physical injuries and immense emotional trauma. Their newborn fared the best with a fractured skull. Sandoval spent more than a month in the hospital, six more months in a wheelchair, and many weeks after that using a walker and finally a cane. 

    “It took a while to walk again,” he says. “During that time, my recovery, things were only getting worse.”

    As his marriage dissolved and he dealt with frustration at being confined to a wheelchair, Sandoval turned to music, picking up his guitar or pen and paper to process his emotions. He says it helped him cope with a multitude of negative thoughts and behaviors.

    “Art has so many different avenues you can take,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of my friends benefit greatly from picking up a guitar, a paintbrush, a pair of tap shoes, whatever the case may be, and finding a passion. It does more than people would think.”

    Those benefits are the reason the 30-year-old, now-retired staff sergeant is an active member of the planning committee for the Fort Carson and Colorado Springs-based Military Arts Connection (MAC). 

    Led by the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, the MAC is one of 11 national Creative Forces demonstration projects with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and backing from the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Grant funding also comes from the Colorado Springs Health Foundation.

    Creative Forces puts arts therapies at the core of care for active-duty service members and veterans struggling with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological health conditions. The program consists of three components: Creative arts therapists provide art, music, creative writing and dance therapies in a clinical setting at the military installations. Community-based arts opportunities help patients and their families transition from clinical treatment to local arts programming. And continuing research evaluates the impact and benefits of these treatments.

    Andy Vick, Cultural Office executive director, says that connecting the military with arts locally isn’t new in this community—Bemis School of Art at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, for instance, has run a Military Artistic Healing class for almost a decade. But the MAC allows local programming to expand in a major way. 

    veterans brainstorm at military arts connection creative summit
    Local veterans brainstorm ways to foster artistic healing. Photo by Mike Pach, 3 Peaks Photography, courtesy Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region.

    The project planning committee has been working through Phase One, which included executing a Creative Forces Community Summit last February with more than 200 interested parties. The summit participants set the goals for Phase Two, which include offering cultural competency training for local artists and arts organizations, as well as local military healthcare practitioners and service providers. A website also is planned to launch in April. Its goal is to be a connecting point for individuals dealing with trauma or other issues in a clinical setting and local arts practitioners. 

    “[It will] supplement what they’re getting in the clinic as a way to help them make deeper and more meaningful connections in the community as part of their treatment process,” Vick says.

    Thanks to the NEA grant funding, all the involved parties benefit.

    “We’re providing treatment and experiential options for military populations, and on the other side we’re providing a new revenue stream for local artists in our community to provide that care,” Vick says. “So to me that’s a real win-win kind of situation.”

    “We’ve removed the financial barrier for the healthcare providers to use the service, and we’re also educating them using the latest research from the NEA as to why this is a valuable and legitimate treatment,” Vick says. “The hope is that not only do people get better—however that means—but they also become more exposed to the creative side of our community. Hopefully that will create an ongoing and long-term connection to community.”  

    To get involved: