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Local veteran's program at Straz Center uses art to help heal wounded warriors

vet art span.jpg
Posted at 1:28 PM, Apr 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-28 17:33:25-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Since 9/11, many wounded warriors have returned home with visible and invisible injuries sustained in the line of duty.

Being in lockdown during the pandemic has made their mental well-being even more challenging. But new research shows that art has helped improve veteran’s PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

The Straz Center is now helping with that healing.

"Oftentimes, our injuries or our journey back to fullness is because of the chatter that goes on in our mind," explained Fred Johnson, a former marine, who spent 18 months deployed during the Vietnam War.

Johnson says returning home was challenging.

"When I came home from service, it was difficult for me to do the one thing that was incredibly natural for me, and that was to make music and to sing," Johnson explained.

But over time he found his voice again, helping him heal from the inside out.

Johnson believes various forms of art can help other veterans as well.

"Creativity oftentimes is a really, really important way for veterans to communicate or articulate some of their deeper feelings," he said.

So Johnson helped launch an arts and wellness program for veterans called the "Vet Art Span Project" at the Straz Center.

It's designed to show how the art community can help support the healing, wellness, and reintegration of our veterans and their families.

"We are a point of destination for conversations about art as a modality for health and well-being for veterans as a point of destination for veterans to tell their story to talk about how art has positively impacted them," Johnson explained.

At Vet Art Span you can watch videos where veterans are creating all forms of art and even dancing.

For families who don't have a direct connection to the military, you can learn what it's like to serve in uniform.

"We have a Military Cultural Competency Curriculum on the Vet Art Span website so that you know any citizen can come and learn more about the military," he added.

You can also join a Zoom meeting called "Vet Chat" once a month, where the whole family can share stories in a safe space, and veterans are welcomed home and supported by their community.

"I can testify to the fact that being allowed to create and being seen fully, is really what the veteran and their family wants," Johnson said.

The Vet Art Span Project is working with the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital as part of creative forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network.

That's an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs and state and local arts agencies.

For more information, click here.