By Imani West
Music, painting, poetry and other forms of creative expression can help individuals and communities overcome physical, mental, and emotional obstacles. This is why the Institute for Integrative Health is developing a program that will connect Maryland’s military veterans with community-based arts activities.
Expected to debut this fall, the new initiative is informed by successful therapeutic arts programs at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and other military health institutions.
“The results of a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Affective Disorders indicate that soldiers attempt suicide primarily to relieve emotional distress,” said Ermyn King, MA, an ArtStream artist in residence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “Enhancing connection to personal strengths and story, and a sense of purpose and meaning, can help to alleviate that distress.”
Speaking on a panel at the Institute’s February meeting of Scholars and Fellows, Ms. King described how Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed are able to find meaning by bringing their stories to life through improvisational music making, puppetry, and visual arts.
Cynthia “Cinder” Hypki, MS, another panelist at the February meeting, is a community artist who orchestrates participatory arts projects to help communities heal from trauma and loss. At the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, for example, she designed an interactive sculpture into which people wove strips of cloth containing memories and messages to deceased loved ones.
Peter Bruun, MFA, is a community activist in the arts who also served on the panel. Last fall, he launched the New Day Campaign in Baltimore, using art to challenge the stigma associated with mental illness and addiction. Its 63 art-related events and 16 exhibitions opened hearts and minds, fostering compassion, rather than judgement, for those who battle these conditions.
Through the creative arts, communities and people from all walks of life are finding paths to healing. As Ms. Hypki said, “Art can change the world because it can change us.”