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Art studio to offer vets 'healing space'

Aug. 12, 2014 - 01:55PM   |  
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A nonprofit organization plans to open a walk-in art studio for veterans in the Washington, D.C., area.

The “Combat Veterans Healing Space,” which also will furnish musical instruments, sheet paper, writing utensils and other creative art supplies, will be a first of its kind in the area for veterans, according to Scott Gordon, executive director of The 296 Project.

“I’m astounded by the success rate of art therapy for treating traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s nonmedicinal, and it can make all the difference,” Gordon said.

The Defense Department offers art therapy — a mental health treatment that incorporates art-making into psychotherapy to improve the physical, mental and emotional well-being of patients — through the Healing Arts Program for wounded warriors at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Maryland, and its satellite at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, Virginia.

The USO also offers an Art as Therapy program at its Warrior and Family Care centers in the D.C. area. But these programs are limited to injured active-duty personnel, their families and caregivers.

The 296 Project studio, named for a World War II-era Marine Corps enlisted occupational specialty code for “artist,” will be a place for active-duty service members and veterans to create and socialize. Gordon said the facility also will offer space for art therapists to conduct formal art therapy sessions.

“We will provide a place for them to socialize and brainstorm, for people to walk in before work, at lunch or after work to create anything they want. Art and expression is therapeutic,” Gordon said.

A Kickstarter campaign is underway with a goal of raising $30,000 for supplies and to sustain the program, but plans are on track to open the facility in October regardless of how much is raised through that initiative, Gordon said.

The program got a huge boost in June with a fundraiser featuring the art of retired Navy Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Kristin Beck, a lifelong artist who has re-engaged in sculpture, pottery and painting to cope with her combat-related PTSD.

“Art for me has always been a way to relieve stress. As a youngster, I did art because it’s all about relaxing, getting your feelings out. When I retired, I picked up my welder, doing some sculpture and also started doing more paintings. I didn’t know it was a method for PTSD, but it was what I was doing,” said Beck, who served in the Navy as Chris Beck, deploying 13 times and earning a Purple Heart and Bronze Star with “V” device.

Beck’s show of paintings raised nearly $25,000 for the new studio and The 296 Project, she said.

“I’d like to see one of these in every major city. Where else do you want the veterans to go? Keep going to bars and getting in fights? Or would you like us to go somewhere we can meet other people, with some canvases some paints and a hot pot of coffee?” Beck said.

The studio aims to serve veterans with combat-related PTSD and TBI, although all vets will be welcome. To use the supplies, veterans will need to show a DD-214 or some other evidence that they served.

The 296 Project was founded to provide funds for veterans to engage in art therapy, and it plans to continue that mission at its brick-and-mortar space, Gordon said.

But the new Combat Veterans Healing Space will broaden the organization’s mission, promoting the creative arts as an outlet for veterans who may be uncomfortable with formal therapy or simply need a space for expression through the visual, written and performing arts, Gordon said.

“If you can’t afford to pay for art therapy with a board certified art therapist, my guess is you are not going to go out and spend money on canvas, paint brushes, clay, guitars or amps. We’re just a a nonprofit that’s here to help if you need to express yourself,” Gordon said.

The facility would be in Arlington, Virginia.

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