The National Endowment for the Arts, a pet target of Republicans eager to slash big government, announced this week that it is establishing a Creative Forces: Military Healing Arts Network clinical site at Fort Carson, outside Colorado Springs.
These clinical sites aim to use the healing power of the arts to help U.S. soldiers recover from trauma incurred in the recent and ongoing wars in the Middle East. The project is a partnership of the NEA and Colorado Creative Industries, the state's arts-funding body that falls under the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The clinical site will be one of eleven the NEA funds nationwide that work with veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries, as well as their families.
"It is a great honor for the National Endowment for the Arts to provide art-based services through our Creative Forces initiative and to welcome Fort Carson in Colorado to the network," said NEA Chairman Jane Chu, in a statement announcing the program. "Our partnership with Colorado Creative Industries will help the initiative reach more military personnel, veterans and their families, who will find new avenues for healing and growth through the arts."
The project will connect people involved in the arts, the broader community and the military, and will encourage veterans to take what they have learned through their art therapy and use it to join the larger arts community and creative industries.
"We are pleased to partner with the NEA to provide vital art-based therapies to Colorado individuals who have served our nation and their families," said CCI executive director Margaret Hunt in a statement. "We look forward to working with the Fort Carson community and co-hosting the upcoming summit later this year."
The NEA has worked with the Department of Defense since 2011 to collaborate on healing projects for veterans. A Republican-majority Senate and House expanded the NEA's budget in 2016 by $1.928 million for the program. The new clinical site comes at a critical time for the NEA; earlier this month, President Donald Trump proposed eliminating all federal funding for the organization. Now Democrats and arts advocates are fighting to save the NEA's $148 million budget, which represents a mere .02 percent of the $3.899 trillion spent by the federal government in 2016.
On March 28, the New York Times published a story headlined, "Can Programs That Help the Military Save the Federal Arts Agencies?" The piece looked at the impact these veterans-arts programs might have on how Republican lawmakers will vote on the issue, and whether they will step in line with Trump's attempt to gut federal funding for the humanities.
A spokesperson for Republican Representative Doug Lamborn, who represents the district that includes Fort Carson and made headlines earlier this year for removing a high-school student's artwork that criticized police brutality from the Capitol, told Westword: “Congressman Lamborn appreciates the NEA’s investment in supporting the soldiers at Fort Carson. Our brave heroes at the Mountain Post protect and defend our freedoms each and every day. Programs that aid in the healing process required following the wounds of war are to be encouraged and commended.”
Does this mean Lamborn will buck Trump's proposal to slash NEA funding? The spokesperson did not respond to that question.
Arts advocates view two members of the Colorado delegation, Senator Cory Gardner and Representative Mike Coffman, as among the Republicans most likely to reject the president's slash-and-burn attitude toward humanities agencies including the NEA, the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Public Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, in the so-called war on Big Bird.
Coffman, a veteran himself, has built his political career championing veterans' issues and combatting corruption at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Gardner also has been outspoken on veterans' issues. Neither have responded to inquiries from Westword regarding their stance on the new Colorado art-therapy clinical site and proposed NEA funding cuts.
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