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Susan* was one of the early participants in the AAG Community Outreach Art Classes for Veterans sponsored by the Arizona Art Alliance. She was angry, closed-off, she did not want to interact with others, she did not want help, she did not want to sit next to anyone and was easily annoyed by other people. The classroom was set up in such a way that she was able to be by herself, yet still part of the group. A volunteer made sure she had the space she required to feel comfortable and safe. The art lesson that day was about how to draw basic geometric forms as a foundation for more advanced work. At the end of the class, when it came time to share, she was pleased with her drawing. After she left we weren't sure whether or not she would return. She did come back. And she kept coming back. Each time her demeaner softened. She would greet other veterans and volunteers with a smile. As her artwork improved over time, so too did her confidence. And she became more friendly and open about herself and her goals. She shared the story of the trauma she suffered. Although it was years ago, she was still suffering the effects from it and actively working through it. For her, attending the classes and making art in between classes was one of the ways she was working through it.
The Arizona Art Alliance created Veterans Art Classes to help people like Susan connect with themselves and their creative self to find a place of peace within themselves. Her story is not unique. It is echoed by veterans throughout the valley.
Each art class provides a safe space, often a nourishing meal, professional instruction, and art materials. Generally, each participant leaves with a finished piece of art, the feeling of accomplishment and the opportunity for social connection.
From the success of the model of the Veterans Art Classes, we began offering classes for Survivors of Suicide in 2018. These classes are open to those who have attempted or lost a loved one to suicide and are looking for relief from the stress and depth of grief they experience.
Since 2013, we have witnessed the impact of the art classes on the participants' lives. One veteran shared that he had spent a day making holiday cards for his family. After 7 hours of working on the art project he realized that he had not had pain and did not need to take his medication.
That got us thinking. So, during the pandemic our team set to work to create a book of art prompts for our students to use at home. So often we heard people say "I love this class and want to do this at home, but I don't know where to begin." This book is designed to get people started. We took lessons that participants enjoyed, prompts we have used or continue to use in our own art practices, and whittled them down to a simple prompt that they could complete in 15 minutes to several hours depending on their schedule and interest.
The four authors hand-drew each page to create a welcoming space that was not intimidating. There is a casual quality to the book that makes it accessible. The book is available for purchase online at: https://azartalliance.com/open-me-up-book-of-art-prompts/
The Arizona Art Alliance Community Art Program is an extension of our tag line, Enriching Lives through Art. It is by this standard that programs are designed to make a difference and enrich lives - particularly of those struggling to overcome challenges brought on by PTSD, trauma and emotional pain and loss. This is possible by donations and grants. Help us to expand, to reach more veterans and survivors so they too can share the benefits of art making. You can make a difference. Visit our website, azartalliance.com to learn more about the Arizona Art Alliance. To connect with us, you may email info@azartalliance or call (928) 300-7185. To donate, via the website azartalliance.com
*name changed for privacy