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Creative Arts Classes in Theater, Music, and Art For Veterans

Nic Lyons

November 8, 2023

Honoring our veterans is about more than parades and bumper stickers. It’s not something that should happen just on Veteran’s Day or Military Appreciation Week. We honor our veterans when we offer them support all year round. Classes in theater, music, and art for veterans give them a point of connection, an opportunity to learn, and a chance to share their unique stories and viewpoints. 

Arts organizations across the U.S. offer classes in theater, music, and art-making for veterans to foster connection and self-expression. 

Organizations across the country have made a special effort to provide these valuable experiences for veterans and their families. Here is a closer look at how arts programs are supporting those who served and some thoughts about how your organization can start offering classes in art for veterans.

Art as a Tool for Connection

Anyone can benefit from art classes. Engaging with the arts provides stress relief, can improve social connection, and empowers self-expression. All of these have been linked to better mental and physical health. 

These benefits might be especially valuable to veterans. Many veterans find that transitioning back to civilian life can be stressful. Service members who have benefited from the structure and camaraderie of military life may feel lonely and disconnected outside that system. The stresses of military service can also create unique mental and physical health challenges. 

Dedicated programs in art for veterans can help ease the transition back to civilian life.

When organizations offer dedicated programs in art for veterans, they help ease the transition. Even veterans who served years or decades ago carry stories and perspectives that can be expressed through art.

Veterans in Our Communities

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 16.2 million veterans in the United States. That equates to about 6.2% of the adult population. Some states have a greater proportion of veterans than others. In Alaska, Wyoming, Virginia, and Maine veterans make up around 10% of the population. California, Utah, New Jersey, and Massachusetts hover around 4%. 

While older males make up the majority of the veteran population, arts organizations might be interested to know that the number of female veterans is rising. By 2040, women will make up 17% of the veteran population

Also, while many people associate military service with war, the second-largest cohort of living veterans served during a time of relative peace. So although all veterans make sacrifices to serve our country, these are not always combat related. Before you create a program for veterans, consider who you hope to serve.

Meeting Multiple Needs With Art for Veterans

Veterans may share the common experience of military service, but each is a unique person with unique needs. A diverse range of theater, music, and art for veterans programs help meet those needs in creative ways. 

Community and Connection – Organizations like the War Memorial offer Veterans Artmaking classes as an opportunity for veterans to meet and connect with each other over art. While veterans are welcome to attend the full range of events, classes, and activities at the War Memorial, this artmaking class offers a special opportunity just for them. 

Sharing Stories – The CreatiVets songwriting program partners veterans with musicians and songwriters who can help them tell their stories through song. Playing these songs for friends and family can enable veterans to tell stories they might not otherwise have shared. 

Serving Multidimensional Needs – Veterans experiencing incarceration have found opportunities for self-expression and healing through theater performances organized by the Marin Shakespeare Company. In these programs, veterans incarcerated in California state prisons take part in theatrical performances led by a registered drama therapist. 

Personal FulfillmentVetRep’s Acting and Playwrighting Classes offer veterans a chance to express themselves and share their talents. In addition to classes, the program offers live theater events, script competitions, and a podcast featuring long-form conversations with veterans in the arts. 

Career and Vocational Supports – Organizations like Nobel Desktop offer graphic design and mobile graphics bootcamps for veterans who want to quickly learn arts and design skills to support their transition to a new career. GI Bill-eligible veterans can use their benefits to help pay for programs like these. 

How to Offer Classes in Art for Veterans

Reaching veterans in your community might sound like a big challenge, but it might be easier than most organizations realize. Follow these best practices to develop an arts program that meets the needs of veterans. 

  1. Don’t Assume – The demographics of the veteran population are shifting. Don’t assume that all veterans are male, served in combat, or have service-related health conditions. You can certainly create programs to serve those specific populations, just know that many service members fall outside of those categories.

  2. Get Insight From a Veteran – The best way to create arts programs that serve veterans is to ask them what they need. If you don’t already have veterans in your organization, reach out to your community and ask for input. You can also contact a local veterans service organization or the local branch of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

  3. Plan for Your Purpose – Decide how you hope to serve veterans with your arts programs. Are you supporting mental health, creating community, or offering career support? Clearly identify your purpose and include it in your marketing materials for the class. 

In short, avoid making assumptions about veterans’ backgrounds and seek input from veterans themselves to tailor programs to their needs. By actively involving veterans in the planning process and recognizing their diverse needs, you can offer classes that make a meaningful and lasting impact on their lives.

For more on how to develop classes with particular audiences in mind, learn about how to develop and use student personas.

Nic Lyons

Nic is skilled in scaling start-up edtech and education organizations to growth-stage success through innovative marketing. A former journalist and copywriter, Nic holds a postgraduate certificate in digital and print publishing from Columbia University School of Journalism's publishing course.

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