Veterans from the Warrior Chorus performing Our Trojan War.

Art Therapy Programs for Veterans May Assist in Keeping NEA and NEH Alive

Though President Trump has proposed defunding the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities in his federal budget plan, some are now claiming that arts programs for disabled or traumatized veterans supported by the endowments will make more conservative Republican lawmakers—who’ve long considered the agencies “elitist and irrelevant”—rethink such drastic cuts, according to Graham Bowley of the New York Times.

Melissa Walker, an art therapist with Creative Forces—a program run by the NEA at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center which works with veterans who have been physically and psychologically affected by war—says that art gives veterans a necessary and healing outlet. “A lot of this population has trouble verbalizing what they have been through,” says Walker, who notes that writing, making objects, playing music, and performing helps them process their experiences. (Our Trojan War, a theatrical piece by the Warrior Chorus, a group of veterans who stage Greek plays and original works, will be performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in April. The Warrior Chorus has received $650,000 from the NEH since 2014 and will receive another $300,000 from the agency sometime this week.)

Currently, there are seven Creative Forces programs across the country. Today, there will be an announcement that four more are in the works. Last year, the NEA awarded twenty-five military arts grants worth $499,000. Creative Forces received an additional $2.3 million in funding. Mark Mellman, an adviser to John Kerry during his 2004 presidential campaign and a Democratic pollster, said, “People understand we owe a deep obligation to our veterans. It is political poison to take anything away from them.” But a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Romina Boccia, says the “NEA’s involvement in programs for members of the military, by themselves, do not justify the agency’s existence.”

Certain congressional appropriations committees will determine the fate of Creative Forces, the Warrior Chorus, and other related projects as they consider the future of the NEH and NEA. Previously, lawmakers have mentioned military and veterans’ programs when they asked for budgetary increases for the agencies; each currently receives about $148 million. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska who is strongly in favor of keeping the NEA and NEH and who chairs the Senate appropriations panel that oversees them, said, “I have consistently supported funding for the arts and humanities and have seen the direct benefits of these programs in communities across Alaska.” She also made favorable mention of an Alaskan arts program at a military base that “treats our wounded warriors.”