ART HELPS VETS HEAL AND A FARMER FIND NEW MEAN­ING IN LIFE

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY DAVID “MAS” MASUMOTO

Anew vi­sion of the arts breaks the old mold of the lone avant-garde artist and exclusive, high­brow up­per-class au­di­ences. To­day, arts work for all of us in a mul­ti­tude of ways.

I’m late to the arts. I grew up on a farm, we rarely vis­ited a mu­seum, never went to a theatri­cal per­for­mance, and had very lit­tle art hang­ing on the walls of our home. We did have the art of na­ture all around us and par­tic­i­pated in eth­nic tra­di­tions and rich culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ences. Back then, few re­spected the folk arts and us “coun­try bump­kins” were la­beled as lack­ing “cul­ture.” Thank­fully, the arts have evolved and we are wit­ness­ing an in­clu­sive, dy­namic change. As I age, the world of arts around me is ma­tur­ing.

The old def­i­ni­tions of “what is art” are giv­ing way to a new, dy­namic re­defin­ing of art in our ev­ery­day lives. As Jane Chu, for­mer chair of the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Arts ex­plained, “We are mov­ing way from the paradigm that the arts are off by them­selves in a silo or off in a cor­ner or they’re elit­ist or that only some peo­ple par­tic­i­pate while oth­ers don’t.”

Art cre­ates life and en­er­gizes com­mu­nity. Through art projects, re­la­tion­ships are built, the soul of a city and place trans-

form in front of our eyes. The arts have evolved and oc­cupy a vi­tal place in our com­mu­ni­ties.

Who would have thought math and dance be­long to­gether? At first, it’s log­i­cal to think of rhythm and beat in a dance step as a sim­ple les­son in count­ing and pat­terns. Re­searchers and prac­ti­tion­ers Dr Karl Schaf­fer and Erik Stern are ex­plor­ing new ways to learn math through move­ment, from the sym­me­try of a sim­ple hand­shake to the ge­om­e­try of dance an­gles and pat­terns. In a re­cent work­shop in Fresno, they worked with ed­u­ca­tors to re-en­vi­sion the con­nec­tive tis­sue be­tween math and the dance of daily life — the phys­i­cal ac­tions that are filled with mis­takes and prac­tice, no dif­fer­ently than how to teach and learn math equa­tions and con­cepts. Art opens new doors of un­der­stand­ing through prac­tice.

Art has helped bridge com­mu­ni­ties with in­no­va­tive po­lice and pub­lic safety pro­grams. In Emeryville, Po­lice Chief Jen­nifer Te­jada launched a pro­gram to learn from lo­cal youth by im­ple­ment­ing an arts con­test to bet­ter un­der­stand their world through their eyes. The goal was to break down the bar­ri­ers and find com­mon ground through art.

At New York’s Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art, an in­no­va­tive pro­gram teaches cops to see and pay at­ten­tion to details by study­ing clas­si­cal paint­ings. Why art? It can help train the po­lice in the skill of de­duc­tive ob­ser­va­tion to solve or pre­vent crime by fine turn­ing their at­ten­tion to visual details. Pre­cise lan­guage used to de­scribe a sus­pect or what is first no­ticed when an of­fi­cer opens a door and how he or she com­mu­ni­cates that in­for­ma­tion to a part­ner could have life-or­death con­se­quences. Art helps fo­cus po­lice trainees’ pre­ci­sion and sharp­ens their ob­ser­va­tion skills. They learn not to just see a picture, but iden­tify what’s hap­pen­ing.

One of the most mov­ing new roles art plays is in a pro­gram called “Heal­ing Arts” op­er­ated by the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Arts. (Full dis­clo­sure: I’m on the Na­tional Coun­cil on the Arts, serv­ing in an ad­vi­sory ca­pac­ity to the NEA.) The NEA has part­nered with the mil­i­tary to help vet­er­ans cope with post-trau­matic stress fol­low­ing their de­ploy­ment. Art is used to be­gin a jour­ney of re­cov­ery.

In one ex­am­ple, vet­er­ans cre­ated masks, ex­plor­ing

ART CRE­ATES LIFE AND EN­ER­GIZES COM­MU­NITY. THROUGH ART PROJECTS, RE­LA­TION­SHIPS ARE BUILT, THE SOUL OF A CITY AND PLACE TRANS­FORM IN FRONT OF OUR EYES. THE ARTS HAVE EVOLVED AND OC­CUPY A VI­TAL PLACE IN OUR COM­MU­NI­TIES.

emo­tions of­ten re­pressed, help­ing in­di­vid­u­als and their fam­i­lies “come home” from war. In an­other case, vet­er­ans worked with metal sculp­tures and black­smithing. As one vet ex­plained, “The 12 times I was blown up, I kept all my pieces so I could in­ter­nal­ize and hide my in­juries.” Later, he fi­nally sought help, at first think­ing art was “hippy-dippy stuff” and not for him. But later he found that “art is life” and can ex­press things that words can’t. He now uses black­smithing to cre­ate “com­mando art” and cre­ate gifts for peo­ple when a thank you is not enough. I have spo­ken to fam­ily mem­bers of wounded sol­diers in art pro­grams that ad­dress the strug­gles of vet­er­ans. As one wife of a re­turn­ing vet said: “Art al­lows them to be­come whole again.”

These pro­grams have ex­panded to spe­cific mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ties, such as Camp Pendle­ton in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. They will now be pi­loted on a statewide level, part­ner­ing with the Cal­i­for­nia Arts Coun­cil, mov­ing from a clin­i­cal model to reach many com­mu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially to ru­ral ar­eas where iso­la­tion of vet­er­ans can be ex­treme. These ef­forts re­de­fine the mean­ing of “the art of war.” With arts, we don’t see dis­abil­ity, we see pos­si­bil­ity.

Art is trans­form­ing and evolv­ing — cer­tainly the cre­ative econ­omy has rec­og­nized the value of in­no­va­tion and artis­tic vi­sion in life, es­pe­cially in to­day’s highly com­pet­i­tive busi­ness world. Even in my world of farm­ing, we no longer grow just a com­mod­ity on our or­ganic farm — we nur­ture life and ar­ti­san foods that feed not only our bod­ies but also our souls. Art means life.

Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Arts

At­tached is an im­age of a mask cre­ated through Cre­ative Forces: NEA Mil­i­tary Heal­ing Arts Net­work.

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