By Susan Nolan
The statistics are alarming. According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, military veterans are 57 percent more likely to commit suicide than their peers who have never served in the armed forces. Thirty-nine percent of America’s servicemen and women struggle with alcoholism and substance abuse.
Locally, music is playing an active role in challenging these statistics. The Warrior Music Foundation (WMF), a veteran-founded non-profit organization, provides free music therapy, music lessons and song-writing retreats to active-duty and former military personnel and their families in hopes of improving their mental health. “Our goal is to reduce or eliminate suicide among our military,” says Kirsten Anatone, program director of the Bowie-based organization.
Research provided by WMF indicates they are making a difference in the mental health of the people they serve. They report that 67 percent of their participants say their coping skills have improved. Over 80 percent say their social interactions are better and 64 percent report better sleep. Almost half say they are less socially isolated. All of these factors are signs of improved mental health.
WMF is not doing all this alone. Earlier this year, they joined forces with Annapolis-based Maryland Cultural & Conference Center (MC3). The two organizations collaborated to create A Veteran’s Narrative: Healing through Music & Art.
Together they paired six artists with six veterans. Each team worked together to interpret the veteran’s personal story and transform two guitars into artwork. Various artistic media—acrylics, pen and ink, photography—were used.
Artist David Brault works in pen and ink. He was paired with Michael Caimona, the founder of WMF who served as an Enlisted Intelligence Specialist and Intelligence Officer in the Navy. Brault, an Edgewater resident and a Navy veteran, knew exactly what Caimona had in mind when he described the design he wanted. “When you retire, they give you a shadow box containing a flag and a list of your duty stations, significant career mementos,” says Brault. “The shadow box was the inspiration for our guitars.”
The program launched in late February, and the artist/veteran teams worked on their projects into September. Now, after being on display at MC3’s gallery for more than a month, six of the guitars are ready to be auctioned in an event to raise money and awareness—for both the arts and for veterans. The other six are for the veterans to keep.
“We pride ourselves on the fact that 90 percent of the money Warriors Music Foundation takes in goes directly to serving our clients,” says Anatone. “We never charge our veterans and military families a fee.”
The Veteran’s Narrative reception will be held on Thursday, October 20 at 6 pm at The Gallery at MC3 in Annapolis. In addition to the silent auction, the public is invited to meet the artists and veterans at this event. Refreshments will be served and live music will be provided by Annapolis-based singer-songwriter Carly Winter.