Community Building Art Works (CBAW) is a Veteran service organization that builds healthy and connected communities through workshops led by professional artists. Veterans and civilians share creative expression, mutual understanding and support. Their mission is to make sure that no Veteran bears the burden of service alone.
Borne out of a program started at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the team has held workshops and performances for service members across the country. A performance by ten Veterans in one of their poetry programs was featured in the HBO Documentary, “We Are Not Done Yet.”
Now, through free online workshops held via video conference, Veterans and civilians from across the country and around the world can come together in creative expressive workshops to share an authentic connection.
Learning to Slow Down After Service
FMF Corpsman Rene Vincit’s service in the Navy took him all over the world—from Afghanistan to Camp Pendleton. While creating has been in his blood since he was sketching abstract figures as a child in elementary school in Springfield, Va., it was a skill he put away after joining the military. He had toyed with writing, creating his first blog when he was 25 years old. “As with [visual] art, I developed a passion for it but put it away to focus on [military] training.” Vincit held no real expectations other than being excited to get away from group talk therapy, but experiencing the arts again in a group setting, his talent came back naturally.
Exploring art and writing was difficult at first because he had never analyzed the emotions and questions behind what he created. “It was through the [art and writing] workshops that I learned to slow down and have a conversation with myself about what I was feeling” in those moments of pen to paper or brush to canvas.
When asked what value he got from the CBAW workshops, Vincit said, “You can’t place a value on interpersonal growth.”
No Experience Necessary
Over the past decade, tens of thousands of Veterans, service members and military family members with no prior creative experience have found their voices through CBAW’s workshops. Even if you’re not planning to be a professional artist, creative expression, and writing in particular, can help anyone struggling to find the words for difficult experiences to name what they’re feeling and ease the burden.
Each workshop begins with the introduction of a theme, often through a poem that the group reads together.
“I often joke that 99% of my job is undoing whatever English teachers have done to make you feel like you can’t write or interact with art. No creative writing experience is required–if you can talk, you can write.” – Seema Reza, author and co-founder of Community Building Art Works
Finding Your Voice
In these workshops, Navy Veteran Guadalupe Gutierrez found her voice again. She learned to write “without judging myself. I learned to trust my thoughts and validate my feelings. I learned that it’s okay to feel emotions.” Gutierrez transitioned out of the military in July 2018. “I used to think the military was all I had, I didn’t know who I was without the military.” Writing every day has helped her continue her self-discovery in a judgement-free way.
She lives in California and journals every day. Once in a while she attends an open mic night and reads one of her poems. She encourages other Veterans to write and together, they share their writings with each other, as a form of healing.
Art helped Gutierrez find a creative side that she didn’t know she had. “I’m not a professional artist, but it’s helped me with grounding when the world seems to spin. It also helped me find color when the world seems dull.” Before the workshops, Gutierrez says she was just going through the motions of life. “All three [art, music, and writing] helped me live again; helped me see that life exists after trauma and that I am not defined by my trauma. Every time I engaged in writing a part of me healed.”
Community Building Art Works offers free online creative workshops led by professional artists every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Check their website events list for more info on workshops in April and May.
The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products and services on part of the VA.