A recent partnership between Challenge America and the Aspen Art Museum will facilitate the deployment of arts education to nearly 6,000 veterans across the United States and 17 countries.
Challenge America, a national nonprofit veterans organization based in Basalt, connects veterans with activities that improve the lives of veterans and their families.
Executive Director Dallas Blaney said the two organizations have entered into a memorandum of understanding that is “a formalization of an existing relationship” to solidify and grow an ongoing commitment to connecting veterans to the creative arts.
“I’ve been working with the Aspen Art Museum, on a variety of projects, for a few years now. I reached out and said, “Hey, let’s formalize this and create a memorandum of understanding to unlock even more work that we can do together,” Blaney said.
Challenge America Veteran Arts Community, a project to expose veterans to the arts, was launched about 18 months ago. It’s grown by leaps and bounds, Blaney said, doubling the number of veterans in their arts community in the past four months. Programming is free to attendees, and Blaney described it as “a vibrant community of veterans who are artists or aspire to be artists.”
Having a formal partnership with the Aspen Art Museum will add more value to Challenge America’s art programming, he continued.
“It really helps us meet the needs of the veterans we’re trying to serve,” he said.
A 2018 study by the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center found that “art therapy experiences promoted improved interpersonal relationships, hope, and gratification for service members.” in treatment, and helped them construct a narrative of trauma imperative for recovery. .”
Over the past few years, the museum has created educational content through various modalities through online learning guides and instructional videos, “with everything from watercolors to you name it,” Blaney said.
AAM’s educational content inspired Blaney’s idea to approach the Aspen institution to partner with Challenge America. From those conversations, “we explored other opportunities to collaborate in new ways,” he said.
The partners are also discussing in-person events, possibly this fall, to bring Grand Junction Veterans Administration veterans from the West Rim to Aspen “for an incredible day” at the museum.
“The idea is that they would do an art activity in the morning, have a nice lunch and maybe hike in Aspen in the afternoon – a wonderful day in Aspen combining art, nature and healthy eating,” said Blaney. “I think sometimes there’s a skewed perception of Aspen and what it is.”
In truth, Aspen and the surrounding area have deep roots in military tradition, he said, not least through the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division, which trained in the mountains during the Second World War II at Camp Hale, located between Red Cliff and Leadville in the Eagle River Valley.
“We owe the veterans a lot, and I think people here respect that, and they take that to heart,” Blaney said. “Having a day where we give back to these veterans in Grand Junction or wherever would be an amazing thing.
“So when I met with the people at the art museum, this topic came up again,” he continued. “Now I’m working to put those plans in place by organizing day trips for veterans from Grand Junction and the surrounding area to Aspen for an amazing day out.”
Another idea is to invite the museum’s artists-in-residence to host live-stream video workshops for the Challenge America community of artists, “where they can talk about their artistic journey and answer questions. Our veterans of the ‘art crave that stuff,” Blaney explained.
“We’re trying to find creative ways to help veterans across the country. I’m excited to find meaningful ways to connect all the amazing talent in our valley, which is full of amazing people helping veterans.
The newly formalized strategic partnership with the museum is just the latest attempt to continue to realize this mission. Although the AAM did not return a request for comment, Blaney stressed his gratitude and optimism for what lies ahead for both organizations.
“The arts are a great way to support veterans across the country, so I’m grateful to the Aspen Museum of Art and their entire team. I see this as the start of a great partnership,” said he declared.