Updated: Jan 13, 2019
This week we are revisiting a past beneficiary of Army Art to find out how they are growing and continuing to support their client base. Army Art supports a broad and diverse range of charities, choosing two beneficiaries on a yearly basis. Whilst the community based selection varies, a thread of continuity is our commitment to supporting a defence associated charitable organisation each year.
The Military Art Program Australia (MAPA) commenced in 2015, growing out of founder and director Leza Howie's experiences as an army wife, her time spent volunteering with Army Art and her personal experience of using art in a capacity that provided enormous relief. All of which inspired Leza to find a way to share the therapeutic benefits of art making with other military families, current and former serving personnel.
Funding from Army Art assisted establishing MAPA and provided the opportunity to purchase materials and equipment as well as assisting with facilities support so they could commence their first program in 2015.
Army Art: Has creativity or making art helped you with important life transitions you’ve experienced?
MAPA: The therapeutic and mental health benefits that learning and undertaking art provides are priceless and can’t be understated. The benefits are established, well documented and supported through various research here in Australia and overseas.
I also undertake art activities but I was exposed to working with different art mediums after spending time with various artists and a few years volunteering for Army Art. I know first hand that the experience of making art takes you to another place, your mind focuses on the activity and the ability to express yourself is much more free, in a way that sometimes words can’t express.
As the wife of a 30 year veteran who is still serving, I have experienced the many highs and lows of military life. Witnessing how it has affected veteran friends and their families, as well as my personal experience living with someone who suffers from the effects of service. Art has been an absolute saviour at times for me and I know for some of our friends, I only wish I had found it earlier!
How did MAPA start?
It began due to my exposure to many wives and families of veterans who were struggling to cope with their military partners suffering with issues such as PTSD. I spent time researching the benefit of art and looking into services available in WA and there was nothing [which combined the two], so I got started, rallying the support of the Commanding Officers in WA, approaching artists who wanted to contribute something to our veterans and then looking for support to fund the classes.
The program is free for veterans and that’s important because it encourages participation foremost but it also supports the many former serving veterans who are on a pension. My philosophy has always been if I can give a wife or a family a better day or a better week because their veteran family member is happier, more content or less angry due to art, then MAPA has been beneficial.
I have had veterans as well as family members who can’t express enough their gratitude for helping them find something to calm them and express themselves. Wives happy that their veteran husband is shopping for paint and canvas and is excited. I will never forget one of our Vietnam veterans who told me “I’ve tried drugs, I’ve tried counselling and alcohol, none of it has worked until I discovered art”. The power of that is amazing and it will stay with me forever.
It's important to say that art isn’t for everyone and it’s not the cure all. Everyone has to find their own activity and “thing” that supports their mental health. Our program is about giving our veterans access to something they may not have thought of before and to see if it's for them.
Describe MAPA for anyone who may not know what you do.
MAPA provides art experience classes across a range of mediums; pastels, drawing (charcoal and pencil), watercolour, ink, acrylic and oil painting, wood burning, clay sculpture, photography and creative writing. We use professional artists, many with a background from the Defence Force, as well as award winning local artists and have brought in artists from interstate as well.
MAPA has continued to evolve from its infancy and does much more than provide art experiences and classes. We hold art exhibitions of our participants works to provide the experience of showcasing their work in a safe environment.
MAPA has established art in the field kits for serving personnel on deployment which have been tested and developed in the field and on operations. The kits are distributed through Navy, Army and Air Force.
MAPA provides opportunities for veterans to undertake commission works. We have facilitated commissions to commemorate significant events such as the twentieth anniversary of the Black Hawk disaster, the artwork being gifted to the SAS Regiment. And artwork by veteran artist Brad Kay, is now hanging at the Pozières Museum in France, presented to mark the opening of the animal war memorial.
You have a long history of volunteering, could you share some of those experiences?
I have been involved in volunteering for many community events, from workplace fundraising support, to the Marketing person for several years with Army Art. My most important work is as the Founder and Director of MAPA which is a 100% volunteer role.
Through this I dedicate over 800 hours per year to the running of the program, it’s like a part time job on top of my full time job. There is enormous work that goes into the coordination of annual classes, sourcing artists, setting up and facilitating classes, finding sponsors and donations to keep running, purchasing supplies and marketing ourselves along with annual exhibitions and other activities to find new ways to develop our support.
Volunteering is about giving back to those in need and also paying it forward, I think it's important for people of all ages to participate at some time in their life for the benefit of another deserving person. I can’t think of many more deserving than our veterans, they have done so much and many have sacrificed greatly so that we live in a wonderful Country with freedoms.
MAPA also encourages our veterans in the program to participate as a volunteer and help run classes, they get to pay it forward and help support the program too.
MAPA relies on volunteers, tell us about the sorts of roles they undertake.
Volunteers are an important part of fundraising and charitable organisations, we simply can’t function without them. Giving them the opportunity to contribute to their community, gaining the respect earned from doing so, is a critical balance to encourage ongoing volunteer work and support of an organisation that depends on them.
Our volunteers are our artists, each person in our program donates their time for the benefit of our veterans, giving up hours and weekends to teach skills and share knowledge. Many have gone on to provide ongoing advice and support or a cuppa outside of our classes after building friendships. We also have a small team that help with our exhibitions, they provide support and advice and help with hanging. We are grateful to have access to wonderful people like that. We value every person who gives of their time freely for the benefit of MAPA and our veterans, and we acknowledge them and support them also where we can.
What benefit do you see in arts participation for people who may not regard themselves as an artist?
I think the definition of an artist is not that of a skilled professional but as a person engaged in an activity related to creating, practicing or participating in art.
There was some great research done here in WA that quantifies the amount of time a person needs to spend engaging recreationally with the arts for mental well-being, and this supports what we are doing at MAPA.
Participating in art makes you see things differently and like any new skill, practicing and learning new techniques builds confidence. It can take some courage to pick up a paint brush, but for many, it can be life changing.
If you would like more information about MAPA's programs please take a look at the MAPA Website.
More information about veteran mental health services.
Ian Drayton's Churchill Fellowship Report on the use of creative arts to manage combat-related PTSD.
An easy to read free ebook which explores living with and managing PTSD from Psychiatrist Michael Bennett, MD.