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Art Ease: A Regional Convening on Art and the Military

By Margaret A. Keough

In partnership with the Missouri Arts Council, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, we are pleased to present Art Ease: A Regional Convening on Arts and the Military.

The arts have the power to assist our nation’s military service with creative expressions and art therapies. The arts add value beyond the aesthetic, using creativity to enhance outcomes that are economic, therapeutic, educational, and engaging. This convening is designed for active service members, veterans and their families, artists, arts organizations and arts administrators, nonprofits, businesses, foundations, educators, and government agencies.

Thursday, April 26, 2018
Kansas City Public Library, Plaza Branch
Kansas City, MO
10:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. CDT
$10 registration fee includes a box lunch

Do you need help traveling to Kansas City? We have very limited travel reimbursement funds available for in-region attendees traveling more than 150 miles to attend. Please contact profdev@maaa.org for details.

Schedule of Events

Presentation of the Colors

Gladstone, MO VFW Post 10906 Color Guard

Opening Remarks

Cindy McDermott, Emcee


Cindy McDermott is an internationally award-winning writer and video producer in the non-profit, manufacturing, and military sectors. She spent most of her working career in the public relations business, with twenty-five years managing the employee communications program for Alcoa, an aluminum manufacturer in the aerospace, automotive, and specialty markets.

She has twenty-one years of service with the United States Navy as a Public Affairs Officer, retiring from active service as a Commander (O-5) in 2006, as the Public Affairs Department Head, Midwest Readiness Command, Naval Station Great Lakes. She has also delivered media training to high ranking military officers, including twenty-six NATO officers from twenty-one different countries. For nearly five years, Cindy’s been part of a team in Kansas City, Missouri, organizing free writing workshops for vets and their family members using writing as one tool on their pathway of recovery.

In 2016, she co-founded a charity, Moral Injury Association of America, to help military veterans struggling with the impact of Moral Injury. Moral Injury can be described as an action or lack of action that goes against the core values of an individual and then results in great guilt or shame. It can be one of the major contributors to the high suicide rates of veterans. Intensive group therapy is employed to help vets with self-awareness, memory, self assessment and finally self-forgiveness.

Keynote: Creating an Arts and Military Community Ecosystem


Keynote Speaker Nolen Bivens, president, Leader Six, Inc.

Bivens serves as Chair of the National Leadership Advisory Council, the National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military (NIAHM); and is Senior Policy Fellow, Arts & Military, with Americans for The Arts.

Leader Six provides management consulting, professional services, and products to commercial, nonprofit, and government customers to improve leader and organizational performance.

As Chair of the National Leadership Advisory Council, Bivens is both thought leader and advocate for the benefits of the arts to service members and veterans suffering the invisible wounds of war, particularly Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD). He’s testified before the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee; served as military adviser to “Healing Wars” theatrical dance production, PBS’s Crafts in America–SERVICE episode, Smithsonian Institution–Haiti Cultural Recovery Project, and Creative Forces, National Endowment of the Arts’ (NEA) Military Healing Arts Network; briefed congressional staffers; and, served as keynote speaker for national nonprofits, business art councils, and state and art organizations.

A former US Army General, Nolen’s military service included Chief of Staff, US Southern Command; Chief Operations Officer, US Third Army; Deputy Commanding General, 4th Infantry Division; Deputy Director Regional Operations, CPA/CJTF-7 HQ Iraqi Freedom; US Joint and Army Pentagon Staffs; and US Special Operations Command.

Video: Exit 12 Dance Company

Creative Forces with Marete Wester, Senior Director, Arts Policy and National Initiative for Arts and Health in the Military, Americans for the Arts

Video: Guitars for Vets

Guitars Provide Path to Health 

Validating Creative Art Therapies: Merging the Sciences and Humanities with Dr. Brick Johnstone


Brick Johnstone is a neuropsychologist (and former art history major) and Senior Scientific Director at Fort Belvoir, VA, after serving as a Professor at MU for the past twenty-seven years.  He has served as the primary investigator for a TBI Model System Center in the past, assisted the CDC in writing a report on the state of TBI rehabilitation to the federal Congress in 2011, and was recognized for his commitment to Missourians with TBI with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the MO-BIA. He is currently a member of the Creative Forces 5 Year Research Planning Committee, and is assisting in developing research to validate the use of the creative arts therapies with service members and veterans with TBI.

Video: Comedy Bootcamp

America’s Funniest Veterans Are Serious About Service

The Emerging Genre of Arts and the Military: A University Military Affairs Perspective with Dr. Arthur DeGroat, Ed.D, Lieutenant Colonel, Retired, US Army

Art DeGroat, who holds an Ed.D in Educational Leadership from Kansas State University, is the founder and executive director of the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs and Military Affairs Innovation Center at Kansas State University—recognized as one of the most military-inclusive public research universities in the country. He is also founder and principal of Invictus Consulting LLC, specializing in assisting corporate, non-profit, and community-based organizations enhance strategic growth and operations; and completed a career as a combat-decorated US Army officer. Over the past ten years, he has conducted research and evidence-based practice in assisting veterans to transition to higher education, the workforce and to reintegrate back into civil society after military service. His white paper, “Looking Critically at Reintegration of Post-9/11 Era Veterans” (August 2013), was lauded by the former Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a myriad of scholars and business executives for its definitive description of the challenges of transition and reintegration. He has recently completed a major human science research project to explore the lived experience of post-military transition as a life event. He actively serves as board member of several of this country’s premier Veteran Service Organizations (VSO); and is recognized as a pioneer in the use of performing arts as a catalyst for social change regarding Post 9-11 era veteran’s reintegration. He resides in Manhattan, Kansas.

Video: PsychArmor

PsychArmor Institute: Helping You Help Veterans

SongwritingWith:SoldiersCollaboration and Crossing the Imaginary Divide with Darden Smith


Darden Smith is an Austin-based singer-songwriter who redefines what it means to be a musician. With fifteen critically acclaimed albums in a career that spans over three decades, Smith continues to write and tour across the US and Europe along with exploring new and innovative ways to use the craft of songwriting in education, innovation, and service. Smith’s released his first album, “Native Soil,” in 1986, and his music continues to blend, folk, rock and Americana influences with the storytelling roots of his home state of Texas. He has long transcended traditional singer-songwriter boundaries, and the evolving nature of his work since 2000 reflects his consistent creative excellence. He is the founder and creative director of SongwritingWith:Soldiers, a program that brings professional songwriters together with active duty and veteran soldiers in retreat settings to write songs based on their stories of combat and the return home. Smith was the 2011-2013 Artist-In-Residence at Oklahoma State University’s Institute for Creativity and Innovation, where he worked help students see and understand the intersection of business thinking and creativity. An in-demand speaker, his Songsmithing workshops with individuals and Fortune 500 companies use songwriting to inspire new ways to listen, collaborate and learn in the traditional work environment. Smith’s latest album, “Everything,” was released in 2017 on Compass Records.


Box lunch provided with paid registration

The Healing Box: Healing Body and Soul with Guitar

Dave and CJ Dunklee


Dave and CJ Dunklee cofounded The Healing Box Project, which has gifted 106 guitars and touched the lives of over 200 disabled veterans since 2013. “I am just trying to help them put their lives back together that have been altered forever,” Dave said. “They are our nation’s heroes,” he said. “I don’t see them as wounded or as anything less than a hero. They inspire me because they are determined to overcome adversity.” Guitar playing is  “exercise for the brain,” he says. But music and guitar playing go far beyond just that. Finger manipulative abilities, improved attitude, rhythm like a heartbeat and satisfaction from successfully making music only cover the neurological benefit in general terms. Playing music maximizes recovery.

Dave, husband and co-founder, holds a Masters degree in Education from the University of Missouri and degrees in Elementary and Secondary Music Education from Washburn University, including Adult Education. His experience includes twenty years of public school teaching and a season as Field Director of Marching Mizzou. CJ, wife and co-founder, schedules engagements and manages financial records, instrument purchases and fundraising.

Video: Combat Paper Project

Veterans as Arts Leaders with Jennifer Allen-Barron, Arts Education Director, Oklahoma Arts Council


Jennifer Allen-Barron earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and a Bachelor of Arts in French from the University of Oklahoma. Prior to joining the Oklahoma Arts Council, Allen-Barron served as Executive Director of the Paseo Arts Association and as Community Arts Program Director at the Arts Council of Oklahoma City. She is also a practicing visual artist, working primarily in acrylic paint. At the Oklahoma Arts Council, Allen-Barron works with arts education and arts learning programs across the state, as well as overseeing the Council’s Teaching Artist Roster and the Oklahoma Arts and the Military Initiative.

Video: Central Arkansas Veterans Health Care System

National Veterans Creative Arts Festival: The Healing Power of Art for Those who Served Our Nation with Lisa Carrico and Jay Harden

Lisa Carrico is the Director of Family and Veterans Programs for the Missouri Humanities Council (MHC), a nonprofit organization that serves as one of the 56 state and territorial humanities councils affiliated with the National Endowment for the Humanities. Lisa oversees Read from the Start, MHC’s family literacy program that encourages parents/caregivers to read to their children while providing them with quality children’s books. She also coordinates Veterans Writing Workshops and the annual publication of Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, an anthology featuring the collected writings of veterans and their families from across the nation.

Lisa currently serves on the KETC-Channel 9 (PBS affiliate) Advisory Board for Veterans’ Issues. Before joining MHC, Lisa spent eight years working in the Saint Louis Zoo-Museum District and one year teaching English in Japan. At the Saint Louis Science Center, she developed and facilitated exhibit interpretations and programs for the general public and school groups. As an Outreach Instructor for the Saint Louis Zoo, she delivered educational programs with live animals for diverse audiences.

Jay Harden grew up in the Deep South climbing trees and envying the hawks while exploring Georgia alleys barefoot. He is a retired physical scientist from the national intelligence community and a veteran of Vietnam where he flew 63 combat missions as a B-52 navigator. He helped start up the Defense Mapping Agency, later the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, now the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

He earned an MA from Saint Louis University and a certificate in photography from Portfolio Center in Atlanta. Then he spent eight months studying yoga in India. For the last twenty years, he has written extensive prose and poetry about love, war, childhood, and personal growth. More than thirty of his award-winning works are published in ten anthologies, as well as two photographic book covers. He was the feature subject in a KETC-Channel 9 (PBS) Living St. Louis program in 2014 and currently serves on the KETC-Channel 9 (PBS) Veteran’s Issues Advisory Board. He has also testified before the Missouri Legislature on veteran writing programs. Jay enjoys traveling the world.


Video: Comedy Bootcamp

National Veterans Creative Arts Festival: The Healing Power of Art for Those who Served Our Nation with Karen Wait, Veterans Administration, National Creative Arts Festival

Karen Wait is an Occupational Therapist and has served our nation’s veterans at the St. Louis VA, specializing in mental health for the past twenty years. She is the National Applied Art Chairperson for the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, an annual event that recognizes Veterans for their use of music, dance, drama, creative writing and art, to help with recovery and cope with physical and emotional challenges. Since 1998, she has been involved with assisting veterans in entering the creative art competition. She was the host site art coordinator of the 2007 NVCAF and continues to serve as the coordinator of the annual local Veteran Creative Art Competition.

Video: Visions for Vets

Visions for Vets

Video: Voices of Valor

Veteran: Music Program is “Therapy Session”

The Telling Project: Beyond the Bubble with Jonathan Wei, Founder and Director, and performance by Dale Eikmeier, Theodore John, Candice Smith

head shot of Jonathan Wei

Jonathan Wei, the founder and director of The Telling Project, is a playwright, writer, and producer.  Jonathan’s dramatic work has been staged at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Guthrie Theater, Library of Congress, Maryland Center for the Performing Arts, The Alley Theater in Houston, TX, and Portland Center Stage in Portland, OR, among others. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in the Village VoiceIowa Review, the North American Review, and Glimmer Train, and his work featured by the New York TimesWashington PostBaltimore SunInside Higher Ed, the Associated Press, and NPR. His work has received a Congressional Commendation, Emmy, National Endowment for the Arts support, National Endowment for the Humanities support and other acknowledgments. Jonathan lives with his family in Austin, TX.


Dale Eikmeier grew up in southern California and after completing Army ROTC at San Jose State University in 1978 he began a thirty-year career that spanned the Cold War and the War on Terrorism. He has served around the globe, including Germany, Bosnia, Korea and Iraq. He is a combat veteran of the Gulf War and the Iraq War. He now teaches at the Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He resides with his wife Barbara in Lansing, Kansas.

Theodore John: Writer, Artist, Advocate, Peace Activist. Theodore John is a Veteran of the Marine Corps. He served from 1986-1992 and was deployed during Desert Storm / Desert Shield as a helicopter electrician on CH-53A/D/E cargo helicopters. He has performed in four iterations of The Telling Project: Iowa City, Washington DC, Minneapolis, and Kansas City. Theodore hopes that through his story that you may gain insight and appreciation for the untold number of sacrifices that are made on our behalf each and every day. Theodore also thanks God, his family and friends, and his dog, Ruby, for their support through his continuing journey of healing and growth. May God bless us all, each and every one.

Candi Smith retired from the Air Force Reserves after serving twenty years with the 442nd Fighter Wing. She held dual military specialties, starting as a bomb loader on the A-10 Thunderbolt II, and ending as the Wing Commander’s Executive Administrator. She is also a twenty-year federal employee, working toward that magical retirement date. She is the proud mother to sons Logan and Nathan, and delighted to be Aiden’s grandma.

Closing Remarks

Cindy McDermott, Emcee


The Freedom Endeavor Project (exhibition sampling)

Artist Steve Snyder

Steve Snyder is an award-winning photographer who works as a freelance commercial photographer and graphic designer with clients throughout the Midwest. Throughout his career he has sold art through galleries and festivals with pieces residing in collections around the US and Europe. He studied studio art with emphasis in Graphic Design and Illustration at Drury University in Springfield, MO.

Steve is also the assistant director of the Mount Vernon Regional Arts Council and a founding board member of the Veterans Way committee. This committee in his hometown recognizes Veterans and honors them through patriotic artistic endeavors along the street named Veterans Way. It also sponsors the annual Veterans Day festivities, “Veterans Day on Veterans Way.”

His current project, The Freedom Endeavor, became a reality in November of 2016 and continues to evolve. Its mission is to recognize and honor the everyday citizens who took the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States while creating community awareness of the Veterans we unknowingly see every day. The project honors these Veterans through the use of photography and video. As it continues to grow, The Freedom Endeavor project is traveling to galleries and public spaces around the country, increasing awareness of who our veterans are while creating images and histories to be passed down to future generations.