21 August 2008

An Interview with Lisa Rosenthal, principal artist, Vet Art Project

What inspired this project?

I was driving home from a writing group I facilitate in September 2007 and I heard a radio program featuring Ed Tick, a psychotherapist, and John Zemler, a theologian and Army veteran with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who is challenged by chronic pain, talking about Tick’s book War and the Soul. They were talking about the causes and consequences of PTSD and how healing can happen through storytelling. Veterans need to share their stories beyond the therapeutic or veterans-only groups to connect to the community to heal. And community members need to hear these stories to understand their role in healing the soul wound many veterans suffer because of their combat experience, and realize their responsibility to help tend these wounds and thereby heal our communities and ourselves. I remember waiting at a traffic light on Lower Wacker when I realized that artists can help build this bridge to connect veterans to the community. We live in an entertainment-based culture and people need to emotionally invest in the journey being told to listen and connect to a story. I envisioned a project where veterans work with artists to thereby realize the artists within themselves and then collaboratively construct these bridges to the community and build the world we want. We need to talk of war to think of peace and it is our veterans who are the keepers of this truth. We need to give them opportunities to share their wisdom. So this is a long way of saying the answer hit me in moment, and I realized the next step on my own spiritual journey.

How will you find artists to participate?

I am so proud of the artistic community here in Chicago. Every time I mentioned this project to anyone, they respond, “How can I help?” Or “I’ve wanted to do something but didn’t know how to plug in.” I have built relationships with a number of theaters that are interested in supporting this project including Chicago Dramatists, American Theater Company, 16th Street Theater (Berwyn), Stage Left Theatre, and Rivendell Theatre Ensemble. Also, the Department of Cultural Affairs Theater Department has accepted this project for the Incubator Series so the Vet Art Project will be in residence in the Studio Theater at the Chicago Cultural Center for the month of February 2009. Rivendell recently donated a rehearsal space room at the University of Chicago where I organized my first Vet Art Project Artist Recruitment Workshop.

Addressing the how-to mechanics of this question, I have extensive e-mail lists of artists and will be assisted in dispersing this information with the assistance of friends, Chicago Dramatists, and assorted media sources who pick up the call (such as the Chicago Reader who gave this first artist recruitment workshop high visibility by posting it on the front page of a recent theater section). I’ll also post upcoming recruitment event listings on Craig’s List and place ads in arts publications such as PerformInk to help spread the word. And of course interviews by members of the media will go a long way to help spread the word.

How will you find veterans to participate?

I’m already building a network through the contacts I’ve made among veterans who currently attend writing groups I facilitate, referrals to their friends, and through some of the organizations I’ve been working with such as Soldier’s Heart and the Theosophical Society. I’m also reaching out to veterans centers and creative arts therapists to engage in the project and help me spread the word.

You mention the Theosophical Society. Does your project have a particular philosophical orientation?

My goal is to share stories of war. I think you create divisions when you add politics into the equation. We are human beings struggling to understand why we go to war, the damage war causes, and how we can stop this cycle. While I want to empower people to share their voices, and realize that politics may enter the arena in this way, as long as there is respect for the common ground we all share, we can work together peacefully to create new art about war that will connect us all and teach us how to move forward in peace together.

Can community members participate?

Absolutely! I’ll be doing outreach programs as part of the Chicago Book Festival at area libraries. (See the upcoming events tab for information on these programs.)

What about students?

Involving students is one of my long-term goals but I believe this can be achieved in this first year. I want to include a mentorship component to this project; that is, having younger-career artists (in college) partner with older-career artists to learn with them and in collaboration with veteran participants. Upcoming events at area colleges will be posted soon.

Any other group I haven’t mentioned?

Yes. Those in the healing arts can participate. Psychologists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, and others who work in the healing arts are welcome to be a part of this. My goal is to provide physical and emotional support throughout the program for all participants. I’m also looking for licensed caterers to donate food for participants.

Where can someone find out more information about your project?

Keep checking VetArtProject.com for updates. This will also lead you to the blog for the project. People may also e-mail me at lisa@lisarosenthal.com.

How will you measure this project’s success?

If one veteran finds a new way to express himself, then it will be a success. If one veteran develops a long-term artistic relation with other artists, then it will be a success. If one audience member realizes the debt we owe our veterans, then it will be a success. If one inactive person becomes an active supporter of veterans, and responsive to their needs, then it will be a success.

This is a very ambitious project. Do you think you can pull it off?

I need to. This work must be done.

What will you do after February 2009?

My goal is to create a proto-type project here in Chicago that can then be implemented in other communities. My goal is to build this project in communities across our great nation and beyond that, across all the great nations of our world.

I haven’t figured out whether an online how-to guide or a book guide will work best to foster the growth of this project. While I am concerned about the environmental impact of printing paper books, I want to make this project accessible to everyone—whether online or not.

I’m also working on creating a documentary of this project to create a DVD to help educate and inspire other artists to introduce this project in other communities.

I’ve worked as a playwright, book author, editor, and writing coach for more than a dozen years and I’ve traveled quite a bit with my work. I have contacts across the country and world and look forward to building opportunities to motivate these people to share in my vision.

I would love to help make this happen and am committed to traveling to other communities to foster this project’s adoption.

I’m also writing grants to support this project.

How are you supporting this project?

I’ve received a seed grant from the Puffin Foundation Ltd. This project is partially supported by the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs’ Theater Department. Other than these supporters, right now myself and my husband Ted Hogarth, a fellow artist, are supporting this project. I continue to apply for grants. I’m also exploring ways to accept donations directly to the project through a fiscal sponsor. The need is great—in the coming years the need will grow even greater. This is important work that I must do. I have faith that everything else will come together.

04 August 2008

Vet Art Project Events

An Introduction to the Vet Art Project for Artists and Interested Chicago-Area Residents

Saturday, August 9, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

University of Chicago

Bartlett Arts Rehearsal Space

5640 S. University Avenue

Hyde Park

The Vet Art Project is a month-long project in residence at the Studio Theater at the Chicago Cultural Center as part of their Incubator Series. This event on August 9th is an orientation to explain how you can get involved. There are different phases to this project and there is a place for both artists and concerned citizens to participate. The Vet Art Project Incubator at the Chicago Cultural Center will include community-building exercises among participants, be a writing workshop to help veterans share their voices, create new art from the stories of veterans—a collaborative effort between veterans and participating artists, use various media to tell these stories (drama, dance, song, film, visual art, and more), share this new art with the community in a public performance. This project is partially supported by the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs’ Theater Department.

Soldier’s Heart: An Introduction to War and the Soul

Thursday, October 9, 6:30 p.m.

Roosevelt Chicago Public Library

1101 W. Taylor Street, Chicago 60607

(312) 746-5656

Thursday, October 16, 7 p.m.

Bucktown-Wicker Park Chicago Public Library

1701 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago 60647

(312) 744-6022

Thursday, October 30, 7 p.m.

Sulzer Regional Branch Chicago Public Library

4455 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago IL 60625

(312) 744-7616

Wednesday, November 12, 7 p.m.

Mt. Greenwood Chicago Public Library

11010 S. Kedzie Avenue, Chicago 60655

(312) 747-2805

Mini-workshop for veterans and community members demonstrating how war affects us, the soul wound from combat, ways to assist veterans, ourselves. Ed Tick’s War and the Soul and Chicago-area veterans writing groups and the Vet Art Project will be discussed.