The military machine isn't built to encourage individuality — just ask any LGBT soldier. Or ask retired Brig. Gen. Malham M. Wakin, who headed the philosophy department at the United States Air Force Academy for some 30 years.
"American society generally fosters individualism and the freedoms and rights of the individual," Wakin writes in his book Integrity First: Reflections of a Military Philosopher, published in 2000. "The military profession generally fosters conformity, obedience, hierarchical organization, and subordination of the individual to the unit."
An environment like that tends to undervalue creativity. But creativity — or, more specifically, artistic expression — can ease the intersection of military life and civilian life, and Colorado Springs' artistic community has been on the front line of that battle as of late.
"What I appreciate seeing is when the arts can uncover a multiplicity of human stories and voices," says Jessica Hunter Larsen, curator for Colorado College's I.D.E.A. Space. "So much of what we understand about the military conflict [and] war is couched in political terms, and when it's politicized, it's polemic — you end up on one side or the other. And those lines just become barriers to conversation."
A number of local groups have joined the conversation in just the past couple years. Concrete Couch, Manitou Springs' public-art-works organization, routinely travels to Fort Carson to create projects with military families. I.D.E.A. Space's April exhibition, Active Engagement: Learning About the Military Community in Colorado Springs, featured CC students going out and finding "places where the military community intersected with Colorado Springs," in Hunter Larsen's words.
At the Fine Arts Center, last year's Conflict | Resolution project included space for the works of the Military Creative Expressions art therapy program, in which Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group (now AspenPointe) and the Bemis School of Art helped members of Fort Carson's Warrior Transition Unit use art as a way to cope with their brain injuries and PTSD. The program continues today, for 15 weeks at a time.
Another part of Conflict | Resolution was the FAC Theatre Company's performance of All My Sons, the Arthur Miller dark classic that revolves around the homecoming of a World War II soldier. On another stage, the Springs Ensemble Theatre produced Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter, about an Iraq war vet returning home in ill health, in July. Even more recently, two ex-soldiers from Fort Carson created an entirely new troupe, dubbed the Old Tribe Theater Project.
Pretty impressive for two distinct communities with very different missions.
"We all have our beliefs, and it's important to act within those belief systems, and act with integrity," Hunter Larsen says. "But we also need to acknowledge shared humanity. And I think the arts are a really good place to have those experiences of shared humanity."