When Air Force combat photographer Stacy Pearsall was injured in the line of duty and subsequently gripped by PTSD, she "felt there was nothing to do but shrivel up and die."
"I couldn't stand for long periods of time, couldn't lift more than 5 pounds. I focused on the negative things. When we're in a negative state of mind, we focus on the negative parts of everything."
Her passion for photography brought her relief. That and "other veterans along the way that helped me through that journey," she said.
Pearsall, a recipient of the Bronze Star, is the keynote speaker at a two-day conference designed to bring the arts and military communities together.
The Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network summit will be Feb. 15-16 at the Ent Center for the Arts on the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campus.
The event is free to anyone who pre-registers, thanks to a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a $10,000 grant from Colorado Creative Industries. It mirrors programs to be held at 11 military sites throughout the U.S., including Fort Carson.
Colorado Creative Industries, the state arts agency, reached out to the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region last year and asked if COPPeR would take on the summit contract, said Andy Vick, executive director of COPPeR, which is facilitating the summit.
The goal was to gather 150 to 200 people from the military and arts communities for workshops and fellowship.
As of Jan. 25, more than 160 people had registered, Vick said. Until the cap of 200 is reached, registration is available at culturaloffice.org/ programs/creative-forces.
"The summit and the ongoing work to build resources for servicemen and women and vets is not exclusive. We want that to be accessible to anyone in the region and statewide," said Sheila Sears, deputy director of Colorado Creative Industries. "Part of it is the ability to help bring together people who are all committed to serving the military personnel and veterans and their families."
COPPeR decided to hold the Summit at the Ent Center to enable easier access for nonmilitary, Vick said. Sessions will be in the Chapman Recital Hall and the lobby.
"There will be no barriers for people to participate. We want to find meaningful engagement between Fort Carson and the arts sector," he said.
Sessions include "Treating the Wounds of War," an overview of the Warrior Recovery Center at Fort Carson, and "The Impact of Creative Arts Therapies and Arts Engagement," which will include stories from Wounded Warriors.
Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network serves military patients and veterans diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and psychological conditions, including PTSD, as well as their families and caregivers. The network consists of people who believe art can help and heal those patients and veterans.
More than 400 patients are in the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, an intensive outpatient program in the Fort Carson Warrior Recovery Center, said Alicia Souvignier, the center's site director.
"Our clinic has creative media as part of it, and the NEA chose our site, which is funding a full-time music therapist, Amy Dunlap. As part of her position, she is kind of the link," Souvignier said. "The summit is just the beginning. The goal is to link the military with the local arts community. There are some limitations, as these worlds may not be aware of each other."
Music therapy is particularly effective because of the way the brain processes music, said Dunlap, a board-certified neurologic music therapist employed by Creative Forces at Fort Carson.
"The whole brain is involved, so basically, the brain doesn't need to be functioning 100 percent to be affected by music," she said. "I think the arts in general, but also music therapy, all kind of offer this great opportunity for healing, be that physical, spiritual or emotional."
The Creative Forces Summit will allow people with some interest in creative therapies to meet one another and start networking.
"It's really empowering to know the arts can help be a tool to help heal our wounded heroes," Vick said. "It's also great to showcase Colorado Springs as part of a national initiative."
The summit could be a step toward more parallels between the local arts and military communities.
"Our hope is that in the next fiscal year, there will be additional resources to support what comes next," Vick said.
"So as we're bringing people together," said Souvignier, "we want to continue after the summit engaging both the arts and the military communities. Not only for our clinic, but also to be the contact point for that community outreach, trying to continue some of those relationships that might come from it."