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Currier Museum Expands Art Therapy Program For Veterans

Currier Museum of Art

The Currier Museum of Art in Manchester is open again - with safety measures in place - and some new plans to reach out to different communities. The museum was recently awarded more than $700,000 in CARES Act funding to expand an art therapy program for veterans.

Alan Chong, director of the museum, joined NHPR's Peter Biello to talk about that and other new projects there.

Note: The transcript below was machine-generated and may contain minor errors.

So given this pandemic, it's been quite a ride for the Currier Museum of Art. How are you and the museum doing? You know, when the pandemic started?

We moved a lot of our programs to digital platforms, to the Internet, to Facebook, and we ran a lot of our community programs virtually. So for us, the pandemic has been a time of incredible activity, not only fundraising, but community support, but also launching programs in new ways and in new venues. And honestly, this is something we're planning to do and we've been preparing for it. So it's kind of given us a whole, you know, push into a new world.

So tell us about this art therapy program, what will it do for veterans?

We believe in the community and supporting various kinds of groups. So the vets are really part of an overall program that we've developed that serves Alzheimer's patients, families of of opioid dependent persons, teen anxiety. So we've always used art as the core of these programs. So it's really looking at art, talking about art and making art. Those are the three components of what we do. So it's it's a proven therapeutic approach. We use the museum because we've got a great collection and we still have an art school, which is which is increasingly rare around the United States. And these really formed the basis of of an outreach program for four veterans. There's a real need.

We increasingly are aware that there's a very large veterans population in New Hampshire. They suffer from various kinds of anxiety, also these socialization in many ways. So earlier in the year, actually before the pandemic, we began to plan an outreach program supported by a swim with a mission and a state grant and in collaboration with the Veterans Administration. So that was really the start of this. And this has led now to this very generous grant through CARES funding to expand the program really exponentially. So we're very excited about this possibility.

And I understand that this grant from the CARES Act will involve a physical expansion in Manchester. What will the space be like?

Yes, that's correct. It's an opportunity to really create better classrooms and meeting spaces that can ensure social distancing, first of all, and virtual or hybrid meetings so we can equip the classrooms in a comforting way, a practical way, but we can also wire it effectively with cameras to share art in various ways.

We're able to help with Internet and digital connectivity for our audience through laptops and tablet devices that might help people become engaged. So that's the area that we will reconfigure within the museum. It's actually on the ground floor of the museum. There are already some classrooms. There will be expanding and refurbishing them and will be changing a suite of offices into into these flexible classroom spaces.

You mentioned that the creation of the art here is a proven therapy. So with the understanding that that the art isn't made simply to be displayed to an audience, I'm wondering if there's going to be an opportunity for the veterans to create something that would be publicly displayed. Will we perhaps as the general public, be able to see some of what's created?

We certainly hope so. And we'll do this in collaboration with the participants. Obviously, for some people, it's a very private activity. With the permission of the individual, we might consider this in the future. It's something we really have it mapped out. But our goal is not to train great artists out of this. It's we want to train people to give them the tools of expression, as it were, to find their own level of creativity and emotional engagement. That's the first step.