BALTIMORE — Art has always been a part of Earman Branch's life.
The 73 year old says at times, it's also been a lifesaver.
"Because without art, I would be dead. I have no doubt about that. I would be dead," he said.
Branch was drafted to the Vietnam War shortly after graduating high school in 1965. When he came home, he said he faced many struggles, including trying to find a job and dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
"I got involved in art mainly because I didn’t know how to express myself, and I didn’t know who to talk to," Branch said.
Branch does a variety of art mediums including photography and sculptures. Some of his work is on display at a new exhibit called "Sticks and Stones" at the Institute for Integrative Health in Baltimore, which features artwork by veterans.
"As you look around, you’ll see pieces that are specifically about how I, personally the artist, interacted with PTSD, and how it impacted my life," said JW Rone, the director of Vet Arts Connect, part of the Institute for Integrative Health.
Rone is responsible for creating and evaluating art programs to benefit veterans. He says in a few years time, they have seen remarkable progress in the vets who participate in their programs.
"We’re seeing amazing numbers already in showing the reduction of anxiety, depression, anger," he said.
The Institute is partnering with the Maryland State Arts Council and the Maryland Department of Education to offer a free training course, or micro-credential, to art teachers and community artists about how to most effectively work with veterans and raise their cultural competency when it comes to vets.
"It's this idea of a person not just showing up into a community that they don’t know and feeling it out, but showing up and doing a little bit of work in advance to show respect to that community of how to best serve them," said Alysia Lee, the coordinator of Fine Arts at the state Department of Education.
"It's about how can artists build residency programs, how can they create a course for instruction that is specifically tailored and suited to the veteran community and their families."
All of the groups involved with this micro-credential strongly believe that by training more art educators and community artists on how to work with veterans, it will allow art programs for vets to expand and provide them more opportunities to heal and improve their well-being.
"We are excited to get the message out that art can heal. We’re excited to teach people about what happens culturally in the military and how they can better serve the community," said Wendy Bohdel, the COO of the Institute. "And we’re excited that artists who live here in our communities and have such great talent can bring their talent to the veteran community and teach those veterans their craft."
You can sign up for the Veteran-Ready micro-credential, and other micro-credentials, by clicking here. Cohort A for June is filled up but Cohort B in the fall still has openings available.
To see the "Sticks and Stones" exhibit, the gallery will be open 12-5 p.m. on June 25 and 26. There will a special finale on June 27 from 6-9 p.m. The Institute for Integrative Health is located at 1407 Fleet Street in Baltimore.