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You Are a Work of Art

In honor of Veterans Day, ArtStream would like to recognize the nurses, medics, and technicians on staff at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC).

These dedicated individuals care for veterans and military personnel days off the front lines and are vital to a safe and successful homecoming.

Every day the staff at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) struggle to find hope and balance in a demanding position.

In support of those who serve wounded veterans, ArtStream is proud to offer “You Are a Work of Art” (YAWA). This project, sponsored by Prince Charitable Trusts, is designed for nurses, medics and technicians on the 4th Floor Wounded Warrior Unit at WRNMMC to practice stress-management and self-care while building friendships through the arts.

Photo by Mike Rollins

It all started with ArtStream's "Allies in the Arts" project at WRNMMC. Wounded servicepersons are invited to participate in creative writing, music, visual art, or interactive storytelling led by trained arts-in-healthcare professionals. This is an especially great way for families to reconnect through the arts during a challenging homecoming.

Nurses and other staff members are always invited an encouraged to participate in arts activities. However, on the busy units, those few staff members who can join in do so only briefly and usually not fully, as they are concerned about moving on to the next pressing task.

One evening, a nurse assign to the unit approached two of the Allies artists, saying, "Could ArtStream do something just for us? This is really difficult work. We really could use some help." A meaningful arts experience, said the nurse, needed to be a real retreat - somewhere off the hospital campus.

Photo by Mike Rollins

After almost four years planning and finding funding, Allies artists, along with coordinator Judy Rollins, PhD, RN, and members of WRNMMC's nursing staff, created four workshop days, just off-campus at Rock Creek Mansion. Participants received paid leave for the day along with Continuing Nursing Education Credits. At the workshops, participants were encouraged to use the arts for personal healing and empowerment.

Photo by Mike Rollins

Since the initial workshops, ArtStream has held pop-up sessions onsite at WRNMMC. These pop-up sessions are a great way to help nurses engage in self-care during a hectic workday. The flexibility of pop-up sessions, along with the one day workshops, has allowed YAWA to impact over 100 staff members at WRNMMC.

Some activities have included:

  • Poetry: Nurses create poems in response to “Where I’m From” to promote understanding and teambuilding.
  • Quilt Making: Nurses incorporate their own t-shirts and designs into quilt squares for a team quilt to be displayed on the Wounded Warrior Unit.
  • Dance/Movement: Nurses practice breathing and movement inspired by dance. This can help promote relaxation, especially on the unit when things get tense.
  • Play-with-your-food: In a pop-up session, a trail-mix craft encourages to participants to practice good nutrition, even when their schedule prevents them from taking a break to eat.
  • Massage Therapy: In a pop-up session, nurses are able to relax with massages from professional therapists provided by ArtStream

Now the 4th floor boasts an exhibit of poetry, art, and a quilt created by YAWA participants.

“Our goal,” says Judy Rollins, PhD, RN, coordinator for YAWA, “is to help transform the environment of care through the arts.”

Photo by Mike Rollins

What's next for YAWA? We have many ideas, but perhaps our most exciting project comes from one of the nurses that we serve. Many nurses on the 4th Floor lamented the extreme turnover of staff because of the nature of military service and how that resulted in a constant appearance of newfaces and the exit of familiar ones. One nurse suggested keeping a book for the unit, a place to write welcomes and goodbyes – a way to leave their mark and say to anyone who reads it, “I was here.”

YAWA Photography Exhibit at Glen Echo Park


Thanks to Glen Echo Park for hosting a dual photography exhibit featuring photos from YAWA in honor of Veterans Day!

Dates: November 10 - December 15, 2014
Open: 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
  Monday - Saturday
Location: Partnership Office Gallery
Arcade Building, 2nd Floor
Glen Echo Park
7300 MacArthur Blvd.
Glen Echo, MD 20812 
Presented by: Glen Echo Park Partnership
Admission: FREE

On exhibit with the “You Are A Work of Art” images were a “Woven Stories Honoring Veterans” collaborative art project where visitors are invited to thank a veteran with messages woven into a large display.

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