While the military kid life is full of ups and downs, Richmond’s Military Kid Art Project helps balance things out.
Travelling across the country, moving several times a year, and not seeing a parent for months at a time may seem strange to some — but for many military kids, it’s just a part of life. And while military life has many positive aspects, it’s been proven that this unorthodox lifestyle can have negative psychological ramifications on children.
Art curator Lora Beldon and her team want to help. They’ve worked together to create the Military Kid Art Project, and thanks to them, military kids have a chance to bloom creatively and bond with their peers who have similar experiences.
According to a 2010 study by the National Center for Children in Poverty, military children experience high rates of mental health and trauma-related problems. Depression was found in 1 in 4 military children during the study, while academic problems were found in 1 in 5.
Beldon, director of the Military Kid Art Project, knows these ups and downs firsthand. With her father being a career Marine, Beldon moved approximately 20 times over the course of her childhood, dealing with inconsistent school curricula and leaving behind her friends each year. Her father was deployed multiple times throughout her life, and as he struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it strained their relationship.
“It tore my family apart,” Beldon said. It was her personal experiences that fueled her passion to explore the psychological effects of military life on children, especially in a post-9/11 world. After the tragedy, Beldon’s brother was deployed and left behind his two- and three-year-old children.
“It hit me that they’re going to go through the same thing I went through,” said Beldon.
She turned to art. Introducing her niece and nephew to art as a creative outlet, she helped them cope with their father’s deployment. With her background as an artist and an art teacher, Beldon knew the value that comes with letting children express their emotions creatively.
When she first started the Military Kid Art Project in 2012, her main goal for the program was to mold a community for military children. While forming friendships with other kids and honing in on their creative skills, the students also got to work with adult artists that came from military backgrounds themselves.
“I love both teaching and creating this art,” she said. “I wondered if there were other people who’d like to do art on this subject, while helping kids at the same time.”
During the very first session, Beldon gave the seven kids in attendance drawing materials and let them go at it.
“I had the kids bring in military paraphernalia from their houses,” she said. “We set up still life [compositions with the objects] and drew. We talked about what the object was, in a type of show-and-tell. It was a great experience.”
The classes were well-received, and eventually word began to spread. Classes that originally started with seven kids have now expanded to more than 30. Each class is equipped with art teachers and social workers alike, and Beldon is even working to include service dogs. During each session, she wants to provide her students with the highest amount of creative freedom.
“Parents come to me and say, ‘You have no idea how long we’ve needed this. My children’s creativity is dying in public schools,’” Beldon said.
Despite the program’s success, Beldon has faced a considerable amount of backlash toward the Military Kid Art Project. She’s been accused on several occasions of creating an organization that glamorizes joining the military.
“It was really upsetting,” she said. “I had friends unfriend me on Facebook, I had businesses decline to work with me. All that they were seeing and hearing was the word ‘military.’”
But for Beldon, the children are the main priority.
“As a society, we have a hard time knowing what military kids need. There needs to be more than just acknowledgement. Let’s give them substantial programming,” said Beldon. “But first, we need to recognize that this programming is needed.”
To learn more about the Military Kid Art Project, catch up with the organization on Facebook here.