The Basalt-based veterans’ nonprofit Challenge America is looking for locals to lend their artistic skills to the group’s program providing guitars to U.S. military veterans.
A joint project of the Aspen Art Museum, The Art Base, the National Veterans Art Museum and the Basalt Chamber of Commerce, the recently launched guitar decoration initiative will put the finishing touches on 80-plus guitars that will be given to vets taking part in Challenge America’s long-running national music therapy programs.
“We came up with this project to support and [add] value to our music therapy retreats for veterans who struggle with post0traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and military sexual trauma,” said Challenge America director Dallas Blaney
The organization, launched in 2009, built its veterans-focused mission on a foundation of the arts.
For the past five years, Challenge America has hosted Its first program was a series of music therapy retreats for vets, bringing groups to Nashville at Amy Grant’s farm, in Cleveland at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame and in the woods here in Colorado.
At the beginning of each retreat, Challenge America gives every participant a guitar.
“The guitars help establish trust and offer participants an instrument for learning basic guitar skills,” Blaney explained, “with the ultimate goal that they will come to view the guitar as a constructive outlet for self expression and healing.”
Provided by the HeartStrings Foundation, the guitars in past years have each been covered in a unique one-of-a-kind artistic design. But due to the pandemic, HeartStrings – an Arizona-based art therapy nonprofit serving veterans – has been unable to host its guitar decoration workshops.
“Our participants appreciated these designs and the work that went into them,” Blaney said. “The designs helped these veterans realize there is a community of citizens and artists that value their service and sacrifice.”
So now Blaney and his team have 84 plain guitars on their hands and they’re looking for help designing them.
“Given the level of artistic talent in our amazing valley, we thought it might be possible to host our own guitar decoration event,” Blaney said.
Teaming with local artists and art organizations, they’re inviting locals – established artists, amateurs and aspiring artists alike – to make a piece of art on a guitar through Nov. 17. The Art Base in Basalt will host two free in-person workshops, the Aspen Art Museum is offering free guitar decoration kits and the Basalt Chamber of Commerce will host a display of all the guitars once they’re finished.
Challenge America will also host a judged contest of the decorated guitars, selecting the top three for a display at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago before they’re given to vets.
Since the pandemic hit, Challenge America’s programs have gone largely virtual and led to the March 2021 launch of the free vets-only Challenge America Veteran Arts Community (CAVARTS), a private social media ecosystem. Six months in, it is now connecting veterans nationally in a safe and supportive online space where they can pursue creative passions and discover new ones across the spectrum of visual arts, music and creative writing. The number of participating vets has grown to 2,000 members from all 50 states and 11 countries
“This project has taken on a life of its own,” Blaney said.