Art Programs Keep Military Connected Through COVID-19 Social Distancing

By Danielle DeSimone

To you, it might just be a paint brush, a tie-dye kit or a sketchbook. But to a service member on deployment, or a military spouse or military child coping with COVID-19 quarantine, it could symbolize so much more.

Studies show that art can be incredibly helpful in reducing stress and anxiety, and it has shown promising results particularly in supporting service members and veterans struggling with PTSD. Service members and military family members already deal with the daily stress of duties, deployments, time apart and general challenges of military life. Now, many members of the military community must additionally tackle COVID-19 restrictions, stay-at-home orders, extended deployments and even loved ones being sent straight to the front lines of the pandemic. Art and other support programs that assist the military in navigating these stressful situations are now more important than ever.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep service members and military families in lockdown or far from home, the USO has adapted its art programs to the ever-changing situation, ensuring that the military community can still express itself and relax through the power of art.

Service Members and Military Families Connect Through Virtual and Socially Distant Art Programs

Until the quite recent lifting of lockdown restrictions, military families in Naples, Italy, have had to endure one of the world’s strictest COVID-19 lockdowns for the past several months, in which stay-at-home orders were strictly enforced and only essential visits to the grocery store or pharmacy were allowed once a week. The U.S. military in-country also implemented COVID-19 regulations for the military community stationed there to ensure the health and safety of military members.

As a result, USO Naples staff had to get creative with how they provide and deliver those essential support programs for military families that the USO is known for, switching almost entirely to virtual programming. The surrounding military community has responded with a lot of enthusiasm, participating in weekly, online cooking classes, story time readings and scavenger hunts.

Virtual art programs have also been incredibly popular, as military families search for ways to not only stay entertained, but also distracted from the stress of a pandemic while stationed an entire ocean away from their support networks of friends and family back home. With “Virtual Paint Night,” participants join USO Naples on a livestreamed Facebook video and follow a step-by-step process of painting a particular image together – much like in-person Paint Night events, but all from the safety of their homes.

“I’ve been to a paint night before,” commented a participant on the Facebook video while painting. “And [have] met great friends!”

The USO has kept service members deployed to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, entertained through art programs like tie-dyeing, despite COVID-19 closures. | Photo credit USO Camp Arifjan

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, service members have had to tackle the stress and loneliness of deployment on the front lines in addition to the uncertainty and restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. USO centers have had to temporarily close their doors due to COVID-19 health regulations and service members have been left with limited places beyond their barracks where they can relax and take a moment to themselves.

A service member on Al Asad Air Base in Iraq participates in a USO craft night, which is hosted safely outdoors while maintaining social distancing. | Photo credit USO Al Asad

That’s why the USO has been taking the fun to them by providing socially distant-safe art activities outside, or distributing “Summer on the Go” kits, which include tie-dye kits for service members to do outdoors or in their barracks. The kits provide troops with a craft that they can do on their own or safely with others, in which the stress of their daily duties is far from mind. This nostalgic, childhood activity might seem small in the grand scheme of things, but it offers service members a chance to get creative and forget, just for a moment, that they’re serving on the front lines.

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As the COVID-19 outbreak is evolving, the USO has pivoted resources across the entire global enterprise in an approach that helps care for military members and their families.


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