ArtOASIS: A conversation about MCASD’s art-based program for combat troops with PTSD

ArtOASIS: A conversation about MCASD’s art-based program for combat troops with PTSD

This year MCASD worked in partnership with Combat Arts, a local nonprofit organization that provides art experiences for combat troops, to create San Diego ArtOASIS—a comprehensive art-based program to support the recovery of active military personnel overcoming Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Through the ArtOASIS program, the Museum offers a series of private gallery tours and weekly art-making workshops that will culminate in a publicly presented and celebrated showcase of the participants’ artworks on Thursday, May 14 at MCASD La Jolla at 10:30 AM.

Throughout the partnership, MCASD’s Education Curator Cris Scorza, local artist Perry Vasquez, and artist and Combat Arts Founder Elizabeth Washburn have worked with military psychologists and recreational therapists to establish constructive dialogs through process-oriented art workshops with PTSD patients.

“A group is brought to the Museum by the OASIS recreational therapist. They usually show up pretty quiet,” says Washburn of the ArtOASIS experience. “But as Cris leads them through the exhibitions they begin to open up, ask questions, and share their thoughts about what they are seeing. Most of the patients either haven’t been to an art museum in the past, or have visited arts institutions in the past on a very limited basis. It is nice to see how the experience changes some of their preconceived notions about art and artists.”

Learn more about ArtOASIS through this conversation with Scorza, Vasquez, and Washburn.

MCASD: How has MCASD contributed to ArtOASIS?

Elizabeth Washburn:MCASD brought a formalized structure to OASIS that helps to bolster the efficacy of the arts in helping people to heal. Access to the Museum’s exhibitions, as well to the expertise of the MCASD staff, provides a very important platform for learning and engagement that they benefit from.

MCASD: What has ArtOASIS brought to the program’s participants?

EW:An opportunity to explore art as a means to gain a broader life perspective outside of the military. In addition, participants engage with professional artists to learn the techniques of making art as well as the process of ideation.

MCASD: How has ArtOASIS differed from other Combat Arts partnerships in the past?

EW:For Combat Arts, the MCASD partnership, more than other partnerships, has helped to broaden and strengthen the case for art, artists, and the museum community to connect with active duty service members and veterans for the eventual positive outcomes that result from viewing and making art. Also, because of the strong reputation that MCASD possesses, this partnership gives Combat Arts more credibility within the larger San Diego community.

MCASD: Tell us about the power that art and creativity have in supporting military members with PTSD.

EW:Making artworks as a coping mechanism reduces pain and anxiety. Participants are taught a skill set that they can later utilize independently to help themselves to cope with their symptoms from PTSD.

Cris Scorza:Our time with these individuals is brief, but over a couple of sessions it is evident that making art and visiting the Museum puts them at ease. There is a sense of hope in their conversations. Many have expressed the desire to come back to the Museum or to continue to make art when they are at home. For others it is simply an opportunity to voice their dreams and have someone who cares listen to them, easing the symptoms of PTSD.

MCASD: Any anecdotes from the program that you can share that highlight ArtOASIS and its goal?

EW:One veteran participant talked to the teaching artist about how he was up until 11 at night working on his art project. Another veteran participant talked about how using art as a vehicle for gaining new perspectives is very useful for military service members because they often do not get opportunities to be creative or to think creatively.

Perry Vasquez:Elizabeth and I like hanging out with these troops because they are into their projects and like to talk about their experiences, and don’t shy away from expressing opinions. Some worked on a mask project which is based on the idea of internal/external. i.e. how do you see yourself compared to how people see you? One of the members is from Seattle and his project is really good—a mask inspired by Dr. Doom. He is inventive with the materials and has confidence working with his hands.


This pilot program was initiated thanks to a generous award from the California Arts Council, one of 24 state-wide grants aiming to demonstrate the power of the arts to transform our communities.


The ArtOASIS Program at MCASD is proudly supported by Nordstrom, The Seeley Foundation, Cox Cares, and annual contributors to the MCASD Museum Fund. Institutional support of MCASD is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and the County of San Diego Community Enhancement Fund.This activity is funded by the California Arts Council, a state agency, advancing California through the arts and creativity.

Learn more at For questions about the ArtOASIS program, please contact Cris Scorza at 858 454 3541 x142 or