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  1. Military

Karen Pence: Art therapy is more than just arts and crafts

TAMPA — The second lady wants you to take art therapy seriously.

Karen Pence, speaking at a summit Tuesday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, said she recently pitched her cause to a "high-level person" overseas and was met with derision.

"This woman was like, 'Oh, that's — that's really nice. That's great, yeah,'?" Pence said, quoting the woman in a soft but condescending tone. "They just don't get it."

The second lady, a watercolor artist and former teacher whose husband is Vice President Mike Pence, made her remarks at a summit run by Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network, a federal initiative that funds art therapy for veterans and military patients with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Pence, who spoke to about 90 people as they ate lunches of chicken caprese and mojito pork, said she wants to elevate art therapy's reputation.

"It is not arts and crafts," she said.

She wants patients, especially those in the military, to be open to the treatment and wants more young people to consider becoming art therapists.

The speech came days after Pence spoke at Florida State University in Tallahassee, home to an art therapy graduate education program.

She gave several stories of military members and veterans who told her that the treatment helped them when they were traumatized or suicidal.

"Art therapy is changing lives, and I will say it's saving lives," she said.

Pence also lauded Tampa's James A. Haley VA Medical Center. This week, the center will open a Creative Forces program that offers patients art therapy for mental health issues, Haley spokeswoman Karen Collins said Tuesday.

Collins said she is excited for the federal program to bolster the art therapy options the hospital offers, including treatment from a creative arts therapist and musical therapist.

"They're always some of our more popular classes," she said.

Judy Lisi, president of the Straz, spoke before Pence and lauded the benefits of making and enjoying art.

"Arts have always been about healing," Lisi said. Now, she thinks, more people are starting to believe that.

Contact Langston Taylor at Follow @langstonitaylor.