When the pandemic wiped clean the in-person calendar for the Basalt-based military veterans nonprofit Challenge America, and canceled its music therapy retreats for the foreseeable future, the organization’s small team got to work on new solutions and virtual ways to connect vets.
The result is the free vets-only Challenge America Veteran Arts Community (CAVARTS), a private social media ecosystem. It launched in mid-March and is now connecting veterans nationally in a safe and supportive online space where they can pursue creative passions and discover new ones.
The forum allows vets to share their works in visual and graphic arts, performing arts, music and creative writing while also providing instruction and connections to creative organizations and events. But the heart of the program is its veteran-to-veteran network.
“The pandemic forced us to reevaluate what we’re doing, because we weren’t able to do the in-person music therapy retreats that we had done in the past,” said Challenge America executive director Dallas Blaney. “So we got together and thought, ‘Well, what can we do?’ ‘How can we connect vets and make it better than what it was before?’ That’s what gave rise to this program.”
The platform went live online on March 15. In its first week it drew about 350 active users. Organizers are hopeful that in coming months that number will grow into the hundreds of thousands. It is built to scale up to that level.
“It’s exciting to see,” Blaney said. “I don’t anticipate any scaling problems.”
The Veterans Affairs Administration — a longtime supporter and partner in Challenge America initiatives — is expected to begin promoting CAVARTS on its Vantage Point blog and to its mailing list of 3 million veterans this week.