Amelia Templeton: Veteran and Artist
Amelia Templeton’s Artists in Arms brings together her two greatest passions: giving back to her veteran community and art. She was fueled to create the organization by her experience in the Clemente Veterans’ Initiative (CVI) Houston, which she graduated from in spring 2020. “Clemente reignited my excitement for learning and discussing the arts and promoting the arts,” she said. “This is what I love.”
Amelia served in the Marine Corps for five years, joining shortly after high school graduation. “I joined the military because I thought I would either get a career or get an education. Either way it seemed like a great plan,” she said. Her experience was a good one. She got to work on helicopters, test her mettle, and see parts of the world she’d never otherwise see. But then she was injured while in Iraq and medically retired from the Marines. It was the first time she lost her whole career with no warning.
The second time was during the Covid-19 pandemic. Amelia was employed as a props artisan with Houston’s prestigious Alley Theater, until the pandemic forced the theater to lay off 75% of its full-time staff. Her three children were suddenly attending school at home. She and her husband were midway in the process of rebuilding their home, which had been flooded by Hurricane Harvey. As she put it, “Overnight my whole world exploded.”
CVI was one of the saving graces.
“The Clemente Course helped keep me from throwing my hands up in defeat,” she said. “Having this each week to go to really mattered, as did the subjects we explored. We were already talking about how experiences and trauma and pride can coalesce into who you are as a person when it all came crashing down. It really helped me process it.”
She was particularly taken with the play, “Grounded” by George Brant, about a female fighter pilot whose career comes to an end due to her pregnancy. Amelia said, “I was experiencing trauma as I was taking the course. It was fascinating and helpful to talk through the play and see my story reflected there. I could say, ‘Okay, I’m not alone. This is a thing that people go through.’”
The CVI experience was so powerful for Amelia that she signed up for a second year, this time as co-facilitator of the course. She will help support the veterans beginning the course this fall by leading small group conversations and helping participants connect the course materials to their own histories.
“I hope that by facilitating discussions and guiding attendees through the coursework, I can help them explore their own experiences and find that the camaraderie of the military does not have to be relegated to our past,” she said. “We can continue to have each other's backs, challenge each other, and lift each other up by acknowledging and discussing our experiences truthfully and with a willingness to learn.”
At the same time, she’ll continue building Artists in Arms into the multifaceted organization she envisions. There will be classes for veterans to build their artistic skills, and she will promote veteran artists through meet-the-artist events and pop-up galleries. Similar organizations have launched in other cities, but while Houston has a thriving art scene and the second largest veterans population in the country, nothing like it existed there. Amelia saw an opportunity to build one.
Artist in Arms’ first official event will happen on Veterans Day: a one-night-only series of scenes from William Shakespeare performed by veterans and their loved ones. Like CVI does, it will bring together classic texts in the humanities with the real lived experiences of veterans transitioning to civilian life.
“By getting our voices out there and exploring our creativity, we can show the world that you don’t have to be a veteran OR an artist,” Amelia said. “We are people. We are both.”