Veterans Arts Festival is Fun and Therapeutic - Veterans Health Administration
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Veterans Arts Festival is Fun and Therapeutic

Man and his art.

National Veterans Creative Arts Festival October 27-November 2, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wis.

By Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer
Monday, October 27, 2014

Creative expression is an important component of healthy living. VA’s annual Creative Arts Festival demonstrates that healing goes well beyond a patients’ physical needs. Creative arts therapy plays a key role at VA in rehabilitation and recovery.

The Creative Arts Festival is the culmination of a year-long fine arts talent competition involving thousands of participants nationwide and is open to all Veterans receiving care at VA medical facilities.

The festival gives thousands of Veterans the opportunity to express themselves creatively and enables them to have life changing experiences connected to their health and recovery.

According to Elizabeth Mackey, Director of the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, “VA is very proud to bring well-deserved recognition to our outstanding Veteran performers, writers and artists. This event accomplishes so much, offering extensive creative arts therapy and rehabilitation for Veterans nationwide, while delighting audiences in both the visual and performing arts.

“VA is committed to providing therapeutic solutions that go beyond traditional physical medicine. The Creative Arts Festival provides an artistic avenue for the physical, mental and emotional healing of our nation’s heroes.

“We look forward to a program that inspires our guests who witness the remarkable talents of these Veterans who remain motivated regardless of their health challenges.”

The competition includes 53 categories in the visual arts division that range from oil painting to leatherwork to paint-by-number kits. In addition, there are 120 categories in the performing arts pertaining to all aspects of music, dance, drama and creative writing.

VA medical facilities incorporate creative arts into their recreation therapy programs to further the rehabilitation process for both inpatients and outpatients. This annual competition recognizes the progress and recovery made through that therapy and raises the visibility of the creative achievements of our nation’s Veterans after disease, disability or life crisis.

It’s an opportunity to demonstrate the depth of artistic talent and skill that our nation’s Veterans possess and how artistic expression promotes healing and enhances quality of life.

As Director Mackey noted, “The camaraderie among the Veteran artists, the beautiful art on display and the world class performances all combine to produce a week that inspires all of us and reminds us of the healing power of artistry.”

Just two of the thousands who participate

John “Jay” Harden, Jr. from O’Fallon, Mo., served in the Air Force as a B-52 Navigator during the Vietnam War. During his eight years of service one of the constants that kept him going was the letters from his wife, Carolyn. Today, he uses writing to help him cope with traumatic stress.

His original piece, “My Mother of All Letters,” won first place in the Inspirational Personal Experience category of the creative writing division in the 2013 National Veterans Creative Arts Competition.

 When I got home, I lost my way. 

Brenda Bushera made a military career ministering to others with her music, including a 10-month Iraq deployment where she played a combination of punk, alternative and a bit of pop giving young soldiers the music they wanted to hear to take their minds off the war.

“Playing in a war zone was a tough job, filled with danger, hours of travel and friends who didn’t make it home.”

But when she took the war home with her, it was music that helped Bushera heal herself. “When I got home, I lost my way,” She said.

Bushera came to the Central Texas Veterans Healthcare System in Temple, Texas, for treatment for mental health issues and alcoholism. “I don’t mind telling people. It is what it is. I needed to do this for me.”

“It was my music therapist who encouraged me to audition for the Creative Arts Competition. I knew if I was going to do this, I needed to be healthy. I’ve used music to help others. I have to have music in my life. I never knew that I would need it for myself.”

“Music brought me back. I’m just elated to be here. This is a breath of relief that I’ve still got it, and I can still do this professionally. It gives me hope that I can get back and start my career again.”

Learn more about Jay and Brenda and hundreds of other brave Veterans.