The 2015 National Veterans Creative Arts Competition began on January 1st. During the months of January, February and March, Veterans enrolled at VA medical facilities or outpatient clinics are invited to enter their art, music, dance, drama and creative writing entries into the local competition phase. It’s an exciting time with art exhibits and performances by Veterans occurring across the country. At most facilities, the general public is invited to view the art and watch the performances, having the opportunity to learn about the arts as therapy and congratulate the Veterans for their artistic achievements.
With the involvement of VA staff and volunteers, entries are submitted into the local competition. There are a total of 51 categories in the visual arts, divided into fine art, applied art and craft kit sub-divisions. Fine art categories include painting, watercolor, drawing and sculpture. Applied arts categories such as ceramics, woodworking, metalwork and glasswork and craft kits such as model building, needlework and leatherwork offer a variety of options with something for just about every artist.
Categories such as Special Recognition-Physical Disability, Special Recognition-Mental Health Challenges and Military Combat Experience focus on the concept of the arts as therapy where an individual uses artistic expression to facilitate successful treatment outcomes. A written narrative from the Veteran or staff person accompanies the entry to describe how the artwork relates to the Veteran’s challenge or experience. The art division overall has the highest number of entries submitted into competition each year. In 2014 there were nearly 1,600 entries judged during the month of April in the national competition.
The music division follows the art division in highest number of entries. Music is divided into vocal and instrumental sub-divisions. Within the music division there are 45 categories that include both solo and group and the categories are separated according to musical style. There is a category for everyone, even a band category and original vocal and original instrumental categories. Judging criteria consists of such areas as stage presence, intonation, rhythm, and interpretation.
Writing is a form of creative expression that has become extremely popular and Veterans are entering their original poems, essays and short stories into the creative writing division at an increasing rate each year. Creative writing entries are judged by use of language, originality of topic or idea, creative content, message clarity and overall strength of the composition.
The judging criteria are different for entries submitted into the drama division. The focus is more on the performance itself with stage presence, expressiveness and interpretation being scored. Veterans enter solo and group categories within prose, comedy, poetry and interpretive performance. Mime, juggling, magic, puppetry and ventriloquism entries are welcome, as well as multimedia video entries three minutes or less in length created by the Veteran.
The dance division offers Veterans the opportunity to prepare dance routines for videotaping and submission into the competition. There are solo and group categories that include ballroom, tap, jazz, ballet, country, folk, cultural, interpretive movement and novelty to name a few. The entries are judged by technique, rhythm, patterns, creativity and interpretation.
By March 27th, the first place-winning entries from the local art, music, dance, drama and creative writing competitions will be sent on to the national competition level where the top three entries in each category were determined through a judging process. Art entries will be photographed and music, dance, drama and creative writing entries will be videotaped at the local VA facility, with the assistance of VA staff.
The national judging is coordinated each year by VA therapists who volunteer to serve as national chairpersons. These dedicated therapists spend countless hours preparing the entries and competition forms received from VA facilities throughout the nation for the judging process. Judges are professionals in their area of artistic expertise and view and score each entry carefully, using established criteria specific to each division.
The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival
When all of the judging is completed in mid-June, VA staff persons are notified of the first, second and third place winners from all five divisions. This is an exciting time as Veterans learn the results of the national competition. All of the first place winners from the national art competition are invited to attend the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. Some of the gold medal-winning acts from the music, dance, drama and creative writing divisions are selected for inclusion in the Festival stage show performance. Since 1989, the Festival week has been hosted by a different VA facility and location each year and the public is invited to an exhibit of the first place winning artwork and a stage show performance by selected gold medal winners from the music, dance, drama, and writing competitions. Through these events, the host community learns of the benefits of the arts in the lives of Veterans and can congratulate them on their artistic accomplishments.
Most VA facilities hold their local competitions in February, so check with your VA facility’s recreation/creative arts therapy departments now. Veterans must work with a staff person from the VA facility where they are enrolled. If you need assistance in identifying a VA staff person from your facility, please contact Amy Kimbler (320) 255-6486 or Elizabeth Mackey, National Director (320) 255-6351. You can visit our website too at www.creativeartsfestival.va.gov for more information. Best wishes to you all and thank you for allowing us the opportunity to showcase your artistic talents!