by Cori Hilsgen
For many artists, their gifts and talents of expressing themselves through their work can also be a form a therapy.
The Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, nationwide, use the creative arts as a form of rehabilitative treatment for veterans recovering from and coping with physical and emotional disabilities.
Veterans enrolled at Veterans Affairs health-care facilities may compete in a local creative-arts competition.
Many forms of art expression by veterans will be displayed at the Veterans Art Show from 12:30-6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7, and from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8, in the Auditorium, Building 8, at the St. Cloud VA Health Care campus.
Barry Venable, public affairs officer of the St. Cloud VA Health Care System, said medical facilities incorporate creative arts into their recreation therapy programs to further the rehabilitation milieu for both inpatients and outpatients.
The annual art competition recognizes the progress and recovery made through that therapy and raises the visibility of the creative achievements of the nation’s veterans after disease, disability and life crisis.
Through the show, veterans receiving treatment at VA facilities have a chance to participate in creative self expression through art, creative writing, dance, drama and music as part of their therapy and to gain recognition for their artistic accomplishments.
The competition is open to veterans who are enrolled at a VA medical center or outpatient clinic before entering the local competition.
“We’re excited to be able to share the artwork with the public and encourage community members to visit the show,” Venable said.
Madge Scherer, a music therapist at the St. Cloud facility, is coordinating the local art show and the other St. Cloud entries for the National Veterans Creative Arts Program this year. She has been involved with the creative arts program for nine years, but just recently took on the leadership role for the art show.
Scherer said the St. Cloud art show has been taking place since about 1994. In 2017, there were 3,480 entries in all divisions (dance, drama, music, art and creative writing) from veterans representing 138 VA facilities nationwide. The St. Cloud show had 75 entries and they hope to reach close to that number again this year.
The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival program and show are coordinated by St. Cloud VA employees Elizabeth Mackey and Amy Kimbler.
Both have worked as music therapists at the St. Cloud VA, but have worked full-time with the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival for several years. Mackey has been the director of the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival since 1995 and Kimbler has been a program specialist since 2004.
Mackey said they believe strongly in the arts as therapy and it’s a privilege to serve veterans who use the therapeutic arts in their lives. Through art, music, dance, drama and writing veterans communicate emotions, feelings and thoughts related to their experiences that many times are difficult to express verbally.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Legion Auxiliary co-present the National Veterans Creative Arts Competition and Festival. Through the local and national competition phase of the program, veterans receive recognition for their creative accomplishments and people are made more aware of the arts as an avenue toward healing and sustaining good mental and physical health.
This year, the competition includes 51 categories in the visual arts division and 100 categories in the performing arts.
First-, second- and third-place entries are judged in each category.
“Thanks to the many veteran and volunteer organizations who provide the support to make the show and competition available to veterans,” Venable said.
The show is free and open to the public.