Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
Local Veterans Showcase Talents at National Veterans Creative Arts Festival
Pamela Wells and Donald Johnson, both Muskogee Veterans, were among 143 Veterans who were invited to attend the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, which was held Oct. 18-24 in La Crosse, Wis.
Wells and Johnson competed in a creative arts competition at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center (JCMVAMC) earlier this year and Wells won first place in a comedy category and Johnson won first place in a drawing category.
Across the country each year, Veterans treated at VA facilities compete in local creative arts competitions which includes 53 categories in the visual arts division that range from oil painting to leatherwork to paint-by-number kits. In addition, there are 123 categories in the performing arts including music, dance, drama and creative writing.
A national selection committee chooses first, second and third place winners among all of the entries. Select winners are then invited to attend the national festival.
Wells, a U.S. Army Veteran who served from 1975 to 1978 including a tour of duty in Korea, attended the festival for the second consecutive year.
“Being invited to the festival is a real feather in your cap to begin with, and then I got to go again,” said Wells. “I’ve been doing head spins ever since. Last year was fantastic. I didn’t have the faintest idea that I would actually go twice.”
Wells was selected to perform in a musical and dramatic performance on the final day of the festival on Oct. 24, which was open to the public.
“It’s truly a professional show,” said Wells. “We have a professional orchestra, directors, and stage crew. It makes you feel like you’re actually a real performing artist. They put this thing together and it’s like, wow.”
Johnson, a U.S. Air Force Veteran who served in Vietnam, showcased a Trompe L’oeil colored drawing of fading photographs for the public on Oct 24. Johnson, who is also an Emeritus Professor from Emporia State University, has been creating art for more than 50 years.
“It’s more like an addiction,” said Johnson. “You just do it. You have to. You can express ideas visually a whole lot better than verbally.”
Nationwide, VA medical facilities use the creative arts as one form of rehabilitative treatment to help Veterans recover from and cope with physical and emotional disabilities.
“It’s a way for them to express themselves,” said Deborah Moreno, a recreation therapist and director of the JCMVAMC creative arts program. “I’ve seen it make a change in their lives. It helps the Veterans feel like they belong. They have a group that they belong to that understands what they’ve been through, what they’ve dealt with and how they’re feeling.”
JCMVAMC will hold the next creative arts competition in the spring.