It has been an incredible week here in Northwest Arkansas and the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks as we conclude the 2011 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. As in years past, the Festival was nothing short of amazing. Each of the Veteran participants had a powerful story to tell and experiences to share that were the driving force behind their artistic creations. You can see it in the photos below.
The Veterans spent an action-packed week participating in various art workshops, visiting local attractions and rehearsing for the Sunday afternoon stage show, highlighting the talent of this nation’s Veterans and the therapeutic benefits of the arts. Visual artists let their creativity soar with a scratch board and fabric dying workshop at Fayetteville Underground and using craft kits donated by Help Hospitalized Veterans to create duck decoys. They also created pinch pots and painted tiles at Terra Studios, the tiles will become part of a permanent installation to honor all of this nation’s Veterans.
No trip to Northwest Arkansas is complete without visiting some of the state’s most renowned attractions. Veterans took a step back in time when they visited Walton’s Five and Dime, the original Five and Dime store that paved the way for the modern-day Wal-Mart. They also visited Pea Ridge National Military Park, the most intact Civil War battlefield in the country, and took a ride on the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad.
The performing artists spent the majority of their time rehearsing for the three and a half hour Stage Show Gala that culminated the weeklong event on Sunday, October 23. Auditions for parts, rehearsals and costume fittings began on Tuesday, October 18. In only five days time, these talented Veterans put on a fantastic show that elicited inspiration, hope and a huge sense of gratitude from the audience. The show included everything from a rendition of Duke Ellington’s Satin Doll on the tuba and a version of Michael Jackson’s Superstition to powerful personal experience piece entitled Route Violet, one of the most dangerous routes in Afghanistan, and several patriotic tributes. The performers brought bright smiles, invigorating clapping, tears of sadness and joy, and a huge appreciation for the power of art as therapy.
All of the 108 Veterans in attendance at this year’s National Veterans Creative Arts Festival touched our lives in immeasurable ways. Their courage, strength and stories inspired everyone here at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks and in the Northwest Arkansas community and reinforced how important art is as a therapeutic tool. Thank you to all Veterans not only for your service, but also for your passion, inspiration and many talents!
Susan Hansen is the Public Affairs Officer at Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks (VHSO) in Fayetteville, Ark. Ms. Hansen has worked at VHSO for four years, beginning her career as an intern.