A painting of Louis Armstrong creating sonic joy with his trumpet. A Native American Chief made of wire, shadows and light. A triptych of the Twin Towers. A stunning photograph of the Colorado Rockies in Autumn. Intricate bead-work depicting the POW/MIA flag done in red, white and blue. This isn’t an art gallery. It’s the new Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center (RMR) in Aurora, Colorado.
On the way to an appointment at the hospital, patients walk through a main concourse that connects the different campus buildings. All the artwork hanging along this concourse was created by local Veterans, and most of it is for sale. If a piece of art is purchased, the artist receives 100 percent of his or her commission.
Eastern Colorado Health Care System Director Sallie Houser-Hanfelder said, “We wanted to make this medical center a hub for our Veterans, a place for them to come and visit with other Veterans, have a cup of coffee, relax in comfort while waiting for their appointments. With that mindset, we decided to showcase the incredible talents of our Veterans, especially those who participate in rehabilitative creative therapy and the Creative Arts Festival. Hanging the art done by our Veterans seemed like the perfect finishing touch.”
One person integral to making the director’s vision a reality was Army Veteran Jim Stevens, an accomplished artist himself. At the 2018 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, Stevens won first place in the Special Recognition—Physical Disability category. The Native American chief mentioned above is one of his pieces.
Stevens is also director of the VFW Post #1 Veterans Arts Council in Denver, and one of the curators of the art gallery located at the post in the heart of Denver’s Santa Fe Arts District. It was this and his experience as a Veteran that uniquely qualified him to help guide the Veteran gallery project.
“Knowing our experience working with Veterans, the arts, and successful gallery management over the last four years, Mrs. Hanfelder asked me and the Post 1 Commander at that time to meet with her to help the hospital staff with curating, intake and hanging needs for the Veterans art display project she had in mind for the new hospital. With our gallery experience, we were happy to help,” Stevens said.
Stevens worked with VA staff on the artist application and intake paperwork, the selection of the hanging system for the walls, management of art sales. On art intake day, the council also supplied the odds and ends that are always needed for the physical hanging of art works and display cards. During intake, council staff guided Veteran volunteers in the proper labeling of the art and helped arrange and hang it.
Stevens continued, “The Veterans Arts Council mission is to assist, guide and expand opportunities for all Veteran artists in the community, and helping Director Hanfelder and her staff with this opportunity was an exciting win-win for everyone—including future visitors and patients. We were honored to help.”
Curious about the RMR art intake process?
The first step is signing up for the 2019 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. VA incorporates creative arts into its recreation therapy programs to further the rehabilitation environment for both inpatients and outpatients. The 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. Learn more about the festival here: https://www.blogs.va.gov/nvspse/national-veterans-creative-arts-festival/.
“By participating in the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, the Veteran is not only increasing their creativity, expression and functioning—it also promotes community integration and social interactions with their peers and the public. Therefore, we feel there is no better way to curate the art hanging at RMR than by going through the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival process,” said Recreational Therapist Sarah El Hage.
Artwork intended for facility can be of different mediums, and will be securely hung on the wall or displayed on a locked shelving unit to discourage tampering. For space concerns, pieces cannot be above a certain size, and the work must be appropriate for the setting. Artwork does not need to win or even place in the festival to be considered for display by the hospital’s art committee. Very limited space may be available for pieces created by Veterans not wishing to enter the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, but priority will be given to entries. To find out more about entering your art in the 2019 NVCAF and/or displaying your art in the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center concourse, email VHAECHRMRArtCommittee@va.gov.
Applications for the 2019 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival will come out early January 2019, and the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center selection process will begin after the application deadline. We hope to see your name in the entries and your artwork on the walls.
Jamie (Mobley) Dannen is a Public Affairs Specialist at VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System in Aurora. She is an Army Veteran and a graduate of Kansas State University.