The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival isn’t about showing off talent, but about community–reconnecting with loved ones and old friends.
The annual festival kicked off Monday in Kalamazoo, Michigan. A total of 115 Veterans from across the country will showcase their talents in creative art, music, dance, drama and writing.
Bonding through music
Dan Burns and his daughter, Amy Clark, are a unique father-daughter Veteran duo sharing their guitar and singing talents at this year’s festival.
Burns, a Navy Veteran, and Clark, a Marine Corps Veteran, won their local competition at the Minneapolis VA Healthcare System and were selected to participate in the festival’s stage show finale, which takes place at Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo on Nov. 3 at 2 p.m.
The pair have shared their love of music together since Clark was in high school. Now a mother of two, she says she could never imagine life without music.
“I was raised in a household where my father was always singing and playing music. For me, music is my life,” said Clark.
For Burns, music has significant therapeutic value.
“I can remember being on a fleet ballistic missile submarine in the Navy for 75 days at a time during Vietnam,” he said. “We were 150 feet deep in the ocean with no sunshine or fresh air. Music was all we had to keep our minds off of what we were going through.
“We had unbelievable talent on board. About halfway through the patrol, we’d celebrate hump night to mark the halfway point of our mission. We ate the best meal that night, played instruments and sang. I don’t know where I’d be without music.”
Kathryn Larson, an art therapist from the Minneapolis VA, said it’s a joy to see Veterans like Amy and Dan bonding through music.
“It’s a great way for them to spend quality time together, too,” she said.
Clark and Burns are not the only family team performing at this year’s festival. Father and son Veterans John and Peter Holm have also brought their shared love of the arts.
“My wife was a director and very talented actress who participated in community theater,” John said. “Our children were always involved in plays growing up.”
The pair won their local competition at the Salem VA Medical Center for acting in a dramatic piece entitled, “The Things We Brought Home.” The short play highlights the burdens and price paid by soldiers coming home from Vietnam.
“My wife was the actor in the family. If she were here today, she’d be surprised that I won a gold medal for our drama,” said John. “I started participating in the (festival) four years ago after she passed away. Being here helps me to honor the relationship that she and I had.”
A natural fit
This is the first year Peter has been involved in the festival.
“I’ve been acting in plays since I was 5 years old. I really enjoy being around creative people. Being here just seems like a natural fit,” he said.
In 2019, nearly 3,600 Veterans representing 130 VA medical facilities entered local competitions in 50 art, music, drama, dance and creative writing categories. Of those, about 150 gold medal-winning Veterans earned an invitation to participate in the 2019 festival hosted by the Battle Creek VA Medical Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The Art and Writing Exhibition opens to the public at 12 p.m., and the stage show at 2 p.m., at Kalamazoo’s Miller Auditorium.
For more information or to reserve a free ticket to this year’s National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, please visit: https://www.blogs.va.gov/nvspse/national-veterans-creative-arts-festival/.
Melanie Thomas, MBA, is a public affairs specialist at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System.