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Nationwide, Department of Veterans Affairs (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.

The Competition

The 2021 National Veterans Creative Arts Competition is closed.

Across the country each year, Veterans enrolled at VA health care facilities compete in a local creative arts competition. The competition includes categories in the visual arts division that range from oil painting to leatherwork to paint-by-number kits. In addition, there are categories in writing as well as the performing arts of dance, drama, and music. Local creative arts competition first place winning entries advance to a national judging process and first, second and third place entries in each category are determined. Selected gold-medal-winning Veterans are invited to attend the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival hosted by a different VA facility each year.

The Festival

Co-presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Legion Auxiliary, the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival (NVCAF) is the culmination of talent competitions in art, creative writing, dance, drama and music for Veterans treated in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) national health care system. Veterans exhibit their artwork and original writings or perform musical, dance or dramatic selections in a live stage show performance. All Veterans invited to participate are selected winners of year-long, national fine arts talent competitions in which thousands of Veterans enter, from VA medical facilities across the nation.

VA medical facilities incorporate creative arts into their therapy programs to further the rehabilitation goals for both inpatients and outpatients. This annual competition recognizes the progress and recovery made through that therapy and raises the visibility of the creative achievements of our Nation’s Veterans.

The 2021 National Veterans Creative Arts Competition is closed. Each VA facility determines their own local competition deadline dates with many deadlines as early as April and throughout the summer months. Veterans must work with a staff person from the VA facility where they are enrolled to submit entries into the competition. Be sure to check with your VA facility as soon as possible to find out dates for submission of entries into the local competition. If you need assistance in identifying the local point of contact at the VA facility where you are enrolled, please email our national committee at Arts4Vets@va.gov.

First place winners in local competitions advanced to the national level of in October via digital submission. National competition results will be announced in December. First place winners at the national level of the competition will be invited to attend the 41st National Veterans Creative Arts Festival in St. Petersburg, Florida, April 18-25, 2022.

This competition is open to Veterans who are eligible to receive care through the Department of Veterans Affairs AND are enrolled at a VA Medical Center, Outpatient Clinic, or Vets Center BEFORE entering the local competition. An eligible Veteran can enter the local competition at only one VA facility per year. He/she can submit an entry in creative writing, dance, drama or music categories with a Veteran or group from another VA facility, but still represents and must work through his/her originating facility to enter the competition. This facility should be the site where he/she receives their primary treatment.

The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival originated as two separate competitions. Muriel Barbour, then chief of recreation therapy at the McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va., created the visual arts competition, VET ARTS, in 1981, as an observance of the International Year of Disabled Persons. Shirley Jefferies, a recreation therapist at the Waco, Texas, VA Medical Center, initiated the performing arts competition, The National Music Competition for Veterans, in 1981. The premier live winners’ stage show was held in 1981 at the VA Medical Center in Tuskegee, Ala. The second show was staged in 1982 at the Coatesville, Pa., VA Medical Center.

In 1984, the live stage show was presented in Washington, D.C., and the music competition was renamed “The Music Festival.” The following year, the stage show took place in the historic Constitution Hall.

The Music Festival and VET ARTS merged and drama and dance divisions were added, to create the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival in 1989. Designed to spotlight the four creative arts therapies of art, music, dance, and drama, this landmark Festival was performed to an audience of 4,000 in the Fox Theater in St. Louis, Mo. In 2005, a fifth creative arts division, creative writing, was added to the Festival roster.

The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival continues to evolve each year as it showcases the artistic achievements of Veterans from across the country in each of the five artistic divisions. Each Festival features an art exhibit showing the first-place artwork from 51 categories. A live stage show, complete with orchestral accompaniment generously provided by the Music Performance Fund, is performed by Veterans who have achieved medal-winning status in a variety of categories from the performing arts divisions of music, drama, and dance, as well as creative writing. Workshops are offered during the Festival week for participants and staff, educating them in a variety of artistic modalities by utilizing the talents of local community artists. There is no competition at the Festival itself, as it is a showcase for previously judged medal winners.

In 2019, nearly 3,600 Veterans from 130 VA medical facilities entered the art, music, drama, dance and creative writing competitions. Of those, approximately 150 medal-winning Veterans earned an invitation to participate in the 2019 Festival hosted by the Battle Creek VA Medical Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Legion Auxiliary present the 2019 National Veterans Creative Arts Competition and Festival, and it is also supported by many other organizations both locally and nationally.

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