Creative Talents Emerge at Veterans Arts Festival
Over 100 winning Veterans flew to sunny San Antonio in October to showcase their talents in visual art, music, dance, drama and creative writing at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival (NVCAF).
Earlier this year, VA medical centers across the country hosted regional creative arts competitions, and of the 3,453 art entries, 140 Veterans ranked top at the national level for exceptional artistic ability.
Winners met on October 5-11 to take part in a variety of events. Performance artists spent much of the week rehearsing for a stage variety show while visual artists exhibited their winning pieces to the public and attended craft workshops.
Three participants share their experience at the Creative Arts Festival:
Gold Medals in Dance and Music Divisions
When Christine Pointer and her sister, Colleen Johnson, danced to “I Hope You Dance” at a regional VA arts competition, the audience was captivated.
Johnson is in a wheelchair suffering from several debilitating conditions including fibromyalgia (chronic body-wide pain), but her disability has not kept her from dancing. Her performance expressed the importance of never giving up hope.
Pointer won gold medals for the dance with her sister and for singing in a quartet called Homeward Bound.
Courage Not There at First
While receiving therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression at the VA, Christine first heard about the Creative Arts Fest. She was interested in the contest, but didn’t feel she had the courage to compete on a national level.
Her inhibitions disappeared when she won her local competition and then took first place in her category at the national level. “Creative arts therapy helps Veterans come out of their slumber, their depression, and their lows in life. It has helped me strive to continuously do better,” she said.
Pointer has attended the event six times and intends to work hard to continue the tradition. “Veterans are given an avenue to express their creativity freely through their talents, which promotes rehabilitation. I'm grateful for all who support Veterans and this program.”
Robert Van Caster
Gold Medal in Art Division
“Congratulations! You’re going to the National Creative Arts Festival in San Antonio,” were the unforgettable words that Robert Van Caster heard soon after he won first place for his scroll saw artwork titled, “Hail Mary,” a prayer cut out of wood.
Van Caster has worked with scroll saw art for four years which has proven to be a therapeutic experience. His legs were injured from a car accident in 1992, which limited his ability to walk. Crafting woodwork has allowed him to work with something he loves that doesn’t require the use of his legs.
“I Felt Like a Celebrity”
While at the festival, Van Caster took part in the visual arts section, attending several art workshops, admiring talent from fellow Veterans, and signing autographs for the public. “I loved it. I felt like a celebrity,” he beamed.
“It was a tremendous honor to be there, to see all the other artists and to be classified with some of the top people that were there. It was almost as great as the birth of my kids, and my wedding to my wife of 40 years.”
Gold Medal in Creative Writing Division
Jim Littlepage’s winning poem, “The Wolf Pack,” described the moment he arrived in Vietnam for combat. He explained, “I can’t do this as a man, I have to be a wolf, in order to stay courageous during the war.”
The poet Veteran stepped into a new challenge when he was asked to attend the Creative Arts Festival as a singer in the gala variety stage show. “I’m not a singer, so I had to practice and sing next to someone who kept me on key,” he said. “Not only was it stimulating that it brought out the ‘artist’ in me, but it made me use part of the brain I haven’t used in a long time.”
Reconnecting with Veteran Family
In his first year attending the festival, Littlepage quickly switched from stranger to family member among fellow Veterans. “I felt a closeness that I haven’t felt in a long time, reconnecting with Veterans as a family.” Spending time with so many talented artists has encouraged him to focus more time on his poetry.
Littlepage wrote a poem about the NVCAF. A few stanzas help summarize his experience at the event:
Freedom Fighters gather
For an annual celebration
Like the stars that light up the nite
A brilliant, beautiful constellation
To showcase to the world
Their talents, art and musical presentations
A stage production, a gift of love
To all denominations.
The NVCAF is open to all Veterans who receive care at VA medical facilities. The event is sponsored by VA, Help Hospitalized Veterans and the American Legion Auxiliary. For more information, visit http://www.creativeartsfestival.va.gov.