The 2017 National Veterans Creative Arts Competition began Jan. 1. During January, February and March, Veterans enrolled at VA medical facilities or outpatient clinics are invited to enter their art, music, dance, drama and creative writing entries into the local competition phase. It’s an exciting time with art exhibits and performances by Veterans occurring across the country. At most facilities, the general public is invited to view the art and watch the performances, having the opportunity to learn about the arts as therapy and congratulate the Veterans for their artistic achievements.

With the involvement of VA staff and volunteers, entries are submitted into the local competition. There are a total of 51 categories in the visual arts, divided into fine art, applied art and craft kit sub-divisions. Fine art categories include painting, watercolor, drawing and sculpture. Applied arts categories such as ceramics, woodworking, metalwork and glasswork and craft kits such as model building, needlework and leatherwork offer a variety of options with something for just about every artist.

Categories such as Special Recognition-Physical Disability, Special Recognition-Mental Health Challenges and Military Combat Experience focus on the concept of the arts as therapy where an individual uses artistic expression to facilitate successful treatment outcomes. A written narrative from the Veteran or staff person accompanies the entry to describe how the artwork relates to the Veteran’s challenge or experience. The art division overall has the highest number of entries submitted into competition each year. In 2016, there were over 1,600 entries judged during the month of April in the national competition.

The music division follows the art division in highest number of entries. Music is divided into vocal and instrumental sub-divisions. Within the music division there are 45 categories that include both solo and group and the categories are separated according to musical style. There is a category for everyone, even a band category and original vocal and original instrumental categories. Judging criteria consists of such areas as stage presence, intonation, rhythm, and interpretation.

Writing is a form of creative expression that has become extremely popular and Veterans are entering their original poems, essays and short stories into the creative writing division at an increasing rate each year. Creative writing entries are judged by use of language, originality of topic or idea, creative content, message clarity and overall strength of the composition.

The judging criteria are different for entries submitted into the drama division. The focus is more on the performance itself with stage presence, expressiveness and interpretation being scored. Veterans enter solo and group categories within prose, comedy, poetry and interpretive performance. Mime, juggling, magic, puppetry and ventriloquism entries are welcome, as well as multimedia video entries three minutes or less in length created by the Veteran.

The dance division offers Veterans the opportunity to prepare dance routines for videotaping and submission into the competition. There are solo and group categories that include ballroom, tap, jazz, ballet, country, folk, cultural, interpretive movement and novelty to name a few. The entries are judged by technique, rhythm, patterns, creativity and interpretation.

By March 31, first place-winning entries from local art, music, dance, drama and creative writing competitions are sent on to the national competition level where the top three entries in each category are determined through a judging process. Art entries will be photographed and music, dance and drama entries will be video recorded at the local VA facility, with the assistance of VA staff. Creative writing entries do not need to be video recorded, just the text is submitted to the national level of competition.

The national judging is coordinated each year by VA therapists who volunteer to serve as national chairpersons. These dedicated therapists spend countless hours preparing the entries and competition forms received from VA facilities throughout the nation for the judging process. Judges are professionals in their area of artistic expertise and view and score each entry carefully, using established criteria specific to each division.

The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival

When all of the judging is completed in mid-June, VA staff are notified of the first, second and third place winners from all five divisions. This is an exciting time as Veterans learn the results of the national competition. All of the first place winners from the national art competition are invited to attend the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. Some of the gold medal-winning acts from the music, dance and drama divisions are selected for inclusion in the Festival stage show performance, and some of the creative writing gold medal-winners will be invited to attend writing interaction sessions and a writing seminar. Since 1989, the Festival week has been hosted by a different VA facility and location each year and the public is invited to an exhibit of the first place winning artwork and a stage show performance. Through these events, the host community learns of the benefits of the arts in the lives of Veterans and can congratulate them on their artistic accomplishments.

Most facilities hold their local competitions in February, so check with your VA facility’s recreation/creative arts therapy departments now. Veterans must work with a staff person from the VA facility where they are enrolled. If you need assistance in identifying a VA staff member from your facility, please contact Amy Kimbler, Program Specialist at (320) 255-6486 or Elizabeth Mackey, National Director at (320) 255-6351. You can visit our website too at for more information. Best wishes to you all and thank you for allowing us the opportunity to showcase your artistic talents!


Elizabeth Mackey is the director of the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. She is a board certified music therapist, and graduated in 1982 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Therapy from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Mackey worked as a music therapist with patients at the St. Cloud, Minnesota VA Medical Center from 1985 to 2001. In 1993, she served as the host site coordinator of the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, and was the chairperson of the visual arts division in 1994. Through her experience as a creative arts therapist, she has developed a deep sense of commitment toward understanding the positive impact that the arts have in the treatment and rehabilitation process of our nation’s Veterans.

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Published on Jan. 3, 2017

Estimated reading time is 5.2 min.

Views to date: 97


  1. John F. Encinio January 9, 2017 at 9:47 am

    Where does one “go” to enter these competitions?

  2. Lawrence W. Heyliger January 9, 2017 at 4:13 am

    I am a Service Connected Disabled Veteran with P.T.S.D. I Refit a 1974, Pen Yann Cabin Cruiser. 95% of the work was done by myself with the Lord God’s help. I live just outside of Fort Myers FL. How can participate in this Veteran’s Creative Arts Festival. My Boat has been a Therapy for me for the past 10 years. I completed this project in Nov. 2016.

  3. Michelle Bolton January 8, 2017 at 11:49 pm

    This is a shock! I’m excited about this event! I will contact the personnel listed. I’m learning to open up. It’s a challenge. The struggle is real.

  4. Eugene Mattingly January 8, 2017 at 9:13 am

    I would like to enter my poetry short stories and watercolor paintings does Chillicothe Ohio participate in this?

  5. Dennis Truett January 7, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    Do you have a category fpr photography?

  6. Ineke pearson January 7, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    My husband has participated a few times but the last time did not get his art back from 2 years ago.We checked on it several times and then were told that they would contact us when they could find it.This was from the person in charge. Jackson ms.

  7. George Fischer January 7, 2017 at 8:46 am

    I am a member at the Bradenton FL Clinic which is filled with beautiful watercolor art. I am also a painter who started at age 81. A lot of my stuff is in juried shows. Where do I sign up to participate?

  8. Lisa Jolly-Borden January 7, 2017 at 3:09 am

    My name is Lisa Jolly-Borden. I would like to enter my crocheting. Can I do that?

  9. Daniel Joseph Millen January 7, 2017 at 12:40 am

    Who do I contact in Redding, CA? I would like to enter the drama contest. Thank you.

  10. Michelle Robison January 6, 2017 at 11:36 pm

    I just found out about this so I hope I’m not too late.. I’m being treated in NW Ohio at Toledo VA Outpatient clinic, part of the Michigan,,Ann Arbor VA healthcare system. I work in various media, from glass, clay, paper and metal. I’ve been working on pieces to get me through breast cancer and now dealing with Sarcoisosis.

  11. Calvin K. Lee January 6, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    Who in Jacksonville Florida would I contact in reference to the art festival thank you very much.

  12. Carlos Navarro January 6, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    I’m looking for my post . I’m thinking it was not entered successfully .

    Or it was too long .

    Or I didn’t complete the captcha code properly .

    I spent a lot of time , chronologically sequencing my path , to a Clean & Sober Lifestyle .

    I was hoping it would post , wherein others can benefit !

    Profoundly Greatful ,

    Mr. Carlos Navarro

  13. Jeff Knight January 6, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    What about produced music? One guy writes, sings and plays all instruments to a CD of original work??

  14. Terry Randall Hopkins January 6, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    I am a Veteran,an artist and my wife is an artist. We are interested in the art competition. We live in Amarillo, Texas and are fequently at the VA Hospital here. I would appreciate any info you can supply.

  15. Tina King January 6, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    I’m from Charlotte NC How can I participate? Who would I contact in Charlotte? Id like to share my paintings

  16. Beatriz A Romero January 6, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    My late husband wrote some poems, and so do I still write, but I am only a Legal Resident in the states and not a vet. that is I am a widow. Do the different contests only apply to veterans, and if so could I send my husband’s?

    Thank you
    Beatriz A. Romero

  17. Linda Wyatt January 6, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    Is there a VA chapter in Grapevine Texas?

  18. John Charles Worman January 6, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Who is the contact in the Joliet, Illinois area with phone number and name.
    There are a number of gifted veterans here and I would like to get them in the competition.
    My name is: John Charles Worman. Thank you and hope everything works smoothly.

  19. Mike Ryan January 6, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Where does photography fit in?

  20. Michael A Ross January 6, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    I’m excited about this. I live in Austin, TX and no one from my VA has said anything about it! Why can’t our local VA’s help promote this for greater participation?
    Suggestion: A lot of us Vets have “Secure Messaging” with the VA, why don’t they use that to tell us about local things such as this, include dates, times, etc. I think participation would greatly increase.
    Thank you

  21. Brian Herron January 6, 2017 at 11:59 am

    So, where do I go, or who do I call to see IF my VA center is participating? Would it be on their website? I’ve done standup comedy before and would love to do this as part of the competition. That or something drama related, I’ve also been in a few plays here in Wa. Anyway, thanks for ANY information you can provide.

  22. Ray Ross January 6, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Who is the VA staff member to contact in Denver, Colorado. Ray Ross (Retired Salty Dog)

  23. Gary Hicks January 4, 2017 at 7:40 am

    From the website: If you need assistance in identifying a VA staff member from your facility, please contact Amy Kimbler (320) 255-6486 or National Director Elizabeth Mackey, (320) 255-6351.

  24. Dennis Wilson January 4, 2017 at 12:51 am

    I have done some work leather in doing pictures like a stagecoach with men shooting at something behind them or a old time 3 masted sailing ship to an old time water mill with a stream running the mill but I don’t know how to or where to enter them into the computation it would be nice to put my work in. I have gotten 1st place at our state fair and work with a citizen center by teaching others how to do leather work.

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