The 2018 National Veterans Creative Arts Competition began January 1. During the months of 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 2017 there were nearly 1,700 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 23, the first place-winning entries from the local art, music, dance, drama and creative writing competitions will be sent on to the national competition level where the top three entries in each category were 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, VA staff persons are notified in mid-June 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, creative writers meet and greet, 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 VA facilities hold their local competitions in February, but their deadline dates for submitting entries vary by location and may be in January, 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 person from your facility, please contact Amy Kimbler, Program Specialist at or Elizabeth Mackey, Director at 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. 12, 2018

Estimated reading time is 5.4 min.

Views to date: 262


  1. Miss Sasha Wallace February 9, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    Amazing! This is such a wonderful opportunity for veterans to share their experience of mental health and wellbeing, and the therapeutic effects of art, music, writing and drama with other veterans who will benefit so much. I salute you all. I only wish I could attend, but I’m London. Best wishes to you all, those entering and those enjoying the festival.
    Sasha Wallace
    El Capitano of Bloomspace and Bloom – The Health Spa for the Mind

  2. Gregory Yoder January 19, 2018 at 9:38 pm

    I have been tinkering with writing stories for a short bit of time. My brain doesn’t work like it used to since I got leukemia followed by brain injections. I started writing just to keep my thoughts in some sort of order. I would like to enter a writing just to see how it would fair on the market.

  3. guy r zoller January 19, 2018 at 4:11 pm

    I want in! I’m a veteran and sculptor and potter with my own studio I’d love to share with other veterans. How do I get in contact with the right folks? I have much to offer on my island studio, not the least of which is a full up pottery and sculpture studio, kayaks, canoe, and the best fishing on the east coast, all on a one house island with room for lots of vets.

  4. Donna Bearden January 19, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    Does the Chattanooga, Tn VA work with the Art program?? I would be interested in doing some things for the event

  5. George Pritchard January 19, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    My name is George. I am a disabled Vet. and I would love to enter the contest with just one of my pieces of art. Please let me know how to enter?

    Thank you.

  6. Charles C. Carroll Jr. January 19, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    I write when I can’t sleep, it’s a way of coping with a brain that just doesn’t want to shut down, I have been going with a minimum of sleep since early puberty, with little ill effects ?? ( not sure about that).
    Anyhow this may be a way to help all of us learn what works? (better I hope).
    The point is its not clear how one joins and submits ( his or her art) mine is writing fiction, sometimes it’s SCI-FI, and sometimes it’s fantasy, sometimes both. Few attempts at biographical subjects! ( wasn’t real happy with them).
    If this medium can supply feedback for us , it very well might help straighten out our views of our worth, and viability.
    I am 76 years old and for the most part things are winding down for me. Grandkids are in college and their parents don’t live close, my buds & neighbors are dying off, leaving more and more time for quiet contemplation about why we live so long, and so poorly.
    Finding the door into this contest or club, is necessary. I will be at the VA in SD next week, is there a contact point there? or must I scour this missive for the magic button of entry.

    Sincerely Charles C. Carroll Jr. = Hemet Calif.

  7. John Bowen January 19, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    I was an Air Force Illustrator, and served in South Vietnam, in 1968. I’m retired from the artfield now. I paint watercolors. I have also written an illustrated book called “Eleven Months and Nineteen Days”. How do you enter in the Art and Writing categories ?

  8. karen Williams January 19, 2018 at 10:39 am

    When do we get to see the winning entries? When the article stated Art Festival I assumed there would be a time the whole VA community would get to participate in enjoying the entries either online or locally.
    Also, I would like to see a photography category as well.
    Thank you!

  9. James Gavin Whitehawk Haas January 19, 2018 at 10:11 am

    I just published a music album and really want to better understand how to submit my work for this competition. How do I submit my album?

  10. Richard Evans January 19, 2018 at 10:05 am

    2018 National Veterans Creative Arts Competition participation restricted to those enrolled in VA facilities or clinics? I suggest that you change the title or open the competition to include ALL veterans. I retired after 22 years, am not in need of VA services because of Medicare and Tricare for Life; therefore, not enrolled for VA services. Yet, I am excluded from a National Veterans Competition?

  11. Pete Kondrosky January 18, 2018 at 9:47 am


    1st…(my eligibility)…I am a former USAF supply sergeant/air crew rigger & Vietnam Veteran, 10/1967-10/1968.
    A photographer with 40+ years of experience, and in business since 1996, by subjects include CUSTOM street/hot/ rat rods, motorcycles, and trucks, in addition to portraits, macro, sports, and MANY other subjects.

    I also DONATE many hours of my photographic time and expertise to many veteran/veteran support groups.

    I tell you all this, so you know where I am “coming from”.

    My question…
    I do not see a category anywhere (I COULD be wrong) for photography.

    Your thoughts?

    I’m also at (redacted), OR, the listed E-mail…

    Thank You!

  12. James Shephard Brandmeir January 17, 2018 at 5:48 pm

    How do I enter? I live 32 miles from a clinic on the Hilo side of the big island of Hawaii, I ‘m not supposed to drive. I have visual pieces to enter. Again, how do I do it and what are the rules and forms?

    I used to teach and enter 15 years ago. I desperately would like to start entering again.

    Respectfully, James S. Brandmeir

  13. Judy Miller January 16, 2018 at 9:36 am

    This is wonderful. The VA is doing a super great job. The arts are stimulating, healing and offer an outlet to communicate what’s we have inside us. I wrote many essays so maybe I will find them and enter one.

  14. CL Callahan January 14, 2018 at 12:54 am

    I think I’m getting fished from your feedback questionnaire.

  15. CL Callahan January 14, 2018 at 12:48 am

    You need better prizes.

Comments are closed.

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