Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
For veterans across the country, art can be a creative expression, therapeutic, and for some a competitive outlet.
“Each year in February or early March we do a local competition,” says Brian Pegouske, Public Affairs Officer for Battle Creek’s VA Medical Center. “The art is judged locally and the local first place winners go on to national judging for each of the categories. If they are selected, they receive an invitation to attend the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.”
Last year’s Arts Festival took place at Miller Auditorium on Western Michigan University’s campus. This year’s event is scheduled for St. Petersburg, Fla., in late November.
Art created by veterans at the Battle Creek Veterans Administration Medical Center will be on display to the public from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today.
Pegouske says his facility is among those around the United States that will be judging entries that will go into the national competition.
The competition is an annual event that provides Veterans receiving treatment at VA facilities the opportunity to participate in creative self-expression in art, creative writing, dance, drama, and music as part of their therapy, and to gain recognition for these artistic accomplishments.
“Locally, we have about 40 visual art pieces and between 15 and 20 writing pieces,” Pegouske says. “I’m not sure how many performing arts pieces we have.”
The performing arts pieces are on video, but the rest of the art is physically available for people to see.
There are 51 different categories in the competition.
Pegouske says the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities use creative arts as one form of rehabilitative treatment to help Veterans recover from and cope with physical and emotional disabilities. He says Veterans who have enrolled at VA health care facilities have the opportunity to participate in these local creative arts competitions and, in 2019, 3,552 veterans participated in local competitions at 130 medical facilities across the United States.
“We have visual arts clinics and music therapy clinics throughout the years. Sometimes we utilize volunteers who teach different things,” Pegouske says.
In addition to volunteer instructors, Veterans who participate also learn from VA staff and each other.
“We have a volunteer who teaches poetry once a week and we use staff and volunteer talents and the Veterans learn from each other as well,” Pegouske says. “We have Veterans who might have done art throughout their lives, but stopped for a time and are now using it in their recovery.”
As an example, he cites a Veteran who played bass guitar in a traveling band during his time in the Army, but stopped because of his service during the Vietnam War and family obligations that followed. That Veteran was in last year’s national competition.
“He hadn’t touched a bass guitar in years and then came back to play on a regular basis,” Pegouske says. “Some of them pick their art back up again and use them it as an outlet and a therapeutic tool. Therapists encourage them to do things that will help them and offer them many different tools and avenues.
“Art is another tool offered to veterans as part of their recovery. Some of the arts they’re involved in have a calming effect and it takes them out of other thoughts and enables them to use the arts as an expression of themselves."