What is the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival?

A performer prepares backstage before the stage show begins (2017 NVCAF).

The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival (NVCAF) is a weeklong annual event that celebrates veterans, showcases their talents, and promotes the benefits of arts therapy for individuals recovering from or coping with physical and emotional disabilities.

Co-presented by the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the NVCAF is held in a different city and state each year. This year, the NVCAF will be Oct. 29 to Nov. 4 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Veterans will show off their talents in 150 categories spanning three divisions, including performing art, which includes dance, drama, and music; visual art; and creative writing.

Veterans and caregivers alike will descend on Des Moines for the event, with activities for both groups throughout the week.

New this year is a special caregiver grant component. In spring 2018, ALA National Headquarters received a special caregiver support grant from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. The mission of the organization is to strengthen and empower American military caregivers and their families by raising public awareness, driving research, championing policy, and leading collaborations that make a significant impact on their lives.

The grant’s purpose is to develop a caregiver blueprint that the Department of Veterans Affairs can use for special multi-day events such as the NVCAF where several veterans attend along with their caregivers. The VA is also providing an opportunity for those caregivers onsite to meet and plans to have help available for their special needs as caregivers.

Charles Marshall discusses his art with a Legion Family member (2017 NVCAF).

Each day, the schedule is filled with excitement as veterans ready for the week’s big events, the Veteran Art and Writing Exhibition and the stage performance.

The art and writing exhibition will be 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 1 at the Atrium at Capital Square. The creative writers and visual artists are available to discuss their art and mingle with attendees. Just like an exhibit at a museum, all of the art is on display for viewing — the artists present everything from quilts to paintings to mosaic kits to photography to sculptures. The creative writers are seated together with copies of their work and sign autographs for attendees. The atmosphere is electric as these award-winning veterans talk about their experiences and make themselves vulnerable to the public through their art.

The other main highlight of the week is the stage performance at 2 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Hoyt Sherman Place Theater. The show includes several group chorus songs, individual musical performances, skits, dancing, short film, and more.

Janet Martin wows the audience during a solo (2017 NVCAF).

Country music singer Michael Peterson will be the stage show emcee. Peterson frequently performs in Branson, Mo. and recently released a new CD. Peterson traditionally spends time visiting veterans hospitalized in the local VA medical facility.

The ALA became a national primary sponsor of the NVCAF in 2000. In 2013, the ALA National organization became the sole presenting sponsor along with a VA medical facility in the host city. Then in 2015, the ALA became co-presenter of the NVCAF.

ALA members from across the country donate volunteer hours, time that’s valued at $25 million, to the Festival each year. ALA members assist veterans with art projects, fund travel, support publicity, help with stage productions, and do various other important tasks throughout the year in preparation for the NVCAF.

To learn more about the NVCAF, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org/NVCAF or at www.blogs.va.gov/nvspse/national-veterans-creative-arts-festival.

Throughout the week, the creative artists have the opportunity to practice their craft and learn new skills during several art workshops. ALA members attend these sessions to assist the veterans wherever needed (2017 NVCAF).


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