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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


Milwaukee seeks art and stage performers for National Creative Arts Festival









Veteran Mark Duran displays his artwork, of waves breaking on the shore to helpdescribe his post traumatic stress. He will enter the painting in the local portion of the National Creative Arts Festival, Feb. 25 in the Matousek Auditorium.


Creative Arts Therapist, Marisa Straub, opened the art room and made her way to the back corner. Amidst shelves of art supplies was the ceramic oven she was headed for.

“It’s like Christmas every time I open the kiln,” Straub said. “You never know what kinds of presents you’ll find. There are such beautiful things inside.”

The presents she referred to are the art work pieces made by those in her art therapy group but some of those pieces were made for more than therapy. They were made to compete in the 2013 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

This year, the first round of judging takes place Feb. 25 in the Matousek Auditorium at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, 5000 W. National Avenue. Deadline to enter is 4 p.m. Feb. 19.  The event is open to all veterans enrolled for care at the Milwaukee VA. There is also a talent portion of the festival. For more information on the talent show, click here.

The festival consists of 53 artwork categories. The competition starts locally for each VA center. If a piece makes it to the top three, it is up to the participant to send their piece in to the final round of judging, which takes place in June. First place winners are then invited to celebrate their artwork at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival site. This year the festival will be held in October in Reno, Nev.

But a trip to Reno is really not the main prize. The process of creating the piece has a therapeutic value, Straub said. Last year, of the four veterans from Milwaukee who made it to the finals, Jim Finnerty won first place in the Fine Art Mixed Media category with his piece, “Ublue-It.”

“It helped me deal with my stress and anxiety from the chaos, drama and noise of war,” Finnerty said.

Straub said in her more than 20 years participating in this competition, she has seen art therapy change lives.

“There was a resident years ago who entered the contest for the first time and ended up winning first place nationally,” she said. “He gained a whole new self-esteem and just blossomed. He had a renewed interest in life.”

For a vet, expressing emotions may be hard. This is why Straub believes art is such an important tool.

“They keep a lot inside so it’s good for them to use art as their mouthpiece,” she said. “It’s less threatening than talking and gives them an opportunity to find success while dealing with other physical or mental problems and while improving their mood, health and outlook.”

In the art room, there’s another bond forming, even without glue. It’s the camaraderie and inspiration between the vets. The excitement over their friend’s finished pieces is almost palpable and the smiles on everyone’s face are contagious.

Mark Duran proudly displayed his previous night’s work, a dual canvas painting of a wave about to break onto shore.

“The waves represent my struggle with PTSD,” Duran said. “It’s like it all comes and hits you at once but then it’s gone just as fast and you see that it’s going to be OK.”

The room went silent for a minute as the other veterans contemplated this but they were quick to give smiles and pats on the back of support and encouragement.

Although this is a contest, Straub emphasized that the process of making a piece is a great therapeutic healing opportunity, not just an art show.

“It’s more about learning about yourself through the process of creating something and working out your emotions than the finished product.”

For more information on the arts festival and to sign up, call Straub at 414-384-2000, ext. 41976.