Talent abounds at Creative Arts Festival - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


Talent abounds at Creative Arts Festival

Patrons look at art works on display

The Creative Arts Festival opened Monday with visual arts categories. The display is open to the public Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 12-13. Performing arts categories will be held Feb. 14

By Jim Hoehn
Monday, February 11, 2019

From painting to pottery, leather work to line drawings, about 75 entries were submitted in more than 30 categories for the creative arts festival that opened at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center on Monday.

The local visual arts show in the third-floor recreation hall began Monday morning with judging, followed by a reception. The event was open to the public on Monday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will be open on Tuesday, Feb. 12 and Wednesday, Feb. 13 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

First-place entries in the local VA creative arts festivals advance to a national judging process. Selected invitees will be invited to attend the 2019 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival hosted by the Battle Creek VA Medical Center and held in Kalamazoo, Michigan from Oct. 28-Nov. 3.

The local performing arts shows take place at 1 and 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14 in the recreation hall, with different acts for each show. It is open to the public.

In many cases, Veterans use the arts as part of their therapy and healing process for PTSD, substance abuse and other issues.

 “They take a lot of pride in their artwork,” said Kris Kulas, an art therapist at Milwaukee VA. “There’s a lot of skills they developed doing their artwork, depending if they did it here at the VA, or they’re independent in their skill-building. It’s a great expression of feelings, it gets them working through issues, be it for their military experience, anything that might have happened even in their personal life. Art is a way to express their feelings and be able to put it on something concrete and show what it’s about.”

Video: A quick tour of the festival

Screen grab of artist talking about event


Tina Garcia was bringing her father to his appointment at Milwaukee VA when she heard the announcement about the creative arts festival.

“I’m really amazed,” she said. “I like the paintings and there’s a photograph of the lagoon, because I just happened to drive by there a couple days ago. ‘Wow, that’s fantastic.’ So, I’m just enjoying it all.”

Joe Hauser, a 35-year-old Army Veteran, was impressed with the leather works submitted by Frank Kaiser, last year’s local winner who advanced to the National Creative Arts Festival.

“It just blows my mind how talented people are,” Hauser said. “The leather work’s amazing. I voted for him for best of show. I tried to do leather work before, and it’s hard. It’s not easy. His pops. Everything looks 3D. It’s super cool.”

A painting of a soldier carrying a child

Many of the works hold personal meaning for the artist.

Kaiser, who had three leather work entries win first-place awards this year at the local level, admired the work of other artists in the wide range of genres.

“I’m in awe, because I can’t do it,” Kaiser said. “I tried my hand at it, but I could just not get the knack of it. The funny thing is, you can have 20 people look at a landscape and each one sees something different. They’ll pick out something that they fixate on.”

Although the entries are judged, Kaiser said the event is surprisingly non-competitive, even at the national level.

“It really isn’t,” he said. “I’m really competing against myself from last year. That’s what I’m competing against. I’m trying to make something better than what I did last year. At the national level, meeting the other artists was wild. It was a lot of fun.”

Dr. Daniel Zomchek, director of Milwaukee VA Medical Center, said being able to hear the stories and meaning behind many of the works added an extra dimension.

"I think that's why coming here is so important for the general public, but also the artists,” Zomchek said. “Because, you can see a picture and it may tell you something to yourself, but you don't know it really means to hear the story from the Veteran, about how it's turned their life around, or that it really helped them see something in their life, get them through a tough bridge in their life or something. That's why I love the fact that we have this event.”

Related Coverage

‘Rewarding to me:’ Milwaukee VA Creative Arts Festival helped injured Army veteran heal - FOX6 TV, Milwaukee

Saddling Up for Creative Arts Festival - Milwaukee VA


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