By E.I. Hillin
Phoenix Staff Writer
A creative outlet can mean the difference between living and dying for some veterans.
“If it hadn’t been for this, I’d be dead,” C.J. Lockwood said Tuesday. “This is definitely suicide prevention.”
The Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center’s annual creative arts competition is a positive opportunity for veterans to show their artistic expression, a VAMC official said.
“This is a very good therapeutic experience for the veterans. It’s life-changing,” said Deborah Moreno, recreational therapist and coordinator of the Creative Arts.
Regional finalists will be announced in June. A national festival will be held Oct. 27-Nov. 2 in Milwaukee.
There are five divisions available for the veterans to enter: art, creative writing, dance, drama, and music.
Each of those five divisions has a variety of categories. Participants can enter three categories in each division.
“To be able to participate they have to have received services through Jack C. Montgomery VA Center, Tulsa Outpatient Center, or any of our outpatient clinics,” Moreno said.
The competition, which was held Monday and Tuesday, has grown over the years.
“Every year it seems to increase in size,” Moreno said.
First-time competitor James Taylor submitted three songs in the music division. One of the songs he submitted, “God Bless the American Soldier” he wrote in four days.
Moreno said veterans have so much to express about their experiences in life and in the service.
“There’s so much creativity out there. There’s a real need for this,” she said.
A lot of veterans have used arts to help them deal with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and pain, Moreno said.
“Having alternative ways of being able to express themselves, outside of medicine, it gets them around others socially,” Moreno said.
The art division of the competition includes fine art, applied art, and kits. Kits are given to veterans while they are in the hospital as a creative outlet to concentrate on during and after their hospital stay.
Lockwood, a national finalist in last year’s competition, entered three pieces in the art division as well as submitting work in the music and creative writing divisions.
“I built a ukulele with an eagle and feathers. I sculpted a dragon. I took four kits and made a clock out of them,” he said.
Wanda Lockwood, C.J.’s wife, entered in the music and applied art division.
“I entered a beadwork piece that was framed. I sang three songs, two with a group and one solo,” she said.
The Lockwoods were two of the three chosen to be invited to the national competition last year.
Moreno said she is proud of having past finalists from the area.
“It’s a real honor. Out of thousands of veterans, 120 get invited,” she said. “I am really pleased we had nine people place in the top three, and three people were invited.”
Moreno holds an “open studio” time at the Jack C. Montgomery auditorium from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. every Monday. She said all veterans who are interested in any area of the arts are invited to the open studio time.
“They get to show something that is a part of them through art work or creativity. They can express a part of themselves to others,” Moreno said.
Reach E.I. Hillin at (918) 684-2926 or firstname.lastname@example.org.