Christina Vasquez was the first art therapist at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita, Kan. At that time, many creative arts initiatives had been postponed or reduced due to staff turnover. Christina knew she would have to be an advocate for the return of these programs because of the profound impact art can have on our nation’s heroes.
“Art is the great equalizer when it comes to language. You are able to express that which cannot be said with words,” Christina said. “It closes the generational and language gaps and provides a sacred space of oneness.”
In January 2018, a male veteran presented Christina with the idea of hosting a Veterans Creative Arts Festival at the Robert J. Dole VAMC to showcase his poetry. They held a small reception that fall, with just six veteran artists. They worked hard to promote a larger event the following year, and in February 2019, had triple the number of artists participating.
“It was at this time that the American Legion Auxiliary caught sight of the prosperous work we were doing here at the Robert J. Dole VAMC,” Christina said.
“Collaborating with representatives from the unit and district, we applied for an [American Legion Auxiliary Foundation] grant with the hopes of providing creative materials, awards, and display items for the exhibit.”
They received the grant through ALA Kansas District 5, which helped grow and expand the program from the first to the second year – impacting more than 30 veteran artists and almost 200 spectators.
“The success can be attributed to the support of the American Legion Auxiliary Foundation, enhanced visibility through social media, news outlets, and an expanded team approach through the establishment of the Veteran Arts Initiative Committee,” Christina said.
The impact of this program was profound for veterans, but it also brought Christina’s community together in a way she didn’t expect.
“This event was a culmination of love in action. From the start of our interaction with the veterans, they felt supported and affirmed. When the community showed up to witness their work, they responded with smiles from ear to ear,” Christina said.
“We, as one community, held space for our veterans and they for us so that we could peruse their bold and tenacious marks on the page and words to be held.”
To support initiatives like this, make a gift to the Veterans Creative Arts Festival fund here: https://donate.legion-aux.org/CSiDonate/Give.aspx/BSGV4IKL#c or apply for a VCAF grant for your program at www.ALAFoundation.org/grants.