IRON MOUNTAIN — Twelve Veterans from the U.P. and northern Wisconsin receiving treatment at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center are participating in the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.
While the Veteran’s Administration holds the festival every year, the Iron Mountain-based center is bringing it back for the first time in several years.
“It’s very self empowering to allow these veterans their own modality of delivering their own stories,” said Fernando Chavarria, a VA peer support specialist and co-coordinator of this year’s local festival. “This is them, this is their message, the way they chose to share it with us.”
There are different submission categories in the festival, and many of the individual pieces fit in multiple categories. A panel of five judges will score each piece based on a scorecard from the national competition.
About 80 to 90 percent of these submissions will have the opportunity to receive first place in their category. Submissions that place first locally will advance to the nation level competition being held in Des Moines, Iowa October 29th to November 5th.
One of the submissions, made by John Yrjana, is a model of an early 1900’s church and school. The U.S. Marines Veteran originally made the model for his grandson, but staff encouraged him to enter it into the festival.
He said he put over 100 hours into creating it.
“It’s made out of all Popsicle sticks and everything works in the school yard – the teeter-tooter teeters and the merry go rounds make you merry,” said Yrjana. “I’ll get a ski hill for next year, maybe.”
Another submission is a solo dramatic prose, performed by Michael O’Leary, a Veteran of the U.S. Air Force. While it looks like just a piece of paper in a frame, if you scan the QR code with your smart phone, it takes you to the video of the performance. O’Leary selected Shakespeare’s “Feast of Crispian” for his submission.
“I think that it’s a great thing that the Veteran’s Administration does. This gives us an excellent opportunity to be able to present ourselves to the world, and other than the disabled form that we may appear to them, we’re more than that, and it gives us a chance to be more,” said O’Leary.
The 17 entries will be on display until April 30th in the Community Living Center at the VA Medical Center.