With over 1,200 health care facilities employing tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, medical assistants, and administrators, the Department of Veterans Affairs operates the country’s largest health care system and provides direct care to millions of veterans.
Here in the Boston area, the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital, founded in Bedford in 1928, provides inpatient care and outpatient services in Bedford and at other outpatient clinics. Part of their services—as at many other VA hospitals—is creative arts therapy.
We spoke with Nadene Stillings, a Creative Arts Therapist and Outpatient Recreation Therapy Coordinator at the Bedford Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Bedford VAMC), about arts therapy programs at the facility. Nadene is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a Board Certified Art Therapist who has a Master of Arts degree in Art Therapy and Mental Health Counseling from Lesley University in Cambridge.
The Bedford VAMC typically offers individual and group art programs to hundreds of veterans each year. Participants range in age from 20 to a 96 year-old who is a regular attendee. “Intergenerational conversation and collaboration is a goal of the program,” Nadene Stillings told us, “and empowerment of the arts is another goal.” For the past year, limited programs have been offered online.
Nadene, an Army veteran herself, also serves as the National Fine Arts Chairperson for the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival and Competition. This annual event for veterans, held since 1981, includes visual, performing, and literary arts in multiple subcategories. Thousands of participating artists compete at local levels, and gold medal winners are invited to the national festival. At the national event, performers put on a USO-style show, and other artists display their work and participate in workshops. “It’s like art camp for veterans,” Nadene told us.
As artists and art advocates, we’re pleased to see the healing power of the arts recognized by our country’s largest healthcare provider—and to such a deserving group of patients and participants.
Pictured: (top) Performers rehearse at the 2019 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival in Kalamazoo, Mich. Click here for more event photos. (below) Battle, an acrylic painting by Stanislaw Slanda, won first place in Bedford and was on display for the 2020 virtual festival. Click here for more 2020 photos.