By Kim Siebert MacPhail

Bedford Television's Executive Director Madeleine Altman (r) with musicians from the Bedford VA

Bedford VA’s recreational therapist Leah Sullivan (l) and Bedford Television’s Executive Director Madeleine Altman (r) with one of the musicians from the Bedford VA  Image (c) Bedford TV

In mid-March, a steady stream of veterans came through the doors of the Bedford Television studio to record the poetry and short story readings and creative dance and musical performances that are submissions to the 2013 National Veterans Creative Arts Competition. Bedford Television began working with the recreational therapy program at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital four years ago in a collaborative effort that benefits both organizations, not to mention the participating veterans.

VA recreational therapist Leah Sullivan says that Bedford Television’s involvement has been crucial to the success of the program.

“The most vital part is capturing quality sound, video and still images of the art that we send in—whether it’s performing art or visual art,” Sullivan said. “We just don’t have the equipment to do the artwork justice, so that’s where the Bedford TV studio comes in—and really brings it home for us—to help our veterans shine and help their artwork show true to what it is.

“Before Bedford TV became involved, we did the festival for two years without anyone qualifying nationally,” Sullivan added. “But as a result of having their help for the last four years, we’ve had someone qualify—or multiple people qualify—every single year. We’re just really lucky to have their support.”

Sullivan went on to describe how the association between the VA and Bedford TV first developed. It started when a veterans’ musical group called M.A.S.S. Exodus (Musical Artists Staying Sober) came to the notice of Bedford TV Director Madeleine Altmann. When the group later started to perform in the national arts showcase, the studio offered resources to help them and the other artists succeed.

“Madeleine is so warm and accepting to all our veterans, even with all the complications we may have, which is so wonderful because [the Bedford TV studio is] really a judgment-free environment,” said Sullivan. “The veterans come here and they feel special. It’s rewarding on so many levels.”

In all, the national competition includes 120 categories in all aspects of performing arts and 53 categories of visual arts, including media such as oil painting, leatherwork, and paint-by-number kits. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs website, medical facilities “use the creative arts as one form of rehabilitative treatment to help Veterans recover from and cope with physical and emotional disabilities.”

“The Veterans Creative Arts Festival is something that we do every year, and we don’t always have secured funds for it; we have to do fundraising and function, basically, on donations,” Sullivan added. The 2013 national competition will be in Reno, Nevada, October 21-27.

Regarding Bedford TV’s role, Director Madeleine Altmann says that the association with the VA hospital and veterans has been mutually beneficial.

“We welcome veterans to train with us vocationally so they can add videography and video editing to their list of skills,” Altmann said. “Often, all they can be [without additional types of training] is EMTs.

“It’s really been great, but it’s taken me 3 to 4 years to finally get in there, showing our good faith,” Altmann added. “We say to the VA, ‘We’re here to help you to showcase the art,’ along the lines of ‘You serve, you deserve.’ They deserve a voice, they deserve to be showcased, they deserve to get as much free publicity and free support [as possible] from us. We’re incredibly happy to do it—grateful and happy.”

To see this year’s Bedford VA Veterans Creative Arts musical performance finalists, visit:

For the spoken word finalists, see:

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