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Veterans' arts festival begins today in Salt Lake

The annual nationwide Veterans Creative Arts Festival, which is held in a different location each year, is in Salt Lake City for its 2004 event.

The eight-day activity, with workshops and tours for hundreds of visiting military veterans, begins today in the Marriott University Park Hotel.

The festival winds up next weekend with two major public events — an art exhibit at Gardner Hall and a musical revue hosted by Jane Powell in Kingsbury Hall. Both events are the result of a yearlong talent competition and are free. (Tickets are required for the vaudeville-show style revue; phone 584-1252.)

Works by two Salt Lake veterans are among the pieces on display in Gardner Hall: "Playground," a graphics work by John E. Pace, and "Mountain Man Bag Set," a collection of needlecraft items by Stephen Kimmerling.

During the days leading up to the art show and revue, visiting veterans will tour Park City and Red Butte Garden and will attend a Mormon Tabernacle Choir performance. They'll also attend classes in watercolor painting, sand art and clay sculpture, all taught by local artists.

Nearly 2,950 veterans from VA facilities across the country entered the contest, with 142 earning an invitation to participate in the Salt Lake City festival, hosted by the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System.

The art exhibit will be 6 to 7:15 p.m., followed by the stage show at 7:30 p.m.

Powell, who has been mistress of ceremonies for five previous productions, is a former MGM screen star best known for her roles in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and "Royal Wedding." She has also performed on Broadway (in "Irene") and toured the country in several stage productions.

The author of an autobiography, "The Girl Next Door and How She Grew," Powell's most recent project is an exercise video for the Arthritis Foundation and speaking on the lecture circuit about fitness in the golden years.

Also expected to attend the festival is actress Bo Derek, who is national honorary chairman for the VA's National Rehabilitation Special Events. Best known for her 1979 movie "10," she is actively involved in therapy and rehab efforts for veterans and Canine Companions for Independence, an organization that works to enhance the lives of disabled people by providing them trained assistance dogs.