Meet Keith Jeffreys of United States Veterans’ Artists Alliance

Today we’d like to introduce you to Keith Jeffreys.

Keith, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?

We started USVAA in 2004 as a Los Angeles focused, multi-disciplinary arts organization designed to assist military veterans in the arts and entertainment industry. We originally called the organization the Los Angeles Veterans’ Artists Alliance, but by 2007 realized we needed to expand into a national organization.

In 2011 USVAA added a humanities component and is now a nationally recognized, award-winning arts advocacy non-profit with a wide range of programs designed to both bolster and highlight the work of veterans who are or have been, professionally engaged in the arts, humanities and entertainment industry.

Our programs are designed to accomplish our mission to serve veterans working in the creative economy in great part by emphasizing the integration of the arts and humanities. We strive to ensure that our colleagues understand the ways each discipline informs other forms. For example, it is helpful for our colleagues to understand how our theater and photography programs dovetail with our work to promote the work of our colleagues like film directors Keith Kopp (US Army), Aimee Morgan (US Army), and Melissa Ritz (USAF), along with writers Jalysa Conway (USAF) and Brian Anthony (US Army) – all industry professionals.

As a non-profit organization, we provide individualized service to over 300 colleagues (not all listed on our website) and artists nationally who work in all aspects of the creative economy – all free of charge. Through our programs, military veterans are invited to participate in USVAA’s fine arts, photography, theater, television, film and literature programs.

Our programs are nationally recognized and allow USVAA as an organization and individual colleagues to work closely with other Los Angeles-based arts programs like The Writers Guild Foundation’s annual Veterans Writing Weekend Retreat, LACMA’s Veterans Make Movies Program, The Actors’ Gang (acting associates), Field & Stream/Dick’s Sporting Goods (illustration and product design), Chapman University (If All the Sky Were Paper: War Letters Presentation at the Kirk Douglas Theatre 2014-1017), Cal Humanities War Comes Home program, The California Arts Council’s Veterans in the Arts Program and many other smaller programs that feature our colleagues, including television and movie productions like Grey’s Anatomy, Neither Wolf Nor Dog, The Brink and many others.

USVAA has also worked closely with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s 10,000 Strong, veterans hiring program and from 2011 to present with The State of California Assembly, The State of Maine, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, The City of Los Angeles, and Culver City and LACMA to recognize November 1st of each year as Veterans In The Arts and Humanities Day, a unique USVAA program designed to highlight the talent of creative veterans both past and present and bolster a sense of pride in all veterans in the lead-up each year to Veterans Day.

In 2017 USVAA was recognized by the Phi Beta Kappa Society, America’s oldest and one of the most respected honor societies in the country, for our work in the arts and humanities. As a result of our Veterans In the Arts and Humanities Day initiative in the City of Los Angeles, we received Phi Beta Kappa’s Cities of Distinction Award for USVAA’s “innovative efforts to build community connections through the arts.”

Our Pen, Brush and Sword, unique web-series currently in production to highlight both the work of veterans currently engaged in the arts, humanities and entertainment industry stands out as well. The series is designed to highlight the work of both our colleagues like Alicia Dietz (US Army), Jalysa Conway (USAF), Roberto Carlos Zea (USMC) and Christopher Sweeney (USMC), but also veterans like Buster Keaton, Humphrey Bogart, Morgan Freeman, Lou Rawls, Willie Nelson, Charles Willson Peale, Kurt Vonnegut,, Jr. Julia Child, Rod Serling, Horrace Pippin, Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein.

USVAA is also dedicated to maintaining a robust Theatre Program and views theater as necessary and foundational work for our colleagues who work in the industry as actors, writers and directors. Our productions feature military veterans in key roles and are designed ensure the contributions of veterans stand out. Our past productions include, Zoo Story and Bug (LA Weekly Pick of the Week); Tracers (LA Weekly Recommend and Pick of the Week and LA Times Review); The Long Way Home with John DiFusco; If All The Sky Were Paper with Annette Bening, Laura Dern, Melissa Ritz(USAF), Lorna Duyn (USAF), Gary Cole, Jim Beaver (USMC) and Christopher Sweeney (USMC).

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?

There have been a few rough spots along the way mostly related to matching resources to objectives. It has forced us to step back and reassess our mission both in the short and long-term.

The biggest difficulty we’ve faced has been with the public’s preconceived ideas about who we are as veterans engaged in creative endeavors. For whatever reason, a portion of American society does not understand that veterans are extremely talented artists, actors, photographers, writers, directors, playwrights, etc. Yes, some veterans have health issues related to their military service and we take those issues seriously. But the vast majority of the veterans we work with are just like everybody else and have interests in the arts and entertainment industry that are as wide-ranging as any other person.

Our mission is to overcome those ideas and the negativity that sometimes exists and get people to see and think differently about us, what we do and the contributions veterans have made historically to the arts and humanities.

Please tell us about United States Veterans’ Artists Alliance.

USVAA’s programs are designed to accomplish our mission to serve veterans working in the creative economy — in great part by emphasizing the integration of the arts and humanities. We strive to ensure that our colleagues understand the ways each discipline informs other forms. For example, it is helpful for our colleagues to understand how our theater and photography programs dovetail with our work to promote the work of our colleagues like film directors Keith Kopp (US Army), Aimee Morgan (US Army), and Melissa Ritz (USAF), along with writers Jalysa Conway (USAF) and Brian Anthony (US Army) – all industry professionals.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?

We’ve learned a lot over the years. It’s important to understand we started the organization at the height of the wars in Iraq and AfPak and we felt we needed to be able to assist veterans that would be coming back and those who were working in the creative economy already. So we jumped into it and started the organization. We’ve always focused on the mission, no matter the obstacles.

Text by VoyageLA Staff

Photographs courtesy of USVAA