The EVMS Arts for Optimal Health Program is hosted by the Graduate Art   Therapy and Counseling Program in the EVMS School of Health Professions. The   new program’s mission is to bring art therapy and arts engagement services to the   community for wellness, healing and growth, supported through partnerships for   education, research and patient care.                                                                     




First and Second-year students with Program Director, Dr. Mary Roberts, at an internship with Norfolk Street Choir Project during the fall 2020.



 Current Projects:

EVMS Arts for Optimal Health will host Visual Conversations: Community Resilience over Violence in four cities in South Hampton Roads.  The Hope and Healing grant provided by UWSHR was in response to the November 22, 2022 mass shooting at a Walmart in Chesapeake.   EVMS AOHP is one of 16 organizations to receive grant funding.

This project, developed by Dr. Mary Roberts in the Art Therapy and Counseling, MS program targets prevention in our community through education and expressive arts workshops. These workshops are free and open to individuals (14 and older).  The workshops begin with a 30-minute presentation about topics related to Gun Violence, Trauma Informed Care, Mentoring Youth, and Fostering Resiliency.  Topics will be presented by EVMS Master of Public Health and EVMS Art Therapy and Counseling faculty.  Following each presentation, participants will reflect through art making and discussion facilitated by an art therapist.

Dinner will be provided and workshops will take place 5:15-8:00pm at the following locations:

Indian River Community Center
Mondays, July 17, 24, 31 and August 7

Slover Library
Tuesdays, August 29, September 5, 12, 26

Virginia Beach
Virginia MOCA
Thursdays, February 15, 22, 29 and March 14


Registration is required and space is limited to 30 participants. 

Contact for more information, or register here




This project is made possible by the United Way of South Hampton Roads Hope and Healing Grant



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Racism is a Public Health Crisis: We Must A.R.T. (Articulate, Review and Tackle) is a collaborative community arts workshop series developed by NSU and EVMS faculty to support public awareness of the impact of racism on the health and wellbeing of communities of color. This workshop series is specifically designed for healthcare professionals who are critical to ensuring equity in healthcare. Each workshop will include a 30-minute presentation followed by reflective art-making facilitated by an art therapist. Topics will include the impact of racism on (1) stress, (2) obesity, and (3) cardiovascular disease & hypertension among the African American community. The A.R.T. project is made possible by the Joint School of Public Health Initiative, Center for Excellence in Minority Health Disparities and the Center for Public Health Initiatives at NSU. 

Sessions are open to students as well community health professionals and will be held at EVMS Lester Hall Room 104S, 6:00pm-8:30pm. 

Free to attend and food is provided.

November 6th   Stress as a Result of Racism presented by Dr. Ernestine A.W. Duncan

November 13th  Cardiovascular Disease and Hypertension as a Result of Racism presented by Dr. Keith Newby

November 20th  Obesity as a Result of Racism presented by Dr. Khaliah I. Wilson

Register at:



The Arts for Optimal Health Program provides art therapy services through sponsored projects through private, local, state, and federal partnerships which are assessed by program evaluation. 



Healing Virginia Beach - An Expressive Arts Project at MOCA (Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art) 

The EVMS Healing VB: An Expressive Arts Project at MOCA (Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, Virginia Beach, VA) was launched in October 2019. The unique partnership provided EVMS art therapists, Geoffrey Thompson, PhD, LPAT, ATR-BC and Lisa Thomas, MS, Resident in Counseling, ATR-P with space in the community to facilitate Healing VB, assisting individuals directly and indirectly impacted by the mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Courthouse on May 31, 2019. The aim of the community expressive arts sessions is to make art and share experiences related to the mass shooting and community violence in a safe space facilitated by professionals who are trained to work with the community and trauma.  Sessions are usually held on the last Monday of each month. 

The funding for this project ended in January 2021, participants were encouraged to continue art making practices for coping and linked to other community supports.  The Healing VB Project would not be possible without the generous gifts from donors in the community.


Department of Veterans Services Project

The DVS project is aimed at promoting services to assist with reintegration into the civilian community, as well as improving quality of life, decreasing distress, increasing resilience and managing symptoms of mental illness.

Group and individual art therapy will be offered through the new project. Open Studio Art Therapy Groups for these veterans and military service members March 2018 through June 2020 at EVMS. Groups at other locations in Newport News and Portsmouth began Fall 2018.

EVMS Pulse Article: Veterans will benefit from new EVMS Art Therapy service



AOHP and the GATCP facilitate partnerships to encourage art therapy and counseling students to invest in their community, to fulfill the mission of EVMS to have a community focus, and to promote arts engagement for wellness and healing.


Desistance Theatre Project

The Desistance Theatre Project is a free opportunity for non-violent, adult, male ex-offendrs in Hampton Roads to participate in a peer-supportive, collaborative, expressive arts/theatre group.  It helps ex-offenders to better understand their own experience; to see themselves as actors rather than spectators, as people with agency and control; and to take positive control of their situation. 


Norfolk Street Choir Project

The Norfolk Street Choir Project has, from its inception, embraced artistic expression as a vehicle for building community and affirming the human worth and dignity of those affected by homelessness, poverty, physical and mental health difficulties, incarceration and public disenfranchisement.  Partnering with the Arts for Optimal Health Program (AOHP) and engaging the Graduate Art Therapy and Counseling Program's faculty and students, participants are guided to relate the art processes to metaphors for life, seek enjoyment, and share intentions and experiences related to their art products.

Engaging in expressive arts allows participants to be witnessed and to witness others, much like the experiences of singing together, engaging in artmaking will provide a community of support and expression. Artworks will communicate their stories and experiences, which when guided by art therapist and art therapy students, will be therapeutic and meet their needs to navigate their unique difficulties. The healing power of arts engagement is the heart of this collaboration. In the future, we hope to combine arts expression to include the visual arts along with our existing choir and musical arts.

Beneath the Surface: Visual Conversations about Race in Hampton Roads

An art-based workshop developed to engage community members in exploring the history of race and racial disparity in Hampton Roads. This one day workshop will include a panel of local historians sharing the history of race in the area, followed by community art making led by a local art therapist. Art making will focus on creating a response to history, examining present day needs, and exploring future transformation.




Visual Conversations: Exploring Privilege and Oppression

This art-based workshop aims to support community members in learning about, acknowledging and responding to the topic of privilege and oppression in a four-part art-based workshop series. Each session will include a 30-minute presentation on topics related to privilege, oppression, intersectionality, gender identity, colorism and sexual orientation. Following each presentation, participants will reflect through art making facilitated by an art therapist.




The AOHP provides education for community members about mental illness, special populations, and the benefits of art therapy. Arts engagement and art therapy advocacy are a primary focus for educating our community.


The GATCP faculty partner with various groups to research the efficacy and benefits for wellness and healing of art therapy and arts engagement. Current proposals are in the development process and once approved by the IRB they will be posted.