Close up of group of adults having a discussion. Text: Beneath the Surface, Conversations about Race in Hampton Roads

A series of upcoming art-based workshops will give members of the Hampton Roads community the chance to thoughtfully explore the history of race and racial disparity in the region with the guidance of local historians and professional art therapists.

“Beneath the Surface: Visual Conversations about Race in Hampton Roads” begins Saturday, Sept. 25, at the Portsmouth Art and Cultural Center. The series, which will continue with three additional workshops later this year in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Suffolk, is made possible by a grant from Virginia Humanities and the Hampton Roads Community Foundation.

Each session will include a panel discussion led by local historians, followed by a group discussion and art-making facilitated by a professional art therapist associated with EVMS Art Therapy and Counseling.

The idea for the workshops blossomed in November 2020 after Art Therapy and Counseling faculty members became aware of the Beneath the Surface Grant opportunity, says Eileen Douglas, PhD, LPC, ATR-BC (ATC '10), Assistant Professor in the School of Health Professions.

“Following the murder of George Floyd and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020, the BTS grant application announcement sparked an idea for community engagement and art therapy for social justice,” Dr. Douglas says, noting that art therapists are uniquely suited to lead such workshops.

“Art therapy is a mental health profession that facilitates engagement in the creative process for healing,” she adds. “Art therapists work across the continuum of care for mental health services, including community engagement and social justice. Art therapists who facilitate community engagement and art therapy for social justice are trained in cultural humility, trauma informed practice and conflict resolution to navigate bringing communities together.”

EVMS Art Therapy and Counseling has a long history of community engagement. The EVMS Arts for Optimal Health program, developed by Mary Roberts, PhD, LPC-ACS, ATR-BC, ATCS (ATC ’97), Program Director of the Graduate Art Therapy and Counseling Program and Associate Professor in the School of Health Professions, has facilitated several initiatives in Hampton Roads, including The Department of Veterans Services Project, Healing VB: An Expressive Arts Project, and EVMS Expressive Arts Collaboration with the Norfolk Street Choir Project.

“Beneath the Surface: Visual Conversations about Race in Hampton Roads” builds on and expands that tradition and also gives art therapists a chance to reflect on the roles they play in the community, Dr. Douglas says.

“This grant provides an opportunity to address a genuine need in our community with trained, professional art therapists who understand how to facilitate difficult conversations, navigate the discourses of differences and have experience in bringing diverse groups together to develop cultural humility,” she adds.

Vivian Oden, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion at the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, says the grant program is “a tangible way to demonstrate racial equity in action.”

“The funds will be used to bring people together to continue courageous conversations about race and the history of race in the region,” Ms. Oden adds.

During the Sept. 25 workshop at the Portsmouth Arts and Cultural Center, local historians and authors Mae Breckenridge-Haywood and Edna Hendrix will lead a panel exploring the experience of African Americans in Portsmouth and Virginia Beach, respectively.

“Mae and Edna have extensive knowledge and a gift for sharing the narrative of the local African American experience here in Hampton Roads, and I am honored to have an opportunity to listen to and learn from them,” Dr. Douglas says. “I am also excited to engage the community in art making. Each workshop will be a time to foster reciprocal dialogue among participants centering on responses to history, examination of present day needs in the community and exploration of future transformation through art making and conversation.”  

The first workshop is Saturday, Sept. 25, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Portsmouth Art and Cultural Center. Ages 14 and up are welcome. Minors will need signed parental/guardian permission to participate. Attendance is limited to 30 people. Face masks are required.

For information and to register, email artthrpy@evms.edu or call 446.5895.