Emma Hitchcock Creates Art for the Heart
The path we take to our passions is often unpredictable. Emma Hitchcock was a standout three-sport athlete at Tandem Friends School in Charlottesville when she suffered a concussion while playing soccer during her senior year. “I started to paint, and rediscovered my passion for art,” she said.
The passion continued after her recovery. “At my high school, we had a lot of opportunities to do service work. I volunteered at the downtown Charlottesville homeless shelter The Haven, where my friends and I would cook meals for the residents once a month. Through that experience, I came to realize that engaging in community development was something that I valued and wanted to pursue.”
Her college advisor recommended her for a program called NewGen Peacebuilders, an international organization that helps connect high school and college students with social justice initiatives in their communities.
"I fell in love with the idea of working for social justice causes in Charlottesville. My peers Max Beers, Elise Rebellato, Zadie Lacy, and I wanted to focus on breaking down the dehumanization of the homeless members of our community. After meeting with the directors of The Haven and doing research, we proposed using art as a tool for connection."
Hitchcock and her friends created Art for the Heart, a nonprofit dedicated to making art accessible. They hosted art therapy programs at The Haven that invited residents to come together to create art and build relationships. "We didn't know what to expect. Despite our research and planning, in the end, it didn't matter whether we thought our program was good or not. What mattered was how our participants felt," she said. The first event drew three women, Hitchcock remembered.
“I didn’t know how much or little they would want to interact with us. During our planning process, we made it a priority to actively resist presenting ourselves as authorities that were going to ‘help’ the homeless. We tried to view the sessions as a time to create, talk, and learn.”
Despite initial doubt, the women were generous, hilarious, and enthusiastic. One of the women worked with Hitchcock to create a drawing for her grandson while others taught each other how to crochet. The workshops grew from there, with the participants engaging in all kinds of conversations surrounding topics ranging from music to movies to random aspects of everyday life. “It didn’t have to revolve around their homelessness,” Hitchcock said. “We were just hanging out as friends.”
The organization took a significant step forward last spring when Hitchcock and Lacy pitched during the Social Innovation Challenge at the Tom Tom Festival Youth Summit and won. The reward was admission to the iLab Incubator Program at The Darden School. "We never expected to have these opportunities," Hitchcock said. "The mentors we had and the businesses we were surrounded by were amazing." The experience brought invaluable lessons on the business side of the nonprofit world, including networking and marketing. "The iLab definitely helped us realize that this was something that we could make sustainable outside of myself and the original founders."
Hitchcock continued her focus on community activism at the University as a first-year in 2018. She worked with an art-based mentorship program through Madison House and presented at NewGen Peacebuilders events across the state. Hitchcock is hoping to launch a new round of Art for the Heart programming in partnership with Madison House later this year. She was chosen as a J. Sanford Miller Family Arts Scholar and began with the program at the start of this academic year.
“I am really excited for this opportunity because I will get to learn from fellow arts students about their experiences and hopefully discover new ways to unite art and social change.”