Art for the Heart: Unifying The Homeless and Housed of Charlottesville Through Art


For Emma Hitchcock and Zadie Lacy, founders of Art for the Heart, art has been central in both of their lives. “We’re both very involved with art,” says Emma. “We use it as a way to de-stress and relax. We thought that it would be a great positive thing to bring to the homeless people here in Charlottesville as a positive way to release their emotions and stresses.” 

“Our inspiration for Art for the Heart came from living in Charlottesville and seeing the interactions between the housed and homeless populations of our city,” Zadie adds. “What we saw was that the vast majority of interactions were really negative. We want to break down those social barriers and create a more inclusive community.”

Emma and Zadie host their art therapy workshops on Friday mornings at The Haven, a “multi-resource day shelter for people facing homelessness,” as enunciated by their website. By working in a main hub for the homeless, Art for the Heart is bringing their efforts directly to the homeless population of the city. 


The research around art as a form of therapy has shown promise for the medium as a beneficial mental exercise. “For some people, art therapy may be a more acceptable alternative form of psychological therapy than more standard forms of treatment, such as talking therapies,” states a 2013 study published in the BMC Psychiatry medical journal. After a series of clinical trials, the majority of trial groups “reported [the] benefits of art therapy, includ[ing] increased understanding of self and expression of feelings.” (Uttley L., Scope A., Stevenson M., et al.)

Furthermore, a “study on studies” regarding art as therapy released in 2010 and published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association found “statistically significant findings with larger sample groups” from a 2006 follow-up study on art therapy with sexually abused children and adolescents (T. Pifalo) and a 2000 study of teenagers at risk for long-term behavioral problems (Saunders & Saunders). 


However, for Zadie and Emma, their workshop is focused on providing a human factor for the homeless, who are finding it increasingly difficult to find low-income housing. Cities are also ramping up homelessness criminalization laws, as reported by the University of California-Berkeley Political Review

Art for the Heart is providing a place for the homeless to find artistic release, but also bringing the housed people of Charlottesville to their workshops to paint their homeless participants in a different light.

“Art for the Heart is really about starting these difficult conversations around homelessness, building relationships, and creating a positive community that’s inclusive of everyone,” Emma explains. 

“From an ideological perspective, opening up people’s minds is so powerful,” says Zadie. “Making them realize, ‘Oh, I can relate to this person even though we come from different backgrounds,’ or ‘This person is nothing how I imagined them to be in my head,’ those are the kind of revelations we want to facilitate with art.”


You can read more about Art for the Heart on their website,, and follow them on  Instagram. You can also view the art made by summer workshop participants on the Art for the Heart portfolio, or contact Art for the Heart here


About the Team

Emma Hitchcock (left) and Zadie Lacy (right) are rising college freshmen. The two are graduates of the New Generation Peacebuilders program run by the Rotary Club and winners of the Youth Social Innovation Pitch at the Tom Tom Founders Festival. Emma and Zadie are both staying in Virginia, attending the University of Virginia and the University of Mary Washington, respectively, and are planning on continuing their work on Art for the Heart in the future.

About the Author

Christopher Nelson is a rising second year at New York University in Shanghai, China. He has experience in business operations as well as legal research and contract work. Christopher is currently interning at the UVA Darden School of Business Innovation Lab this summer as an interviewer and journalist.

All photos in this article were provided by Art for the Heart. View the full portfolios of summer workshop artwork on their website.