By David Simpson
Kim McCoy was well into a career as a fundraiser in 2017 when, for pleasure, she started making art. One day she drew an oil pastel image that struck her as especially potent.
“When I saw my emotions on the page looking back at me, it transformed my connection with those feelings," said the 44-year-old Virginia Beach woman.
Her art, she saw, was more than a hobby. It was a
way to reveal – and heal.
“I realized how powerful it was, and it made me realize that I wanted to help other people have an experience like that,” she said.
That insight eventually led her to leave a solid job as associate director of development for the Virginia Arts Festival and pursue a newfound dream: becoming an art therapist.
She set her sights on gaining acceptance into Eastern Virginia Medical School’s Master of Science in Art Therapy and Counseling program. But first, she needed to pick up prerequisites to supplement her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Colorado. For the art credits, she chose Old Dominion University.
“I could have gone to a bunch of different places,” McCoy said, “but ODU’s visual art program is very strong.”
She found the faculty especially so. Associate Professor John Roth and Adjunct Instructor Mark Miltz had a profound effect on her art, attracting her to sculpture and oil painting, respectively.
“The teachers pushed us with their directives and also helped cultivate ideas that we had instead of trying to make us conform to what their ideas were,” McCoy said.
Roth challenged her to make a big sculptural installation – much bigger than she had envisioned. The result, “Patterns of Love,” occupies a vast space in the Learning Commons at Perry Library. Inspired by the types of love we experience, the colorful work consists of metal chair springs, steel, manila rope, reclaimed acrylic and cotton textiles, and nearly 7 miles of thread.
Roth, the chair of the Art Department, said he is “continuously amazed at Kim’s indefatigable curiosity for process and materials. This has made her a joy to work with and reinforces the reasons I love teaching.”
Another work by McCoy was exhibited in the Slover Library in downtown Norfolk and in the Barry Arts Building rotunda. Titled “Hear Their Voices,” the assemblage constitutes “a prayer for victims of human trafficking,” a passion of hers.
Her first ODU classes made her want to be an artist, she said. And though she has finished her 21-credit-hour undergraduate art requirement, McCoy still sculpts and paints.
“I haven’t stopped,” she said. “Being an artist isn’t just about talent. It’s about perseverance.”
Last fall, McCoy took her first step toward becoming a licensed professional counselor and registered art therapist, starting her master’s degree studies at EVMS.
"It’s a great program,” she said. “People come from all over the country.”
One reason is that it prepares students to be counselors as well as art therapists. Another reason: It covers not just one theory of art therapy but all current accepted theories, she said. For now, she's focusing on gestalt, Jung and existentialism, “and then I’m going to also incorporate cognitive behavioral processes when needed, depending on the dynamic of clients I’m working with.”
That mix could change, she said, as she goes through the program. Along the way, she’ll spend three required internships with local organizations. Each stint will serve a different population: young children, adolescents or older adults. She’ll use art to help her clients heal mentally, emotionally and physically.
The master’s program has been immersive and intriguing, she said.
“There’s so much to theories and counseling and the neurobiology that happens between the mind and art. It’s really incredible to see how different visual art expressions can really impact the mind in different ways. It’s fascinating to me. I’m learning so much.”
Just as at ODU, she said, EVMS professors help students find their own path.
"Our faculty is excellent in cultivating our identities of how we see ourselves becoming therapists and also in training us to be ethical through the process. I really love that.”