Nurturing the spirit through art

Lisa Midgett is launching Arts in Health Ocala Metro, a nonprofit with a goal of helping people heal through the creative arts. Patricia Tomlinson will serve as executive director.

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Posted May 2, 2022 | By Julie Garisto

Leslie Jean Wengler experiencing the healing connection of art with Arts in Medicine at the University of Florida. Pictured with Leslie are Jason Hedges to the left, and Ricky Kendall on the right. [Supplied]

Art heals is a phrase we hear often and studies have concluded that art can indeed be a game-changer when it comes to illness and recovery.

The concept of arts in healing has inspired Ocala arts and civic leader and NOMA Gallery owner Lisa Midgett to begin a new nonprofit organization, Arts in Health Ocala Metro, that will have a mission and goal of helping people heal through the arts.

Midgett has hired Patricia Tomlinson, who will be leaving her position as curator of exhibitions at the Appleton Museum of Art on May 15, as executive director. Development Partner Tina Mullen adds to the leadership triumvirate.

Mullen has worked with the University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine for 31 years. Mullen is retired and lives in Ithaca, New York. She communicates with Midgett and Tomlinson via Zoom. The pioneer and leader in the field of arts in health, director emeritus UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine and adjunct faculty of the UF Center for Arts in Medicine will lend her expertise and ideas to Arts in Health Ocala Metro.

Acknowledging the ephemeral influences of creativity and performance on health, the arts in health studies program at UF has gained traction since it formed in 1999. UF’s Center for Arts in Medicine states on its website: “Arts in health professionals understand how to facilitate creative experiences with patient or participant safety in mind. … Artists in public health settings partner with members of the community alongside public health professionals and social workers to deploy the arts in support of community-wide health and wellbeing.”

Midgett says she experienced the healing power of art when she saw sparks of hope and happiness light up the eyes of friends healing from debilitating illnesses, which stoked a fire in the already impassioned arts advocate. She has been working overtime with the University of Florida to create the Arts in Health Ocala Metro program through the auspices of her and husband’s charitable foundation, The David and Lisa Midgett Foundation.

When Midgett turned 31, a seismic shift in priorities shook her world when her mom died at the age of 59. She said she and David re-evaluated what sparked joy in them and started to put their energy into projects they were passionate about. One of their most prominent endeavors is their art hub, the NOMA Gallery, in the historic former Coca-Cola bottling plant at 939 N Magnolia Ave., Ocala.

Midgett said she has a tendency to try to take on everything herself when she engages in a project but felt this time that it was crucial to get input and participation from experts in the community.

“I realized very quickly as I dove more into the program and learning about it, that I need an executive director,” she said.

“I did not actively recruit Patricia (Tomlinson), but I found out that she was thinking about getting her Ph.D. in arts and health. We discovered that we had both talked to the University of Florida—separately—at the same time,” Midgett explained.

Tomlinson, a personal friend of Midgett’s, sent her an email about the Arts in Health program at UF: ‘Have you heard about this?’

Midgett laughed and responded: “A little bit!”

Their common interest led to the Midgetts recruiting Tomlinson as executive director of Arts in Health Ocala Metro.

Midgett said she courted Tomlinson in March, but she had a project to complete before she could make things official.

“Lisa Midgett is the perfect person to champion this cause because her passion for, and commitment to, the arts is made up of a deep and abiding love,” said Tomlinson. “She intuitively ‘gets’ our fundamental need as human beings to create art and understands the power that art carries, how it can foster community, change lives for the better and aid in health and wellness.”

May 15 is Tomlinson’s last day in her current position at the museum, which she has held for more than five years.

“During the five and a half years I have lived in Florida, I was made aware of wonderful arts in health programs, such as those at the University of Florida, and made a concerted effort to learn more by attending in-person convenings, seminars and other programming, which I continued to do virtually as the COVID-19 crises worsened,” Tomlinson added.

As a result of what Tomlinson called a “growing knowledge base,” she said she has sought to create arts in health programming in all of the professional settings she has worked in, especially after she learned of the large number of veterans who could be assisted in Ocala and Marion County.

According to Midgett, all creatives in all disciplines are encouraged to participate in Arts in Health Ocala Metro. A commitment of time and self-sacrifice is needed.

“If you’re an artist and you’re doing this to further your career, that won’t work,” Midgett warned.

The nonprofit will host a free LAUNCHeon at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 7, at NOMA Gallery, with a meal prepared by the Fiery Chef, to share information about the new organization and its program goals.

“We’re not just looking for artists,” Midgett clarified. “We need healthcare professionals; we need business people, we need anyone who is curious to attend.”

“Use your creativity and expertise to advance health, wellness, and equity as a paid, trained arts in health professional. The Arts in Health Ocala Metro team will help you understand how you can be a part of this innovative new organization,” notes a Facebook post about the event.

Midgett said the panel at the event will include the new leaders of Arts in Health Ocala Metro (Mullen via Zoom), a representative from UF Health Shands and testimonials from people who have benefited from the arts during their healing journey.

The next objective will be training, which will be required for those who wish to be part of the program. Those who are interested should apply quickly because there is a summer intensive at UF in June for artist training.

“There are numerous studies that show the benefits of therapeutic artmaking and, in my 22-year career in the arts, I have seen firsthand how art transforms lives. I look forward to this new artistic endeavor to make a real and lasting difference in people’s health and quality of life in Ocala,” Tomlinson said.

For more information or to register for the LAUNCHeon, find the event on Eventbrite or go to and scan the QR code.

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