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‘Art With Heart’ draws together creativity, social distancing

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A new Las Cruces project called Art With Heart is getting participants outdoors and giving them a way to be creative while staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s producing unique, beautiful and permanent art for everyone to enjoy.

The project started March 18, as Las Cruces Public Schools elementary art teacher Matthew Reiter and his wife, Las Cruces artist Megan McQueen, were walking down the railroad tracks crossing Hoagland Road near their home east of Mayfield High School.

There is a regular smattering of tagging around that area, but that day they noticed a swastika and a crossed-out Star of David, McQueen said.

“We were very upset,” Reiter said. “We didn't want it to simply be painted over. We wanted to counter its negative message. My wife and I wrote a letter to the distant neighbor we’d never met whose fence it was on and left it on her house. She responded with the most lovely words of encouragement on Saturday.”

Here is the text message from the property owner, Wanda Saip, to Reiter and McQueen: “…It’s very kind of you to offer to paint over the graffiti that is on my back wall. It’s so sad to see people doing these sort of things, but feel free to do what you like to get your message out there. If you need some help, please let me know. Thanks for caring.”

“That day, we used leftover paints from our garage and made the first murals,” Reiter said. “Since then, friends have joined us, and we've created murals nearly every day. We want to line the railroad with hundreds of positive messages at this troubling time.”

That evening, Saip posted an appreciative message about the incident to the Facebook group Las Cruces Community Watch, McQueen said. Within a day, the post had nearly 800 likes and 44 shares.

“THIS. This is what we should all be doing,” was the message from Sheila Simms Telles. “Turn negative into positive.”

“Love it need more individuals with talent to step up and share the love not the hate,” said Art With Heart Facebook group member John Reese.

“Our neighbors are aglow with this momentum of artistry,” McQueen said. “We've already painted about 18 pieces on the walls that line the railroad tracks crossing Hoagland between the bike path and McClure. It seems something beautiful can safely rise out of this moment of global anxiety and tragedy,” she said. The Facebook group ‘Art With Heart’ in Cruces now includes 255 members.

Art With Heart participants are painting each day, but doing so very cautiously, McQueen said. “It is of utmost importance … that we do not endanger anyone by doing this project,” she said. “Please, take great precautions in bringing materials, in interacting with others, etc. While it is our understanding that being outside without coming within 10 feet of anyone else remains beneficial for our health, we must each be individually responsible for responding to the governor's orders, updates from the Center for Disease Control and information from the World Health Organization.”

McQueen said anyone is welcome to a “canvas,” or “donated” section of cinderblock wall to paint. “People have worked with the household they are socially distancing with, or many have worked alone or many feet from friends,” she said.

Here is how people can help and participate:

Paint on the approved walls

  • “Message us and we will notify you of an approved area to paint,” McQueen said. “We have dozens of approved ‘canvases.’”
  • If you decide to paint, you will get directions to a numbered area. “Please practice social distancing while working on your area,” McQueen said. “Your household may interact as you see fit, but do not approach other participants.”
  • Plan to leave the area in equal or better condition than it began in. Clean up after yourself.
  • Make sure whatever you choose to paint is positive and family friendly.
  • Paint only during daylight hours.

Donate paint

  • Message the project if you have paint to donate.
  • “We prefer you do not go to stores and buy paints or supplies,” McQueen said, “because that would increase social interaction. Rather, if you have old paints or brushes, think of this as a way of spring cleaning.”
  • “Practicing safe social distancing, we will coordinate receiving your donation,” she said. “You can message us your address and leave the paint outside your home for us to pick up. We can message a time when we'll be available while painting and you can drop it by on the ditch.”

Grow the project

  • Volunteer a wall on your property to be painted.
  • Send a message and McQueen and Reiter will coordinate volunteers to paint your location when there are enough available.
  • Invite others to join the group.
  • Share on your own social media platforms: #ArtWithHeartinCruces, #DontHateCREATE and #JOYisContagious
  • Create your own similar projects. “Make something beautiful or do something loving in this time of fear,” McQueen said. “Joy and love are also contagious. Spread that while being responsible to not possibly share disease.”

Roy Covey and his wife are among those property owners who requested that their wall be painted, McQueen said.

“I’d landscaped my back wall by the ditch, and I used to pick up garbage in the area,” Cover said. “I’d kind of given up on it.” Now Covey is picking up trash and tending to the area nearly daily. He shared a photoshoot of his dog with the group’s desert landscape mural. “I’m looking forward to up and coming art,” Cover said. “My wall art has special meaning to me.”

Send messages to Artwithheartincruces@gmail.com, Art With Heart in Cruces on Instagram and Art with Heart in Cruces on Facebook.