A new arts space downtown wants to connect art with community and encourage people to be creative even if they don’t feel they have the skills to do so.
“The HeArt Box can really be anything it needs to in a broad sense,” said founder Jill Sans. “For me, the HeArt Box actually started 2017. I kind of changed my life around and didn’t know what I was doing.”
Following a divorce and leaving her longtime job as a piercer and co-owner at Burly Fish Tattoo, she moved back in with her parents and stashed all her art supplies in a shed where she could focus on her painting.
“It was where I went to kind of process everything I was going through, so in a way that was kind of my heart box,” she said. “The HeArt Box then kind of keeps evolving to where it can be this way to give to the community, whether that’s giving them art supplies that can help them heal or express themselves, I just think art has so many capacities.”
She plans to hold workshops in the HeArt Box held by herself and guest teachers like Emma Gardner, who will be kicking off a series of marionette-making workshops in September which will potentially culminate in a play with each of the participants’ unique characters. The first workshop, led by Sans, will be held Saturday, Aug. 18, and will focus on painting a pre-designed mandala as a technique to meditate.
“A mandala is made of layers, it starts in the center and then it moves out,” Sans explained. “When thoughts come up and keep us from being in the present moment, I think there’s a way through painting to kind of connect back with just being here.”
Outside of scheduled workshops, Sans also plans to host events the first Friday of each month to build community ties.
The HeArt Box’s grand opening during the First Friday Art Walk on Aug. 3 started off with a simple enough idea: Three artists, Adam Jimenez, Jess Tennyson and Sammy Breslin, would paint live on the indigo wall at the back of the space and art supplies could be donated to be used for care packages for children in the hospital about to undergo chemotherapy and other future community projects.
For the past two years, Jimenez had been playing with the idea of holding a live art event inspired by Secret Walls, a live illustration battle held in cities like London and New York City where two artists go head to head for 90 minutes armed just with a black marker to cover a large canvas.
“We started brainstorming ideas, like, ‘What if we only used one color, just white on a dark wall so there would be some cohesiveness at the end,’” he explained.
Eventually the public was invited to add their own drawings to the wall.
“It evolved into a community art project and we said, ‘Let’s use whatever art materials we have, anyone who wants to join in, go on,’” Jimenez said.
After experiencing the organic evolution of the night’s activities, Sans said it became clear she had finally found where she was supposed to be.
“It felt like a beating heart,” Sans said. “I kept hearing people say, ‘I have no idea what this place is,’ but they would leave with this spark in them."
The space was formerly the home of marketing firm Mountain Mojo Group, where Jimenez works as creative director, and then the Indigo Art Collective before most of the artists moved to a space inside Rainbow’s End Boutique last month. Sans began planning for a rebrand but, before painting over the indigo wall that had grounded the previous space, she wanted to invite community members to contribute to the new start.
“It didn’t seem right to keep [the indigo wall], so it was kind of a cool way to honor something but start over,” Sans said.
The collaboration between strangers grew into a collage of unique minds offering up street graffiti, inspirational doodles, geometric designs and more.
“It was cool how it evolved to that and the energy when everyone came to contribute their things and all the styles blending together,” Jimenez said. “You don’t have to take life so seriously, art should be fun.”
While Sans had originally planned to paint over the wall the following day, she decided to keep up through Aug. 26 after feeling the energy emanating from it.
As for the ongoing art donations, Sans is planning a community night in the space to paint boxes in which to put supplies for those in need of healing through art Thursday, Aug. 23, from 6-8 p.m. She received a bag of donations during the grand opening and picked up another the following week, saying it was a rewarding way to connect to the larger Flagstaff community.
“Someone’s giving you something but it makes them feel good because they’re getting rid of it and happy to know that it’s going somewhere to be put to good use, and it makes me happy that someone was willing to take the time to reach out and respond to my request,” Sans said.
Some of the supplies she’s hoping to receive include paint brushes, new or broken crayons, colored pencils, acrylic and watercolor paints, canvas and paper.