Helen McLean – Artist ‘Art With A Heart’ project – Creativity and Community in Covid Times

Helen McLean – Artist
‘Art With A Heart’ project
Creativity and Community in Covid Times

Visual Artist Helen McLean’s studio is located in Wexford Enterprise Centre. Though much of her business is dependent on public access to the Centre, when the Covid-19 restrictions took hold, the ever-creative Helen reached outside the confines of her physical studio to unite the Wexford community through her ‘Art With A Heart’ project. Here is her story.

When Covid-19 descended all my art sessions came to a halt. Until then, each week I would have engaged with over 13 adult classes in my studio in Wexford Enterprise Centre as well as other adult education groups throughout the county. All age groups and types of people attend my art classes and for many, it is not only about being creative, but about connecting with others and making new friendships. Many people have been in my groups for years and their art session is an important part of their week, so when all halted it was difficult for many.

To keep everyone’s moral up and keep all connected throughout the lockdown I decided to start the “Art With A Heart” project. It started as a small idea and a method to kick start our fundraising for the class charity of 2020, Relay for Life, Wexford.

I asked my adults students to paint, mosaic or collage small paintings within a heart theme on an easily accessible square, the size of a coaster. I put a box with squares outside my home for all to safely access. The painted hearts were then photographed and I put them up on Facebook for a donation fee of €20 in memory of a loved one who had passed. The idea was to mount all the hearts like a painted quilt on boards with the dedication below each heart. The hearts would form one huge artwork and in some ways be a symbol of lockdown 2020, as well as a memorial to loved ones passed.

Over the coming weeks over 500 hearts were donated. The hearts came to symbolise the emotion and memories of loved ones from the larger community. Each little heart was a mini-memorial to a loved one who had died. We had donations of over €9,300 in nine weeks.

It was amazing to see how the project caught the imagination of my students and the wider community. It connected people from Gorey to Ferns to Enniscorthy to Kilmore Quay to Wexford. I set up art groups from all regions and we had daily chats on Whatsapp. All the creators of the little paintings got an adrenalin rush when their heart sold. For those cocooning painting, was a way to pass the hours isolated from family. This whole project happened virtually with true community spirit.

My ultimate dream is to hang all 8 panels together in one location for all to see. My second dream is to create a book that tells the story of the project as I think it was a unique event and with each heart photographed it means people who purchased the hearts for loved ones have an immediate reference to their piece.”

See more of her work on https://www.helenmcleanart.com/ or visit her Facebook page.