Along with many other Santa Fe nonprofits, the Santa Fe Artists’ Medical Fund was hit hard by the pandemic in early 2020. As the head of the Advisory Committee of the Artists’ Medical Fund, I became frustrated when we had to shut down our operations and end our 2020 plans. Then, during the spring, when things looked the darkest, two things occurred that led me to the idea for the Flowers for Santa Fe Project.
First, several Advisory Committee members who had family or friends in hospitals, nursing homes or assisted-living facilities learned that they could no longer give them flowers or plants. At about the same time, several artists in the Artists’ Medical Fund saw a story on PBS and NPR about a California artist, Tucker Nichols, who started a project to create small flower paintings for sick people. After sending more than a thousand paintings on behalf of loved ones, Tucker has taken a break to pursue other projects, but through his website, flowersforsickpeople.org, he encourages others to make flower paintings and send them to those who could use a lift.
We were enchanted by the simplicity of this artist’s generous and selfless act of kindness. Several of us thought, why not do this in Santa Fe? Why not have local artists paint small, colorful flower paintings to give to those in Santa Fe hospitals, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities? The paintings were not for sale, and the artists were not expecting anything in return. We wanted these small gestures of kindness and joy to brighten someone’s day, and we wanted them to be totally unexpected.
Reaching out to our artists, I asked if they would like to paint flowers and donate them. The response was incredible. In just a few months, more than eighty-five artists painted and donated over 500 pieces of original art. We contacted Ron Whitmore at Artisan of Santa Fe, local artists’ favorite art supply store. At the time, Artisan was selling only through delivery or at curbside pickup. The Artists’ Medical Fund offered to partner with Artisan and pay for some art supplies to encourage artists to paint these small gifts. This was a win-win. It provided Artisan with some welcome income (and when the artists picked up the offered supplies, they usually spent lots more at Artisan!). And it gave the artists a well-known central location to take their finished paintings when they picked up more supplies.
We asked the participating artists to paint small paintings of flowers, but other than that, gave them no guidelines. They could choose any artistic medium and style — watercolor, gouache, pen and ink, acrylic, oil, pastel, photography, collage, fabric or any mixed media. We encouraged them to “paint outside the box,” to experiment or use materials they did not normally use. Their paintings ranged from realistic to abstract, simple to complex, but all were colorful and engaging. Spring was upon us and flowers were in bloom. Many artists painted what they saw in their yards or outside their studios. It was a time for exploration. It was a time to give back to the community.
“Artists wielding their brushes, heart in hand” summed up the undertaking nicely. The flowers project deeply touched artist Denise Andes, who noted, “This beautiful project assured patients that we on the outside thought of them, honored them and cared for them. To provide these painted flowers to those in a medical setting was simply a blessing.” And artist Janet O’Neal, reaching out from the isolation of quarantine, mused, “Participating in this project during the pandemic helped me feel like I was making a difference during a challenging time when I otherwise felt helpless to heal the world.”
Many artists have struggled with the constraints of quarantining and social distancing. Melinda Silver commented that the project gave her purpose and connection during long periods of isolation. She remarked, “Knowing that my paintings would be immediately placed in the hands of lonely people lessened my own sense of loneliness.”
For me as an artist, helping organize and develop the Flowers for Santa Fe Project gave me a purpose during the pandemic, a way both to honor the city of Santa Fe and showcase its artists. It also gave me an outlet for painting a new subject — the flowers in my Tesuque garden — using my cubist abstraction approach.
We have given a large number of paintings to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, Kingston Residence of Santa Fe, Legacy of Santa Fe, The Montecito of Santa Fe, Pacífica Senior Living, Brookdale Santa Fe and El Castillo Life Care. We simply asked how many patients or residents they had. In order for the artists to stay safe from the coronavirus, we told each facility to give the paintings out as they chose. Christus St. Vincent gave a painting to each of its COVID-19 patients, and the nursing homes and assisted-living facilities gave one to each resident.
The primary purpose of the Santa Fe Artists’ Medical Fund is to provide financial help for the medical needs of Northern New Mexico visual artists. If you are an artist who does not have health insurance or has unmet medical expenses, or if you know of such an artist, please visit www.santafeartistsmedicalfund.org for details about qualifying and information on how to apply. Our partners at the Santa Fe Community Foundation will consider all applications. To raise funds, SFAMF is planning an online auction in late spring.
Please check our website for details: santafeartistsmedicalfund.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph Riggs is a painter influenced by Picasso’s cubism and the Taos Modernists’ abstractionism to create a personal style he calls Southwest Modernism. In 2014, he met Shari Morrison and Armond Lara, longtime leaders of the Santa Fe Artists’ Medical Fund. They urged him to join, and when Morrison moved to Arizona in 2017, Lara encouraged him to assume the leadership.