Make a Heart, Change the World: Life On Earth Art Connects Communities

Make a Heart, Change the World: Life On Earth Art Connects Communities

While exploring her family history of trauma was the initial creative inspiration for
Sonoma County-based artist Tracy Ferron, the life-long journey she has found herself
on has led to a profound large-scale public artwork–Unbound, several smaller-scale
pieces and an ongoing therapeutic community art program that offers transformative
healing and connection through her non-profit, Life on Earth Art (LOEA).

In Feb 2021, in response to the dire increase in hopelessness and isolation of patients
due to the pandemic, the Executive Board at one of California’s largest state-run
psychiatric facilities approved a highly unconventional community art project. The goal
of Unbound was to unite hospital patients, staff and hundreds of community volunteers
to co-create an awe-inspiring large-scale artwork – an 80-foot sculpture of 800 paper
maché winged hearts flying out from a cage to freedom.

Ferron conceived and designed the public artwork and partnered with Camille Gentry
and the 70 therapists of her Rehabilitation Therapy Department of the Department of
State Hospitals-Napa (DSH-Napa), to forge a groundbreaking healing program that
integrated art, music, movement, rehabilitation and occupational therapies centered
around the question: What does it mean to be unbound and free?
Ferron sees Unbound not only as a love letter to those suffering from severe mental
illness, but to those who love and care for them. The LOEA design team built the
centerpiece of the sculpture from an antique birdcage. Black resin cascades from one
corner, creating a column of blackness, Ferron’s embodiment of trauma, which pools
and drips down the plinth base. Inside the cage, seven resin hearts with paper mache
wings glow red, yet tarred with the darkness at the bottom of the cage. A tornado of
steel ribbons is suspended above the cage, creating the whirlwind which has tipped the
cage, and opened its door, allowing for the liberation of nearly 800 hearts, which grow in
size from 9 inches to 9 feet wide as they murmurate through the 100-foot hall. A key
element of Unbound is its lighting design, which casts surreal and evocative shadows
on the walls and floor. Music therapist, Ofir Oziel shared “There is a transformation
here, almost like you converted it from a conference or a basketball space to a church,
in a sense — a place that is some holy integration between light and darkness.”

While the unique beauty of each heart tells a tender individual story, taken together the
large-scale piece inspires awe around our collective desire to heal and fly free. A total of
1500 people worked to make Unbound a reality: 500 psychiatric patients, 200 hospital
staff, and over 800 community volunteers. Unbound required 8 installations over 13
days and the team faced significant bureaucratic hurdles installing the complex large-
scale artwork in a strictly controlled locked state facility.

The National Organization of Arts in Health awarded Unbound first place for Arts for
Innovation in November 2022. The Director of California’s Department of State
Hospitals, Stephanie Clendenin claimed that Unbound was “one of the most inspiring
things ever to happen at our state hospitals” and awarded the project the Department’s
most prestigious Director’s Top Honor Award in June 2023. As to the impact on the
patients, rehabilitation therapist Evelyn Sanchez said, “They felt like they were not
forgotten, like they are not left out of society. They were part of something bigger than
they could ever imagine.”

While private tours have been available to view Unbound, very few from the public have
been able to enjoy the powerful immersive experience with its current installation at the
Napa State Hospital. In 2024, Unbound will be available for installation and
opportunities are being explored where it can bring its message of inclusion, hope, and
liberation. “It is our dearest wish that Unbound can find a permanent home at a site,
such as a hospital, a courthouse or a place where uplift and love are most needed,”
says Ferron.

Focusing on the radical inclusion of underserved groups, LOEA has developed a
scalable model fusing creative arts therapies, community art-making, social action, and
large-scale public art. LOEA’s signature platform features paper maché winged hearts,
which range in size from 6 inches to 15 feet wide. The impactful displays of the winged
hearts are designed to evoke awe and compassion and to motivate others to take action
to create a better world. This year LOEA has been working with creative arts therapists
and arts educators to develop two key programs: Heart Space, a 6-part school
workshop series developed in collaboration with the Graduate Department of Art
Therapy at Dominican University, and The Feather Journeys, a program designed to
include homebound individuals like veterans and their care partners) in the therapeutic
collective artmaking through online classes and art kits.

The Heart Space school workshops are designed to cultivate self-compassion and a
sense of belonging in a teen population that is struggling with widespread mental health
concerns. This spring LOEA worked with six schools across Sonoma County and aims
to begin work in youth centers in Northern California this fall.

The Feather Journeys online classes and art kits guide participants through mindfulness
and strength-based art therapy techniques to cultivate one’s sense of connection to self,
others, and the beauty in the world. LOEA is working with a coalition of administrators,
rehab therapists, and resident veteran artists, to bring the program to the largest
veteran’s home in America in Yountville, CA.

Life on Earth Art offers a truly unique art-based platform to heal divisions in self and
society through the collective making of large-scale public art. Ferron and the LOEA
team’s entire mission is framed around creating transformative art experiences that
connect people to their hearts and help shift our cultural paradigm from fear and division
to care and compassion.

Life on Earth Art welcomes exploring partnerships with organizations that want to be
part of its movement for loving change through the modality of art-making and public art
installations that inspire hope and mental well-being. For more information or to schedule a tour of Unbound, please contact:

Tracy Ferron

Founder and Board Chair, Life on Earth Art
(415) 755-7033

[email protected]