VICTORIA -- Staff at the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre in Saanich are putting the finishing touches on the “HeArts Together” community art project.

The public art installation is collaborative community project that invited residents in Saanich to come together while remaining at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 400 ceramic hearts were crafted by families, children at day camps, and seniors in care homes.

“When everything got shut down we wanted to still connect with people,” said Cedar Hill Recreation Centre program technician for the arts, Rene Sala.

“We decided we would create an opportunity for folks to do within their homes to provide them with a creative outlet that they couldn’t access during the beginning of the pandemic,” she said.

Starting in June 2020, Sala and her team distributed the ceramic hearts kits to people in Saanich. Artists were asked to focus their creations on something that was meaningful to them as they were experiencing isolation due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“We wanted them to shine a light on how they were feeling or who they were thankful for during the pandemic,” said Sala. “A theme of inclusion is what we have when we lay it all out together.”

The handcrafted ceramic hearts were collected by Cedar Hill Recreation Centre arts department staff during the past 12 months to be included in the installation. Once completed, the community art project will represent the bringing together of a community isolated by the pandemic through art.

“It was a way to bring people together even though we were apart,” said Sala.

The “HeArts Together” art installation is set out on three separate panels that surround planter boxes at the main entrance to the Saanich recreation centre. The location at Cedar Hill Recreation Centre was chosen because it is considered to be a place of gathering for the community.

“We thought by gathering all this artwork from around the community and having a place where people could come and view it was really meaningful,” said Sala. “It's a piece of art that was created by 400 members of our community so we want people to see it.”

The ceramic heart creations that adorn the approximately 20-foot-long panels are decorated with hearts, rainbows and words of encouragement, such as, be safe, have fun and love.

“It's really tactile and low so kids can get in and touch the little bits and pieces and people can come and search for the ones they’ve made,” said Sala. “Its going to be a legacy piece that is going to be here for years to come as a reminder of a time when we all had to struggle through the same thing.”

The community art installation at the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre is one of 12 “Hearts Together” displays that can be found in public parks throughout Saanich. The unifying hearts theme of the displays were chosen to symbolize caring for loved ones, neighbours in the community, and expressing gratitude for the efforts of essential workers during the pandemic.

“We really worked together as a community to create the art even though we couldn’t gather and that’s meaningful,” said Sala. “For those of us in the arts department, to know we could make an impact that way within our community is also very meaningful.”

Sala says she and her team at Cedar Hill Recreation Centre expect to complete the community art installation by June 22.

Information on the “HeArts Together” project can be found on the Saanich website here