“To heal a community, you must get to the heart of the matter,” said Santa Barbara artist Tiffani Ortega. “You must heal the hearts with love so they can mend as one.” This was the idea behind Ortega’s recent “Heart to Heart, Hand in Hand” art project with Montecito Union School. Every year, the school picks an inspirational artist to work with students to create auction items for their school fundraiser. After last year’s devastating natural disasters, Montecito Union art teacher Alyssa Gonzalez reached out to Ortega, founder of Mi Refugio Projects and leader of art therapy workshops, to bring her Hearts by Tiffani project to 6th graders.
Ortega conducts these workshops throughout Santa Barbara, where transformational learning occurs through journaling and heart-focused artwork. “The soul demands to be seen, and what better way than through art?” Ortega said. “Art has no boundaries.”
Montecito Union students selected one word that resonated with how they felt and then journaled about why they chose it and how to cope with the feelings it conjured. Afterward, each student created a leather heart and etched their word on it. The heart was filled with cotton to absorb the love and intention behind it, then hand-mended to be made whole. The hearts will be joined together in an iron heart frame symbolizing unity. Some of the words students selected included “hope,” “trust,” “believe,” and “empathy.”
“When creating a new heart, individuals learn to critically reflect on their experiences,” Ortega said. “They then begin to consciously find new ways to implement plans to create change in their life. A change of heart can positively impact their life, which naturally increases the magnitude of self-love, [which] then radiates into every heart they encounter, and that is how one heart can heal many.”
“The teachers were amazed that their students were so open with expressing their feelings,” Ortega said. “I create a safe and loving environment by sharing my own story. I show them how vulnerability gives us strength.”
Ortega is a Santa Barbara native and has been creating art all her life. She embraced it fully five years ago and has paused her other projects to fully focus on Hearts by Tiffani.
“It is the simplest pieces of art I make, yet the most powerful due to the ability to change hearts and lives,” Ortega explained. She tailors each workshop to the needs of her audience and has participated in yoga retreats, and various school programs and with several nonprofits.
“It is my intention to inspire others to become more conscious of their thoughts by living from the heart, rather from the mind that holds ego and judgement,” she said.