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Pandemic Changes Made Border Art Studio For Youth 'More Exciting Than Ever'

Nearly every Tuesday for the last three years, youth in Naco, Sonora, have gathered at an art studio just south of the border wall for a weekly "art party." The coronavirus changed all that — perhaps for the better.

“It could have killed the project, but it turns out that it grew the project into something new and more exciting than ever," said Bisbee-based artist Gretchen Baer who runs Studio Mariposa. "It’s amazing. Every week it just gets better and better and blows my mind with what they’re creating.”

She still opens the doors at Studio Mariposa every Tuesday, passing out bags of art supplies for youth to use at home, since they can no longer safely gather at the art studio during the pandemic.

Baer has more contact with families now, she said, who send her pictures of the kid’s art and the home studios they have set up, and recount stories of how the projects have helped youth cope with being cooped up during the pandemic.

"The kids are putting in the effort all week long, to make this art and giving it all they’ve got. It’s pretty cool," she said. "Some of these kids have become full-time artists, they’re not doing anything else but that. And they’re building these little art worlds, no doubt as a result of COVID, and being at home, and not having school, and not having all the normal things that they would have.”

Each week when Baer passes out refilled art supply bags to about 100 youth in Naco, she takes pictures of their latest artwork and posts them to Studio Mariposa’s Facebook page. In recent weeks, interested buyers have purchase some of the young artists’ work, which Baer said is an extra incentive for some of the kids to keep creating.

"It's like an honor to have someone buy their painting," she said. "And it's $20 in their pocket."

Studio Mariposa will probably never go back to the way it was before the pandemic, Baer said, when 50-100 kids gathered together in the little pace for a few hours each Tuesday afternoon.

"It just doesn't make sense anymore," she said. "But I also learned from this experience that they want to work at home, and they need time, and they need to be alone, and they need all week to work on this stuff. So no matter what, I think that that has to keep happening to feed these artists.”

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Kendal Blust, an Arizona native, reports from KJZZ’s bureau in Hermosillo, Sonora, focusing on business and economic relationships between Arizona and northern Mexico.Prior to joining KJZZ, Kendal worked at the Nogales International, reporting on border and immigration issues, local government, education and business. While working on her master’s degree at University of Arizona School of Journalism, she did stints with the Arizona Daily Star and the Tico Times in Costa Rica, and completed a thesis project about women art activists in the Arizona-Sonora borderlands.In her pre-journalist life, Kendal was a teacher, first helping Spanish high school students learn English, then heading to Tucson to teach fourth grade.When she’s not in the newsroom, Kendal enjoys getting outside for a hike or a swim, catching a good movie, hanging out with family and friends, and eating great food.