In 2003, Lakeside High School graduate and law student Michelle Lee Bartlett died suddenly from an undetected heart condition at age 23. Her parents, Nancy and David Bartlett, wanted to honor their daughter somehow, while also getting out a message about the importance of heart health.
Thus, in 2008, the Have a HeART for Art program was born, and will have its ninth annual exhibition this year.
Have a HeART for Art is a competition in which area students learn a heart healthy message while in art class, then create a personal piece, either based on a heart motif or that carries the message of heart health.
Nancy Bartlett said, “What we learned is that children who work with a hands-on project retain information that they hear with that project.”
The family provides curriculum of work sheets and informational packets to
the teachers, who instruct students for several weeks in January and February.
Art teachers then choose two finalists from each grade to represent their school at the exhibition — set to open in 2017 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. March 3 in Emergent Arts, 341 Whittington Ave. The evening reception, where students will be present with their pieces, is open to the public, and the exhibit will be displayed for a week following.
Her mother said, “Art was just always a passion of hers, and she loved children dearly … It just seemed to be a very natural fit,” adding that in the month before she passed away, Michelle had painted murals in what became the Children’s Chapel at First United Methodist Church.
When the program began, 11 schools participated and there was $650 in award money. Over the years, it has grown to almost 30 schools and double the amount of prizes. And, most importantly, more than 6,000 students are now hearing an annual message about heart health.
Prize money comes from two main sponsors, Simmons Bank and National Park Medical Center, along with extended members of the Bartlett Family. Judging is done by a mixture of people, including professionals in the art industry and teachers.
Melissa Marshall, older sister to Michelle, has now taken the reins from her mother and heads the project from her home in Alexandria, Va. She said Bismarck School District has now been reached, and is the first school outside of Garland County to take part, making the program a bit more of a regional event.
“We are excited that it’s growing, not only to give children opportunity to be proud of the artwork that they do, but it really does bring heart health to the forefront in their schools, where it may not be addressed in another form,” Marshall said.
Homeschool students are also eligible, and interested parents can make contact and get information for next year’s competition through the Garland County
Library Children’s Department. In addition, nontypical learners can participate in the Special HeARTs Division.
Bartlett said she loves seeing the pride on children’s faces as they point to their piece of art on award night, and hearing the students’ stories behind their work. “It’s a special evening that makes you do it over and over again.”
Marshall pointed out the diversity of students who reach the exhibition, and said, “Children who maybe aren’t competitive in other realms (like academics or athletics), it’s another avenue for them to express themselves and be successful. And it really plants a seed of success and gives them confidence — maybe this is their one opportunity to really shine.”
The Bartlett’s youngest child, Chip, has also been involved over the years, and some of his friends have given volunteer time. High school friends of Michelle have helped, too, including Mary Hamner Latham, who has served as the event’s co-chair for several years.
Marshall’s three sons are each doing their part, with the oldest, Bart, working on the Have a HeART for Art Facebook page and updating forms. Henry helps with making copies and sorting of pack- ets, and Callan plans to give his efforts during exhibition evening.
Art students at Lakeside High go the extra mile by making ceramic hearts that are for sale at the exhibit and benefit the venue.
Bartlett has been grateful for the out- pouring of support over the years. Since the project was created to help cope with the loss of her daughter by doing something positive, she never dreamed it would have so much success. Her latest goal is to see a 10th anniversary in 2018.
Marshall said, “I think it’s fantastic that not only is her name remembered, but that it’s associated with such an amazing event that the community has relished being a part of. I think Michelle would just be so impressed that this many children have gotten involved, and what a difference it’s made on a wider scale.”
And since heart disease doesn’t discriminate, Marshall pointed out, “Even those of us who think that we’re healthy, we need to keep it on the forefront of our minds, and know what the warning signs are.”