Love Letter Art Walk first of nine pop-up projects planned across Sonoma County

From left, locals Bob and Sue Vargas write cards for loved ones along with Maria, Giovani, 5, and Maurico Lopez, 10, at the Love Letters Artwalk in Boyes Hot Springs on Saturday, September 9, 2017. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)


Just outside the Boyes Hot Springs Post Office in Sonoma Valley, Teresita Fernandez completed a handcrafted greeting card designed with hearts and filled with love — and destined for a stranger in need of support and encouragement.

Fernandez, 51, made the card and a matching decorative envelope as part of the Love Letter Art Walk, a free, three-hour community arts-making event with far-reaching impact.

Presented by El Verano visual artist Jill Valavanis, the event was funded through the new Pop Up Creativity Grants awarded through Creative Sonoma, a three-year-old division of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

“I thought it was a great idea,” said Fernandez, who owns a business in the neighborhood and attended nearby Flowery Elementary School. “In these dark times, we need to come together and give love and hope.”

The art walk was the first of nine temporary pop-up projects planned for the next several months across Sonoma County through the inaugural program awarding grants of up to $5,000 each. Efforts range from “yarn-bombing” bike racks to an arts and music festival celebrating community and creativity.

Fashioned after the concept of a progressive dinner party, the art walk was an opportunity to celebrate the extensive Highway 12 roadway improvements in The Springs neighborhood from Agua Caliente to Boyes Hot Springs, while also encouraging creativity and compassion.

Valavanis, 54, wanted to offer a project without a sense of competition or comparison. A grants writer and teaching artist with the nonprofit ArtEscape community arts studio and gallery just up the highway, Valavanis invited participants to walk along the newly installed sidewalks to nearby art stations along both sides of Highway 12.

Active in Girl Scouts for more than 45 years as a member, troop leader and paid camp guide, Valavanis has extensive experience blending creativity with kindness for the benefit of strangers and community members alike.

“I wanted people to be able to explore creativity with no pressure,” she said.

The greeting cards —love letters, really — are a way to emphasize “that we’re all emotional human beings, that we all need care and that we need to think of each other and show support to each other.

“It’s a concrete token of someone’s thoughts,” Valavanis said, a way “to bring humanity closer together.”

Artists Yessenia Anguiano, Shelly Dorr, Susan Heeringa-Pieper, Alice Pennes and photographer Lisa Rani volunteered at the stations, explaining ways to turn blank cards into cheerful, colorful love letters for strangers going through tough times.

Anguiano, a bilingual administrator and teaching artist at ArtEscape, said Valavanis’ pop-up event was a clever way to engage people in art exploration while doing something for the greater good.

“It sounded really sweet, so I wanted to be a part of it,” Anguiano said.

The cards were sent to those coping with serious illness, personal setbacks or the aftermath of natural disasters, and to military personnel stationed overseas.

Others were sent to brighten the day for local seniors living in convalescent homes or enrolled with Meals on Wheels.

Cardmakers had the option of writing personal messages or choosing from inspiring quotes Valavanis shared on a printout: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do,” determined by Eleanor Roosevelt; or the Japanese proverb, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.”

Valavanis chose art mediums and materials appropriate for all ages to try.

Torn paper collage, watercolor pencils, decorative Japanese Washi Tape and stencils helped school kids and adults transform paper into canvases of color and kindness.

Valavanis’ 16-year-old son, Greg, and Sonoma Valley High School classmate Karen Mendez, also 16, volunteered at the final pop-up station, where they served chocolate and vanilla ice cream as a gesture of appreciation.

Greg scooped generous servings of ice cream donated by Sweet Scoops on the Sonoma Plaza, while Karen topped them with Hershey’s chocolate sauce and whipped cream — a pop-up ice cream social for participants.

Karen said the event was about “having compassion for people you don’t even know personally and wishing them luck.”

The project highlights the mission of Creative Sonoma, which is dedicated to advancing and supporting the creative community of Sonoma County through trainings, workshops, special projects, networking, funding opportunities and arts education.

Pop-up projects like Valavanis’ Love Letter Art Walk encourage community members to participate in the creative process.

“We wanted to bring creative experiences out into community areas that may not have these kinds of things accessible,” Gloria Rubio, administrative aide with Creative Sonoma, said about the Pop Up Creativity Grants.

The arts experiences may be Temporary ... but the effects long lasting.

For more information, call 707-565-6120 or visit

Contact Towns Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at