'Art for the Animals' artist retreat

Best Friends co-founder Cyrus Mejia teaches the 'Art for the Animals: A Creative Retreat' workshop at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Southern Utah.
By Amy Abern

Each year, Best Friends founder and resident artist Cyrus Mejia invites fellow artists from all over the country to join him for "Art for the Animals: A Creative Retreat," a five-day journey exploring the relationships among animals, people and nature through creative expression.

Artist retreat requirements

There are a few requirements to participate in this adventure: You must consider yourself an artist and must be willing to suffer through classes offered in the natural setting of beautiful red-rock canyons, endure time with friendly animals and put up with engaging conversation and direction from your peers – Cyrus and his artist friends and teachers, Cathie McCormick and Josh Baird.

"You don’t have to be a professional artist," Cyrus says. "But the people who come to this generally have some kind of artistic talent and are looking to expand their abilities. And it’s a way for me to share my vision of using art as a means to spread the idea of a better world through kindness to animals."

Animal art workshop schedule

Each day begins with line drawing with the animals. Lunch takes place in Angel Village, where the participants have the opportunity to mingle with Best Friends staff and other visitors.

After lunch, Cyrus talks about art. Sometimes the topic is specific to the work at hand; other times he reinforces the importance of using art as a medium to encourage a better world through kindness to animals. Then the class engages in other art forms, including ceramics, printing and collage.

They also visit Cyrus’ studio to view his works, including Ark, a collage of his impressions from Hurricane Katrina stretched out over a wooden boat, and The 575 Project, an installation of pieces exploring the chilling statistic that each hour 575 animals are put to death in shelters across the country.

The finale combines a celebratory dinner and a wrap-up discussion. It’s here that people articulate what they’ve learned and how they hope to incorporate it into their lives back home.

Using art to help animals

Past participants have found creative ways to benefit animals through their art. One woman stitched an animal quilt. Another created a series of paintings, sold them and donated the proceeds to a local animal shelter. Someone else organized an art fair where several artists agreed to donate part of their sales to their local shelter.

"The most profound thing for me is the involvement and talent of the people who come to this, and what they’ve gotten out of it," Cyrus says. "I have found this to be true for myself, that in working with the animals and drawing their pictures, I realize a connection with them and nature. It’s always moving to me that other artists come here and have the same experience."

Get more info about workshops at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.