“We are in this together.”

It’s a message senior visual arts major Jeanette Hughes wanted to express with the project for her mural painting class.

The end result is a mural that depicts hands cradling an Earth outfitted in a protective face mask. It’s currently on display in the Route 66 Art Park – across the street from the Coleman Theatre Ballroom in downtown Miami.

“I had something else planned out,” says Hughes. “We had been turning in drawings and plans for our murals, and I was doing something that looked at the history of Fairland (Okla.).

“(Due to the COVID-19 pandemic) I felt like it would be more fitting to create something with an uplifting message. Everything was getting canceled and people were feeling alone. We’re not alone … we’re all working together to get through this.”

She contacted her instructor, Kyle McKenzie, who gave her permission to switch up her mural project. Painted with acrylics, it took her two weeks to complete.

A former nurse, Hughes says art has always been a therapeutic outlet. When health issues led to her retirement, she decided to pursue that passion in a more significant way.

She got her associate’s degree at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College before continuing her studies at Missouri Southern.

“I wasn’t very good at staying home,” she says. “I think I was driving my family crazy. Painting and photography let me vent my frustrations, my pain, my happiness … whatever I’m feeling at the time can come out through my work.”

The pandemic, which has resulted in social distancing and economic difficulties, is a new experience for everyone, says Hughes.

“A lot of my friends are nurses and they’re struggling. I should be working with them but I can’t. But that doesn’t mean my heart’s not there with them,” she says. “They’re the true heroes out there, along with the people who are keeping everything going – the people who deliver packages, keep the grocery stores open and the food coming.

“We all occasionally need to be reminded that we’re important and appreciated.”

Hughes says she’s happy she was able to secure a public space to display the new mural.

“After I called Kyle to ask if I could change my project, my next call was to the arts council to see if I could put it up in the art park,” she says. “I had already decided if I couldn’t put it up here, I was going to put it in the front yard of my house.”