Written by Vivian Wright, Director of Development, New Vista
Photography by Ben Robertson

One week after the Las Vegas mass shooting, members of Southern Nevada’s Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled community joined together to pay tribute to the lives that were lost and those affected by the tragedy. The event, which was organized by New Vista and Gracie’s House, local Las Vegas nonprofit organizations serving the IDD community, hosted a gathering of over 100 individuals living with IDD, their families and advocates, who participated in a community art project, “Lead With Love, A Tribute To Las Vegas.”

Las Vegas Fire and Rescue’s Special Operations Chief and Co-Founder of Gracie’s House, Craig Cooper, originated the project concept. Among the first responders on the scene of the Route 91 shooting, Cooper, a father of a daughter with Down Syndrome, realized the need to create a space for support and healing for the IDD community.

“The events that transpired on the evening of Oct. 1 are difficult for anyone to understand. It is challenging to process this unspeakable tragedy. Our goal was to provide a safe space where we could grieve together, and begin the healing process in an inclusive environment, “ explained Cooper.

Las Vegas artists Robin Barcus-Slonina, Niya Muhammad and Coral Smith-Newberry led the group art project. The participants designed and painted 150 canvasses, each depicting a heart. The canvasses will be arranged in a grid on a wood panel, uniting the individual hearts as part of a community mural.

“Our collective hearts are broken over this senseless tragedy, “ shared artist Niya Muhammad, “So this is really healing for everybody, literally joining pieces of our hearts.” The mural was presented to the city of Las Vegas during a ceremony with Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman on Oct. 17.

“New Vista’s mission is to empower members of the IDD community so they may experience life to the fullest and critical to our mission is providing a sense of community and emotional support for our members,” said Archie McArthur, New Vista’s executive director. “We struggle with trying to make sense of what occurred, trying to logically explain the indescribably, the indefensible. Joining together to create a lasting tribute to the individuals and families impacted by this tragedy, gave us a chance to wrap our arms around our neighbors and friends, and be there for each other.”

Art project participant Alfredo Ramirez added, “The violence that happened was a very sad day for Las Vegas, and this is a nice way to show them that we care.”

In the devastating aftermath of the horror and heartbreak of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the IDD community of Las Vegas joined in loving reflection, with a solemn message to share with others. “Our hearts ache, we love our city,” explained Juanita Bell, New Vista program coordinator. “We are grateful for the love, unity and comfort of this beautiful community. We must believe that love and light will overshadow the hate and darkness that took over our city a week ago. It’s up to us to lead with love.”