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Thea Levin, 4, takes a closer look at the Kindness Rocks at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center.

Courtesy photo

Need some bold colors to bring a bit of cheer? The Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center’s Kindness Rocks project might brighten your day. A new painted rock garden is taking shape just outside the Overland Park building.

Installed Oct. 8, it’s a partnership with Overland Park Painted Rocks, a local group that’s been painting rocks for years. Leawood resident Shannon Levin, who’s been part of the group for about a year and a half, approached the center with the idea toward the end of the summer.

“In the metro area, there’s not a full rock garden anywhere. It opened up that doorway for us to say yes,” said Devin Graham, fine arts coordinator for the center. “Being an arts and culture center, it just kind of fit with what we’re doing, and so we immediately started down that path of how we could make that happen.”

Levin provided 100 rocks she painted herself to start off the garden, but the idea is that people can take some and leave ones they’ve painted behind in their place.

“The reason I made so many is I was hoping kids would take one and say, ‘This is so cool. I want to make some of my own and take them back up there,’” she said.

The ones she paints can take anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour to paint, depending on the design. She gets many of her ideas from Pinterest and other online sources.

Before creating them herself, she’d seen one in the Prairiefire area that really caught her interest and subsequently has seen numerous painted rocks on trails and in parks when she goes out with her daughter.

“I actually did not know I even was into art until I tried to paint one, then I just realized I have it in me,” Levin said.

Currently, the garden is 3- or 4-feet-by-1 foot, but Graham hopes to extend it to 20 feet with community participation.

The plan is for the garden to remain at least through the end of the year. If the center sees a lot of response from people, it may remain indefinitely, Graham said. She’s working out the details to offer a workshop for people to learn how to paint the rocks.

There’s a wide range for creativity on these tiny canvases.

“I’ve seen some that are paint poured, others that are drawn out and others writing a word. The whole goal is to filter in some positivity during this time,” Graham said. “The big thing is to communicate that positive message. It really also encourages some family time for people to sit down and paint these rocks together.”

Levin likes using rock painting as an activity to do with her 4-year-old daughter Thea.

“I’m a stay-at-home mom, so I have more free time than some people. My daughter and I love going on walks, going on hikes, so we started finding more of them, and we’d paint more of them. It’s been kind of fun watching people find them. They’ll share (online), ‘I was having a bad day, and I found this rock, and it made me feel good,’” she said.

Many groups that paint rocks write a hashtag on the back so they can find out when people find them and post pictures.

Levin agrees with Graham that using the rocks to spread positivity is the key point.

“I liked, truly, the idea of a random act of kindness. We’re in a pandemic. It’s an election year. People have a lot of stress in their lives,” Levin said. “It gives me a smile, but I hope it gives other people a smile, too.”

If you don’t have time for a workshop, here are the basics. Look in your backyard or go to a garden store to find smooth, flat rocks. Use acrylic paints or paint pens to make a design, then let it dry for one to two days. For paint pens, the center recommends using something like a Mod Podge spray. After that, weatherproof all types of paint with a varnish coating like Duraclear.

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