Muralist The Desert Pen, also known as Pen Macias, poses with her new cityscape and wildflower mural at the Tucson Botanical Gardens.

Say cheese, Tucson! A local campaign makes helping local nonprofits as easy as one, two, three, with a quick and fun photo opportunity.

The “Where We Call Home” giving campaign hosted by NOVA Home Loans helps four local nonprofits every time Tucsonans snap photos of one of two new pop-up murals and post them on social media.

The murals, created by local artist The Desert Pen (aka Pen Macias), can be found at Reid Park Zoo, 3400 E. Zoo Court, and the Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 N. Alvernon Way.

With each photo taken, posted to Instagram or Facebook and tagged with “#NOVAGiving” and “#WhereWeCallHome,” the company will donate $25 per post (make sure your post is set to public in your privacy settings) to be distributed among four local nonprofits. NOVA Home Loans will donate up to $150,000.

Last year, they donated $180,000 to local nonprofits, according to a press release from NOVA Home Loans.

The four nonprofits this year are Reid Park Zoo, Boys & Girls Club of Tucson, Youth On Their Own and Habitat for Humanity, according to NOVA Home Loan’s website.

The campaign is currently ongoing and runs until the end of January. 

A close-up of the Gila monster mural at Reid Park Zoo. The mural was created by The Desert Pen for the "Where We Call Home" giving campaign hosted by NOVA Home Loans.

Each 8-by-8-foot mural is a desert-inspired creation painted by The Desert Pen, who spent approximately two weeks building and painting each one, she said.

“It's like a dream to have my artwork at the zoo and in the Botanical Gardens,” Macias said. “And they're so supportive and excited and amazing to work with. NOVA Home Loans is just so enthusiastic about art. …  I think what's really cool is, everybody wins. They're like, ‘We want to support the community. We want to generate some excitement in the community and we want to support art.’ So, how cool is that?”

A mural of a Gila monster is placed at the zoo, while one of a cityscape and wildflowers is at the Botanical Gardens. Macias designed the interactive Gila monster mural with kids in mind, so they can stand in front of the piece and look like the scaly creature is licking them or as if they are sitting on the lizard’s tail.

The Botanical Gardens mural was inspired by wildflowers sprouting from Macias’ own yard after she planted some seed bombs, she said.

“The two murals are obviously super different,” Macias said. “But I wanted them to sort of be tied together and so they both involve a monochrome desert. The Gila monster (mural) is like a turquoise-tones or blue-tones desert and then the Botanical Gardens are pink tones with a desert in it, so I thought that was fun to have a hidden Easter egg about them.”

The full Gila monster mural at Reid Park Zoo. The mural is a part of the “Where We Call Home” campaign by NOVA Home Loans.

Macias was inspired to create the commissioned pieces for a couple of reasons. One of them: her kids.

“I have four small kids. And, to me, I was like, ‘My kids are gonna think I'm so cool,’” she said. “The zoo is one of our favorite places to go. So my kids are gonna think I'm the coolest to have artwork at the zoo.”

The second reason is because of the importance of places like the zoo and the Botanical Gardens in Tucson, which she called “anchors in our community.”

“What a cool opportunity to support our community and some of the very cool spots we have in town without it costing a single thing (to take the photo because) taking a selfie costs $0,” Macias said. “But it brings money to these super important cornerstones in our community.”

For more information about NOVA Home Loan’s giving campaign, visit their website.


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Digital Features Reporter

Elvia is a journalism and history graduate from the University of Arizona. She hopes to create stories that show what makes Tucson and its community special.