Local artist and behavioral health professional Noelle Hunt was driving home from work two years ago after a long day.

Out of the blue, she said she felt the urge to make a detour into Evergreen Cemeteryall the way at the back, where the grass didn’t grow and the shrubbery was unkept.

But it wasn’t because she knew anyone buried there.

“I was just a little struck at how desolate it was, how dark it was, Hunt said.

That area of the cemetery is designated for people whose families couldn’t give them a physical memorial, or for those who were never claimed.

Hunt noticed that some of the tiles on the outside of the columbarium were painted, but most were left blank.

A project run by Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office, called the Indigent Interment Program is helping to decorate those niches in hopes of making the space more inviting for visitors.

“It was quite magical I would say, and kind of a spiritual moment that I just kind of pulled in to come this way,” said Hunt, who has painted over a dozen tiles in the last two years. “And Im glad I did because Im here today contributing to the program.

Chris Smith, the administrative specialist with the Examiner’s Office said they took over the cemetery back in 2018, and the program has really only been promoted through word of mouth.

We reached out to some local high schools, some local artists, some family members, some coworkers to see if they could help us with some art to just bring some life to the area, he said.

And the program welcomes people of all artistic levels and creative backgrounds.

Hunt encouraged her friend and fellow artist Willie Guerry to help with the cause around the same time she discovered it. He’s also completed a handful of tiles that feature detailed paintwork.

Other slabs include 3-D and floral elements.

Previously, Smith said there had been reports of vandalism, cracked tiles and trash in that area of the cemetery, but since they’ve recruited people to decorate the niches, it incentives others to keep the space looking nice.

The Medical Examiner’s Office offers to cover the cost of cremation for families in-need, and then stores the remains in the columbariums. Each niche can hold ten to eleven urns at a time.

I hope that we are able to finish all of the columbariums that we currently have. I know in the future, well be adding some more as well. And that it doesnt stop,” Smith added. “That there are other options that we can do to keep this place looking good.

With over 100 tiles left to decorate, Hunt said this small act of service can make a world of difference for visitors.

They feel more comfortable here. They feel happy. Theyre put more at ease, she said. “They have something to distract their mind when they come here in a time of sadness, just to put a little smile on their face. So, it’s a good reason to keep going.