Agnes’ virtual Art Hive supports positive mental health

Program uses art as therapy in a virtual setting

Art Hive is a safe space for people of all artistic skill levels.
Supplied by Maddi Andrews

Returning for a series of ten free online sessions, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre’s Art Hive @Agnes workshop continues to inspire wellness and self-care practices through artmaking. 

Art therapist Harper Johnston will run the virtual programming on Thursday evenings from Sept. 9 to Nov. 11, carrying on the workshop program started at Agnes in January 2019.

The Journal spoke with Maddi Andrews, ArtSci ’19, an Art Hive assistant, about the Art Hive @Agnes team’s enthusiasm for using art as therapy and how they’re fostering an inclusive, judgement-free environment for participants.  

“100 per cent of survey respondents indicated that Art Hive felt like a safe space for them, and I think a lot of that really comes down to the staff and the volunteers,” Andrews said, referencing a past Hive @Agnes evaluation.

“[Staff and volunteers] really contribute to the overall impression of Art Hive and how [participants] feel about the space.”

Workshops feature a diverse mix of participants—from university students of varying years and programs to families with young children, senior citizens, and immigrants. Some even tune in from different provinces and countries.

Art Hive engages a community of artists of all ages and skill levels by having participants focus on “process over product.” The relaxation produced from creating the art is more important than the appearance of the final product, Andrews said.

“[First-time participants] can expect to dive right into artmaking,” she said. “It’s completely alright if you’re not a naturally gifted artist. You don’t have to be talented or experienced to participate.”

University students can benefit from Art Hive’s approach to wellness and mental health by exploring resources beyond the traditional counsellor-client experience.

“I think that university-aged students having the autonomy to choose which type of supports are best fitted for [them] and resonate most with [them] is really incredible,” Andrews explained.

Art Hive @Agnes initially launched in January of 2019 when the team found themselves inspired by professional art therapist and associate professor at Concordia University, Janis Timm-Bottos’ conceptualization of the free and accessible form of community artmaking.

Timm-Botos’ ideas of small artmaking communities have inspired many ‘art hives’ in Montreal, and the Agnes team wanted to create a similar community experience in Kingston.

On the back of their success with the Agnes, Art Hive moved online when Ontario’s first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020 forced most people to adopt remote forms of work and communication. People could turn to Art Hive for community and comfort every Thursday evening.

“Everyone was much more isolated than normal,” Andrews said. “There was increased stress, anxiety, uncertainty—all things that Art Hive @Agnes works to alleviate.”

Art Hive’s art as therapy approach encourages participants to practice mindfulness and self-love as they focus on the artmaking process.

“I think there’s so much room for overlap between positive mental health practices, wellness, and art,” Andrews said.

“Art as therapy really reduces stress levels, improves wellness, and reduces anxiety. It’s a process of slowing down and being in the present.”

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