Pandemic blues? Online art therapy might help you work through your feelings

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By Leah Collins. CBC Arts

Image: An art therapy participant engages in some art-making. (Cheryl-Ann Webster)

Abstract:

An Art Hive?

Yep. They're a network of community art studios that welcome folks of all ages and abilities. The concept originated at Concordia University in Montreal, which runs multiple Art Hives through its campus — and in the Before Times, these spaces would welcome anybody and everybody to gather and create (using a stash of free materials). Since March 20, the Concordia chapters have been hosting meet-ups on Zoom, and at least 21 Canadian Art Hives are currently active online. Some focus on visual art-making. At Concordia, they also run regular Art Hives for music and movement. And while these sessions aren't necessarily presided over by a certified art therapist, Rachel Chainey, national network coordinator for Art Hives Network, says that the project's guiding philosophy is "rooted in art therapy." 

Each session has a facilitator, she says, who's there to make everyone feel welcome and free to create. "The Art Hive seeks to bring people together around a common idea, which is creativity and art-making," she says. "Importantly, in terms of mental health, it creates a safety net. People often, you know — not everyone will go to therapy. And not everyone has access to individual therapy or even group therapy, whether for financial reasons, whether it's for cultural reasons. The Art Hive forms a community around a person. [...] There will be a community of people checking on them."

 

What do people get out of it?

Marguerite Dorion, 76, is a recent Art Hive convert. Pre-pandemic, she was aware of the IRL locations in Montreal, but as a busy YMCA volunteer, she never really took part. Now? "My gosh, it's nearly my whole day," she says, and because the programming's online, she's been exploring Art Hives beyond the city. "It's very casual, very welcoming," she says, and of all the things she loves about the experience — including the joy of painting and learning new things — it's the community aspect that's most important to her. "In French we call it 'en réseau,' which means a link between many people."

Making art with a group, albeit over Zoom, felt novel to Alexandra O. Carlsson when she joined her first Art Hive. But week over week, she says, "you start to recognize faces, and almost feel a kind of camaraderie." A 33-year-old occupational therapist from Kingston, Ont., Carlsson takes part in a virtual session run through the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's University. At first, she was there out of professional curiosity. "But I slowly realized that it was actually very therapeutic for myself," says Carlsson. "Every time I finished Art Hive I was like, 'Wow, that was something that I did today that I didn't even know I needed.' Self-care is such a trendy term, but it felt like such a wonderful creative outlet for myself. And it really helped me decompress after a busy day."

"People there, they break their social isolation," says Chainey of Art Hives. "They find a place of belonging. It helps them find meaning. Often creativity is connected to finding purpose, meaning, self-worth, feeling proud of oneself. So these are all things that contribute to enhanced well-being."

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