Collage by Heidi Smith
For the past few weeks, Montreal - like many cities around the world - has transformed into a very different place than it was just months prior. Restaurants closed, social events canceled, school and university classes suspended. Sadly, art hives have also been a part of these closures. In the midst of the social distancing, one art hive has thrived: the Virtual Art Hive. At only two weeks old, this new digital meeting space has already 28 sessions under its belt. I spoke with Heidi Smith, the creator of this art hive, and Monica (Momo) Escobedo, a supporter and co-facilitator since its inception, to talk about the Virtual Art Hive’s trajectory thus far.
What motivated you to start this art hive?
The Virtual Art Hive was created in response to the current global pandemic to provide a sense of structure for those who might need it in the face of the uncertainty. I [Heidi] imagined a space that would be available for people who felt like they didn’t have anywhere else to go so they wouldn’t feel as alone or afraid. We wanted to offer what we ourselves felt we needed - a means to gather in the community - which makes the art hive feel like it’s coming from a very genuine place.
What makes this art hive unique?
At times, initiating a physical art hive seemed an insurmountable endeavour with various concerns about materials and space. The Virtual Art Hive however, offered a new opportunity for us as facilitators. The fact that it takes place in participants’ own homes can foster a sense of comfort, adding joy and happiness to the spaces that we live in. This may be especially relevant to individuals living alone. Another way that this art hive is unique is that it moves quickly and is quite responsive to what’s alive and necessary for the participants in the moment, a facet encouraged by the format of twice-daily sessions.
What is one thing that is working really well in the art hive?
We have witnessed a snow-ball effect of inspiration in the Virtual Art Hive. This manifests through creative ideas coming from the community, skill-sharing between artists, and the creation of subgroups and other virtual hives around the world. We have seen people within the community stepping up and offering their support, creativity and own initiatives to the space. The added platform of the Pop Up Virtual Art Hive Facebook group only furthers participants’ channels for connection and inspiration.
What is one thing that is challenging so far?
As this is a fairly new art hive, there are a lot of unknowns at the moment, such as how many participants we might have in a given day. Becoming accustomed to this online format involves a lot of exploration and experimentation. The world is so different right now compared to anything we’ve ever experienced, so we’re allowing ourselves to do things differently as well. With that in mind, we’re learning to lean into the discomfort of not being in control, and trust and enjoy the process of moving with what is currently moving.
What is the effect that you see this art hive having on the lives of participants and facilitators?
So far, the response and feedback from the community have been really heartening to receive. Individuals who may feel isolated in their homes now have a sense of structure and consistency in their day while meeting new people and building connections. Art-making offers an opportunity to learn something new and feel joy through the act of creation. We see participants being open to discover what can happen organically through many modalities beyond traditional visual arts (cooking, writing, music, etc.), and with creative reuse of materials that are available in their homes.
What does being a part of the Art Hives Network mean to you?
The Art Hives Network has provided us with a network of support where we can learn from other facilitators and exchange ideas at a local and international scale. It’s an environment of empowerment; a container of fertile soil from which our art hive can grow and flourish.
What are some of your hopes for the near future?
We hope that the Virtual Art Hive evolves in whatever way it wants to evolve. We are beginning to see a community of practice emerge and we hope that it continues to develop into a space of sharing, learning, and support for one another. As the seasons change, we are excited to see how the art hive transitions as well. We look forward to the possibility of moving the virtual space outdoors to balconies and gardens in warmer weather, and creating balcony galleries to exhibit our artwork for our fellow community members.
Virtual Art Hive sessions are offered from 1-2:30 pm and 8-9:30 pm EST Monday through Friday. Participants wishing to join the free Zoom calls can do so through this link: https://zoom.us/j/5883057721. Participants are also invited to join the Facebook group Pop Up Virtual Art Hive to continue the community building beyond the video calls.
By Hannah Grabowecky.