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Concordia’s Art Hives provide a creative outlet for troubled times

Virtual art-making sessions are like ‘a window of hope’
April 27, 2020
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By Molly Hamilton

Rainbow painting by Luna Julien A painting created by Luna Julien, aged 11, during a virtual art hive.

Before the Quebec government’s COVID-related emergency measures, Concordia was home to three buzzing Art Hives — spaces that facilitate connectivity and creative expression — on the Sir George Williams and Loyola campuses as well as at La Ruche d’art St-Henri.

When physical distancing became necessary to resist the pandemic, Heidi Lee Smith was inspired to take the art-making concept virtual. With buy-in from Rachel Chainey, MA 18, the network national coordinator for Art Hives, Smith set up a virtual space for creatives of all ages and skill levels.

“Heidi followed her intuition,” says Monica Escobedo, Art Hives administrative assistant, volunteer coordinator and co-facilitator of the virtual art hives. “She recognized a need and was courageous enough to create it and offer it to everyone.”

‘A window of hope’

The first virtual art hive took place on March 16 and a week later Concordia’s Art Hives staff and volunteers stepped in to offer their support. The 90-minute Zoom sessions have since been held twice daily from Monday to Friday.

“You don’t need to be an artist to join the community — you can simply be present and open,” says Carmen Oprea, MA 16, Art Hives facilitator and supervisor and co-facilitator of the virtual art hives. “It’s about making art, sharing ideas and thoughts, or just being together to make this ‘virtual’ space a window of hope.”

Unlike a physical art hive where supplies are readily on hand, the online version compels people to experiment and improvise. Participants have duly made art with coffee, spices — even makeup — and the virtual art hives’ Facebook page is constantly humming with new ideas from its nearly 1,000 members.

“The virtual art hive feels very healing, grounding and therapeutic,” says Lindsay Clarke, MA 13, another co-facilitator who serves as an Art Hives facilitator and supervisor.

Carmen Oprea, MA 16 “You don’t need to be an artist to join the community,” says Carmen Oprea, MA 16.

Sessions sometimes include skill-sharing between participants where specific skills like sock-puppet construction and crocheting are taught. The collective experience can be quite moving.

“One night a participant started to play the guitar,” recalls Escobedo. “It was so special. People were just creating to the sound of the music. When I disconnected from the call, I thought, wow, that was magical. Many people, especially seniors, have said they were longing for a space like this because they’ve felt isolated for years.”

‘No borders’

Virtual art hives have a way of breaking down physical boundaries, says facilitator Diana Vozian, BA 16, a masters’ student in Concordia’s Creative Arts Therapies program. “People can join from any place in the world and be part of an inspiring creative community.”

Some participants, like Ana Paula Duran, MA 18, have been inspired to start similar initiatives. Based in Germany, Duran has run a physical art hive at a café in the city of Rostock for the last two years.

“The Newcomer Café is run by an organization called Rostock Hilft, meaning ‘Rostock Helps’ in German, and it supports area refugees and immigrants,” says Duran.

When confinement measures were implemented across Germany, the organization started to think about how to expand its outreach efforts online. Weekly virtual art hives have since enabled Duran to keep her community engaged and connect with friends and family around the world.

“It’s been amazing because I can send the link to my mom in Colombia, to my aunt who lives in Spain and to my friends in Montreal. This illusion we have of living in a world with no borders, you get to actually feel it. It’s really powerful.”

For more info on the art hives network visit arthives.org.


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the well-being of our students — many of whom can no longer afford basic necessities such as rent and groceries. If you can, please consider making a donation.

And if you’re participating in COVID-19 community projects, don’t forget to tell us: socialmedia.alumni@concordia.ca.



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