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A hive of art and healing

The Concordia Art Hive builds communities by offering the public a space to create
September 28, 2018
By Simona Rabinovitch

The new Concordia Art Hive Headquarters, located in a bright corner on the fifth floor of Concordia’s Engineering and Visual Arts Integrated Complex, offers visitors a warm and inspiring space — which is exactly its goal.

The Concordia Art Hive, accessible to the public twice a week and special groups at other times, opened in 2018 with the support of a gift from the Rossy Family Foundation. The gift provides for the development of the International Art Hives Headquarters and two campus art hives.

As explained on the initiative’s website, art hives are open studios that deliver access to art-making as means of healing, learning and community- building. To be considered an art hive, a community studio is encouraged to follow principles such as social inclusion, respect, offering free access and welcoming everyone as an artist.

Led by Janis Timm-Bottos, associate professor in Concordia’s Department of Creative Arts Therapies, the Art Hives Network was launched in 2012 thanks to the support of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation. The initiative’s growing network of art hives includes 35 in Montreal, several in the United States and Europe, and one each in Morocco and a refugee camp in Iraq.

Janis Timm-Bottos “Being comfortable because you’re engaged in your own art-making is one way to interact with people and issues that you’re not so comfortable with,” says Janis Timm-Bottos, director of the Art Hives Network

“When you look at the network, the basic premise is about creating a welcoming space and time for people to get together to meet each other and have access to materials,” Timm-Bottos says. “While some workshops can be associated with art hives, mainly, it’s a non-directed space. The fact that it’s unprogrammed is what makes it really work.”

Timm-Bottos, who also served as Concordia’s Provost Fellow of Community Engagement, Fine Arts, coined the term “art hive” — although she’s quick to point out that the tradition has been around for ages. Prior to arriving at Concordia in 2010, she had been a pediatric physical therapist in Albuquerque, N.M., where she developed the first of the six art hives she began in North America.

Third space

Rachel Chainey, MA (art therapy) 2018, is the Art Hives Network coordinator and has been working with Timm-Bottos since 2010. She was part of the team that in 2011 opened La Ruche d’Art in the St. Henri district, the first art hive in Montreal. La Ruche d’Art is open twice weekly to the public in addition to three closed groups for special populations: cancer patients, seniors and veterans. It’s also a teaching site for Timm-Bottos’s Concordia course about how to start a community art studio.

Chainey, who co-founded the Montreal art hive Coop Le Milieu, says the vision is to have an art hive in every neighbourhood. “It’s an open-source model, so we want people to replicate it,” she says.

Taking an art therapy approach, the art hive focus is on process, not product. “Sometimes people will make art that has a profound personal meaning for them, that they might not make at home because they might not have the motivation or the supplies,” Chainey says. “When everyone else is creating and you see what people are making, you become inspired.”

Rebecca Duclos, dean of Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts, feels the attention the university has paid to the art hive movement in recent years echoes a growing and more holistic interest in the health and well-being of the university community. She feels Timm-Bottos’s work has been instrumental in cultivating that interest.

“The amazing thing about art hives that is so simple and brilliant is that it brings the often private activities of therapy and public activities of creation together into a single space,” Duclos says. “It’s like a third space, this middle space where people who may or may not know each other are actually creating things together in a very open-ended, comfortable, non-competitive, communal atmosphere.”

This approach can be called “public practice art therapy,” another term dubbed by Timm-Bottos. “Often, we’ll hear about private practice art therapy, which happens in a closed office, in a confidential manner,” Chainey explains. “Public practice arts therapies bring the healing work to the public space.”

Rachel Chainey Rachel Chainey is the Art Hives network coordinator. “The essence of the network is all about relationships: those we cultivate over the years with participants, students or seasoned practitioners who first come in contact with art hives through concordia; as well as those relationships we build with community or health organizations,” she says.

Chainey also describes the Concordia Art Hive as a “third space” between institution and community. “It’s a dynamic space where people learn from one another,” she says. “It’s a space where you can enter the university and mingle with the students, when everyone learns from everyone in surprising ways, as people have different life paths and stories.”

She explains that Concordia’s art hive includes a social component. “It invites in everyone on campus to take care of their mental health and creative well-being,” Chainey says.

“For students or staff experiencing stress, being able to come here on their lunch break or when they have time to use the materials, relax, talk to someone, is valuable,” she adds. “It’s not necessarily easy for people to engage with one another in academia. You don’t always know your peers.”

Concordia art therapy student Ana Garcia hails from Colombia. Her research, she explains, is about “adapting the art hives to the Colombian environment.” After working as a psychologist for five years, she came to the university specifically to study art therapy. “When you’re not from here, it’s very hard to feel that you’re part of something,” Garcia says. Working at the Concordia Art Hive has given her a valuable sense of community.

Public benefit

One of the Concordia Art Hive’s main intentions is to bolster the mental health of members of the university and local community by providing an equal footing.

“The art hive becomes a place where identity is flexible, whether it’s the role of being a person surviving homelessness on the street or the president of the university,” Timm-Bottos says. “We can all put aside these labels and meet up as humans. It’s very nourishing to learn in this way. You may be the person grieving one day and then another time be supporting someone else dealing with a hardship. We all need these flexible third spaces to regenerate.”

She adds that our society privileges those with linear ways of thinking. “Yet each of us is born with a different type of intelligence. So those of us who are more visually oriented or kinesthetic don’t always do well in the standardized ways we think about education,” Timm-Bottos says. “The art hive presents an opportunity for people to be who they really are. There is a sense of liberation that comes with suddenly walking into a space that honours different ways of knowing, different types of intelligence.”

Art Hive The Concordia Art Hive offers members of the public a chance to participate in making art and strengthen community bonds.

Her research explores the idea that without having all these multiple intelligences meeting up in one place, society may never solve its bigger issues. “We have to eliminate the walls so more people can enter,” Timm-Bottos says. “The art hive can be a place where people learn they have a voice and express who they are; they are not just one thing but many things.”

The model’s broad definition of art-making and creativity is not limited to traditional fine arts. “Art-making could be everything from cooking a special meal to making something for someone else,” Timm-Bottos says.

Chainey adds, “The Art Hive is also a place participants use to make personalized gifts for their loved ones, or even to start a mini-enterprise selling their art.”

The concept is spreading to music and drama. Brennan is a drama therapy student in the Department of Creative Arts Therapies and a facilitator at the Concordia Art Hive. Her research focuses on developing a drama therapy equivalent to the art hive, whether “through improv, mask-making, puppet-making and trying to create a community model,” Brennan says.

“I believe in the healing power of art. For me it’s always come from the body, yet it’s the same healing power, just in a different form.”

Solving problems in society

Timm-Bottos’s next area of research addresses how art hives and the communities they build could help tackle society’s larger problems.

“In addition to understanding the mental health and wellness component, the other big area of research has focused on how this model works in communities, neighbourhoods and institutions, which is what we’re doing now,” she says. “We have these amazing art hives at Concordia, and we’ll be collecting data; how does it work in a university setting?”

Art Hives are also connected to the Living Labs movement, which Chainey explains are an innovation model that involves hands-on problem solving of real-life issues and the mixing of community members and experts to come up with novel solutions.

Concordia Art Hive The Concordia Art Hive provides visitors supplies, which are recycled, donated and available materials that come mostly from The Concordia Centre For Creative Reuse ( and individual donations.

For instance, Science Shop talks are held at some Montreal art hives. Timm- Bottos explains that the talks offer the public a chance “to learn more about topics the community has said they want to learn about: food security, how their clothes are made, how to grow plants in the soil in their neighbourhood, how to deal with issues of homelessness.” She feels the university has a responsibility to address these questions, conduct research, then provide support to the needs expressed by communities.

As well, Timm-Bottos and her students are meeting with local community members, workers and police officers at one of Montreal’s original art hives to see how they can understand — and maybe help — the gun violence issues that have emerged nearby. “It’s a big leap for us, but it’s time to take the challenge and see if we can respond to the call,” she says. “We’ve been there for seven years, so there is some trust.”

Timm-Bottos reports that the city’s network of 35 art hives offers an endless resource of information. “Our students are coming up with research ideas and locating themselves in different parts of the city,” she says. “We have students working with immigrant youth, seniors in residential care and young adults living with epilepsy, for example.”

An inspired “experiment”

“One of the wonderful things about the art hive is that it has this feeling of potential,” Timm-Bottos says. “You don’t know who you’re going to meet, who your next collaborator will be or what book will fall off the shelf when you’re gathering materials that will provide you with your next direction. You’re going to go there and get another piece to a puzzle that you’ve been looking for.”

Art Hive

With social masks off and a purposeful absence of structure, the improvised nature of this experience can make some people uncomfortable at first, which Timm-Bottos and Chainey describe as a positive outcome.

“The world needs you to bump into people who you aren’t comfortable with in a space that will help you look at your own work, but also to be in relationship to things that aren’t comfortable,” Timm-Bottos says, citing French philosopher Michel Foucault’s ethics of discomfort. “That is a big part of the studio — to have places where we can actually meet up with people we may not ever talk to otherwise.”

While different people go to art hives for different reasons, they might sense common ground simply by creating side by side. “When I started this work, it had a lot to do with people who were homeless. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable walking up to somebody in the street and having a conversation, but in the studio it becomes an amazing space to connect people,” Timm-Bottos says.

“We don’t have many opportunities to cross over our socioeconomic places, different religious beliefs or languages; we tend to gravitate to people like ourselves. Being comfortable because you’re engaged in your own art-making is one way to interact with people and issues that you’re not so comfortable with.”

Perhaps, as she puts it, art hives can be seen as an experiment of how to live in a world we’d like to live in. “Things come out of it linked to potential, innovation and asking questions about your community that you never thought you were allowed to ask,” Timm-Bottos says. “The hope is that it will affect policy change.”

Chainey agrees: “We’re here learning from one another, growing with one another, and seeing the impact that the space and art-making has on people’s well-being and sense of meaning and purpose, being competent human beings.”

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