Picasso said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”
The dust has been collecting in studios across the province since the lockdown started nearly three months ago and artists such as Chanel DesRoches from the Necessary Arts collective are eager to get back to work.
“It has been really difficult for artists to participate in things,” said DesRoches. “All the exhibitions and studio tours that were planned or arranged and that people were signed up to do, they were cancelled.”
Most artists have used the time alone wisely.
“If anything, people are taking the opportunity to take a break,” she said. “Some continue to just work privately and submit to online exhibitions and shows because that’s all there is to offer right now.”
DesRoches, who works in painting, drawing and printmaking, joined the Necessary Arts collective in May of 2019, shortly after graduating from the Studio Arts program at the University of Guelph. She was looking for a studio atmosphere similar to her university art classes.
“We are conditioned in a space surrounded by people that are providing feedback constantly,” said DesRoches. “It’s a huge shock to the system when you are alone,”
Necessary Arts was created in 2013 by artists Cynthia Waldow and Frances Hahn and for the first five years they operated a studio and gallery in the basement of the Gummer Building on Douglas Street. They moved across the street to their present location in The Walkway in June 2018.
The collective has been very active in the community promoting art and artists and organizing, workshops, auctions and exhibits. Managing it all demanded a lot of Waldow’s time, effort and money and after seven years, she was ready for a change.
“I had been talking to the members about the fact that the lease was up in May and I was hoping to move on to something new,” said Waldow. “I put it out to them that I couldn’t make ends meet even with the help from the landlords. I would just fall further into debt with this setup. I asked if anyone was interested in running it themselves because they would be starting from a much better position than me.”
DesRoches took her up on the offer and agreed to take over the lease.
No one could have anticipated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic but she is determined to forge ahead.
“I think I am a little crazy for taking on a business during a pandemic and within 30 days of just learning everything about the studio,” said DesRoches. “I was fully committed from the get-go as soon as I knew it was going to be shutting down.”
The handover has been bittersweet for Waldow but she was happy to see DesRoches’ passion and commitment to the studio and its members.
“You can see that there is an end for you and an opportunity for someone else and that is really what I have been focusing on,” said Waldow.. “I live a little out of town and I have two children who are home from school. There is a little bit of stress around keeping the business safe during this period that I won’t have any more so, there is a little bit of relief from that part.”
DesRoches has used the lockdown time to renovate the studio and get it ready for the new normal.
“Artists love wall space so with the help of family I had the ability to build partition walls for people”, she said. “Not only were there plans to put up this wall space before the pandemic but, it helps post pandemic with social distancing because this could be going on for a while. These spaces are at least six feet apart.”
The focus of the collective has always been on the community aspect of art and just like Waldow, DesRoches welcomes and encourages amateur artists to join.
“You don’t need to have an educational background,” said DesRoches. “You don’t need to have an established practice. You can be just someone who likes being here and being a part of it.”
She said, that quality imbues the studio with a value that can’t be measured in dollars and unlike most business owners, she isn’t in business to get rich.
“I wouldn’t have gone to art school if money was my goal,” said DesRoches. “I think the difference is that I have everybody’s interest at heart including my own and I know it would be very difficult to make a comeback for the studio if we had lost it. It would be very difficult to reinvent something like this place.”