Maria Ezcurra looks around admiringly at the small groups working and chatting away in the McGill Art Hive Initiative on the first floor of the Faculty of Education building. Amid big tables and myriad art supplies, one group is putting the finishing touches on a solar system with planets made from papier-mâché balloons.
Open five days a week to everyone, the Art Hive serves the entire McGill community and functions as a studio, an art research centre, an event space and a gallery.
“If someone asks us to do something we’ve never done, we’ll try to make it happen,” says Ezcurra, who is the hive’s facilitator. “Art and creativity are very important, but so is community: a space where people feel welcome, able to do whatever they need to do to feel well.”
Students as artists
“I went once and I was hooked,” says Mariam Sabbah. “I’ve been every single week since.”
At first she went to the Hive to make art, but soon she realized she wanted to volunteer to help the space grow. Now on Fridays she acts as a representative, answering questions and overseeing activities. Her commitment doesn’t end there. “I have a whole idea-book of my vision for the Art Hive,” she admits with a laugh.
A first-year Management student, Sabbah calls art her hobby and passion and says it helps her to manage stress as she adjusts to university life.
“In my room I have this wall full of things I’ve made at the Art Hive: paintings, sketches, charcoal drawings. My goal is to make us even more known throughout McGill. I think the more avenues we can provide to McGill students to create art, the better.”
Art Hive beginnings
Back in 2015, Ezcurra, a visual artist, was one of the first two artists in the Faculty of Education’s Artists-in-Residence (AiR) program, which was launched by the Institute for Human Development and Well-Being, thanks to the generosity of Pauline Smith, MEd ’75.
“Right away I realized there was art everywhere, just not enough spaces to share or show it,” says Ezcurra.
She saw that many students were already connected to the arts, and she was interested in facilitating that creativity.
“I decided more than just hanging my work on the wall, I was going to find ways to provide opportunities to show or display some of the amazing things that were already happening here.”
One of those projects was to start a small art hive. She would move a table with art supplies around the Faculty of Education building, leading activities and providing a space for people to sit down, make art and talk. “It was humble but it worked very well,” she says.
Unique in Montreal
The permanent Art Hive space opened in November 2017 and is a part of the growing global Art Hive movement of art studios that welcome everyone as an artist.
The Art Hive is intended for everyone at McGill and is supported by The Rossy Foundation and Pauline Smith.
In addition to supporting the Artist-in-Residence program, the P. Lantz Initiative also funds annual scholarships and fellowships in the Faculty; performance and exhibition spaces for student and Faculty-produced arts projects, research and creative work; and partnerships with local schools in music education.
McGill’s is the only Art Hive in Montreal that has artists-in-residence. “And they keep changing every year,” points out Ezcurra. “Each artist has different interests, and works with different media.” Over the course of a degree in Education, a student could encounter eight different artists.
A hive of activity
Lori Beavis was an artist-in-residence in 2016-17. Of Anishinabeg heritage, she worked to bring Indigeneity into the program, and launched an Indigenous film series.
Last winter the event moved into the Art Hive.
“Even if there are students doing homework or working on something, and they’re not necessarily here to watch, they can absorb some of the energy of the films,” says Beavis, who’s pleased with the new location.
She shows a range of films, for example by director Shelley Niro, a Mohawk artist from Six Nations. “It ebbs and flows. I’m very interested in the far north. I showed a series of Inuit films last January when it was deeply cold,” she says.
This year, the AiR program sought out artists whose work emphasizes performance. Déborah Maia de Lima is a dancer who works with movement, and Lou Sheppard is an interdisciplinary artist, working with installation, performance and music.
There’s also collaboration between the two, which Ezcurra sees as valuable for students. “If you can see how two artists are collaborating to create something, maybe you also start collaborating with other people.”
Sheppard recently led a workshop to visualize disappearing birdsong. Participants wrote music scores based on ultrasound-like images of birdsong recordings. Results varied depending on participants’ music background and inspiration.
Sheppard appreciates having access to the Hive. “It’s really wonderful to give people an idea of how artists work over time: They see the research behind art practice is not dissimilar to their own practice,” says Sheppard.
“The Art Hive and the P. Lantz Initiative are two different things, but they started as one. They are complementary; I can’t see one without the other,” says Ezcurra.