Upcycling a North Saanich school for arts, music and more

McTavish Academy of Arts aims to create links with the creative community.

Lucas Copplestone, left, and Sean McNeill are the new owners of the McTavish Road School in North Saanich. They purchased it from School District 63 (Saanich) and plan on converting it to an arts, music and agricultural centre.

For years, the McTavish Road School has sat idle, just waiting for someone to come along and breathe new life into it.

Enter Sean McNeill and Lucas Copplestone, both raised on the Saanich Peninsula, who have some big goals for the space. They purchased the former school building earlier this year and are only a couple weeks away from getting the keys in hand.

They are establishing the McTavish Academy of Arts — a space for creativity on a variety of levels.

“It’s going to a be a centre for the living arts,” said McNeill. “There will be art, music, dance, yoga, mindfulness and meditation and even agriculture.”

The two have been running disparate programs along those lines for the last eight years and felt now was the time to combine them all under one roof, in a project that is a business — but one that focuses on bringing out people’s creativity on a variety of levels.

“I think we can become that space that can offer more creativity,” Copplestone said. “Yet, it’s important to be able to mix art and business together.”

The McTavish Academy, they say, will be a place where people who create, can meet others who have done similar things and found success at turning their creative passions into a business. Lucas said, in example, young people who draw cartoon characters might be able to use the space as a meeting place at first and then learn through others how to market their ideas.

Yet first and foremost, the McTavish Academy is about offering a space to a variety of community-based artists, musicians, dancers and more.

“A lot of space for arts and music has been lost over the years, McNeill said.

He noted there have been recent stories in the media about schools having their arts and music program funding cut. The Academy, he continued, is looking to be a place that keeps those things alive — for both youth and adults.

Copplestone added many people are trapped in the adult game of getting jobs, making money, raising families. And while none of that is necessarily bad, he said people sometimes put their creative endeavours on hold. Their project, he said, hopes to create connections into the community and try to bring more people back into their creative side.

To that end, their plan is to be able to offer drop in studio space  for art, music, dancing, you name it.

“We don’t necessarily have these kinds of spaces anymore,” said McNeill, “just a place to hang out for a few hours.”

The duo have planned a soft opening of the space on June 4 and 5 as part of the annual Saanich Peninsula Studio Tour.

Between now and then, McNeill and Copplestone have a lot of work to do, renovating portions of the interior of the former school.

To that end, they launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. They hope to raise $10,000 to help cover the cost of flooring, paint and more. In return, they’re offering donors art, program passes, T-shirts and more.  Find out more about the campaign at kickstarter.com and search for McTavish Academy of Arts.

The pair also plan on starting slow, opening the front portions of the building first, working their way to the back and onto the agricultural land at the rear of the property. While those plans are tentative, McNeill and Copplestone said they’re thinking about garden plots. They call agriculture another creative outlet, spurred on by the broader farming community with knowledge and skills to share.

That’s the theme throughout their plans for the Academy — people sharing their experience in a variety of creative outlets.

“There’s a lot of people out there doing stuff,” McNeill said. “We hope to foster open communication and collaboration with many organizations and individuals who may want to use the space here.”

The McTavish Academy of Arts is scheduled to open in early May with three classrooms converted to host yoga, art and dance. McNeill said they’re looking at a partial opening for drop-in classes on May 9, with full class and program schedules in place by May 16.

To learn more about the McTavish Academy of Arts and their Kickstarter campaign, visit maoa.ca.

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