It seems as though creating art has been one way that people have been keeping themselves mentally and emotionally healthy during what has otherwise been a trying year. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror

It seems as though creating art has been one way that people have been keeping themselves mentally and emotionally healthy during what has otherwise been a trying year. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror

Vancouver Islanders using art to conquer COVID blues

It seems people have been turning to their creative sides to stay mentally and emotionally healthy

Art has a way of bringing people together, even when they’re apart.

It also, as it turns out, is one way people in Campbell River have been coping with the stresses of the last year.

With ever-changing restrictions on what we can and can’t do, where we can and can’t go and who we can and can’t see, at least one thing has remained constant: the increasing number of people who are exploring their creative side.

Eleven months ago, as the reality of the global pandemic was setting in, Nadia Rieger, owner and teacher at The Crows Nest Artist Collective in Willow Point, was scared the business she’d worked so hard to start – and then expand – would soon come to an end.

The bulk of Crows Nest’s revenue was in hosting relatively large groups of people for art classes in various mediums. That suddenly came to a screeching halt when gathering restrictions began to be put in place by the provincial health officer.

“My business has always been in educating people,” Rieger says. “But that part of what I do had to be rolled back substantially. I had to do a total 180, because I had to take the largest part of my business – and how the business was succeeding – and change it entirely. I had groups of 45 people booked to do classes right before the pandemic hit – I had five of those booked – and then suddenly we were told it couldn’t be more than six people at a time.”

RELATED: Creating a nest for artistic opportunity

But people kept coming in for art supplies to make art at home.

She didn’t have a ton of art supplies – she had a few, but that wasn’t really her focus – so she started ordering more. She also started offering her classes in a video format and selling the kits people would need to accomplish what she was teaching. She found herself having trouble keeping up with the demand for products because she had been so focused on in-house teaching since she started the business.

“If the Crows Nest was going to survive, we had to pivot hard, and it was clear that the need we were going to have to help fill was providing ways for people to make art at home, and we’re happy to have been able to do that.

“Ultimately, we are surviving because people need art right now. 100 per cent.”

Ken Blackburn, executive director of the Campbell River Arts Council, thinks he knows why that is. Why do people need art right now, maybe more than ever?

“There’s one word that has a lot of different connotations as to why I think that the arts are being seen as having more value right now, and that’s the word ‘connection,’” Blackburn says. “Connection goes a few ways. The arts in a community works to connect us. That’s what it does, whether it’s dance, theatre, music, visual art, whatever. That’s why it’s such a key component within communities: they connect us.”

But even when the arts can’t connect us literally, there’s another “connection” they serve.

“The other thing they do is make a personal connection,” Blackburn says. “They connect us to ourselves, or to our childhood, or to a time that we saw ourselves with more freedom and liberation. Art takes us out of our stresses, our work routines, or in this case, our isolations.”

But using art to heal and provide emotional support isn’t a new idea, nor is it unique to periods of isolation – or a pandemic.

“Art Therapy has a long history as a discipline, and the therapeutic value of the arts has been well documented,” Blackburn says. “I’ve been giving talks about this at conferences for over 15 years and talking about (the art council’s) Art in Health initiative at the hospital. There’s no shortage of research – across the entire breadth of the arts, whether it’s visual arts or music or dance – of the therapeutic value of the arts. Medical schools are even starting to introduce it into their training programs.”

And based on the art he’s seen that has been produced within the community over the past year, he can see the difference a pandemic has made. He was recently part of hanging the annual Members’ Show – which he has done for the past 15-plus years – and says there are new names he didn’t recognize, and it’s “probably also the strongest Members’ Show I’ve seen.”

RELATED: Art Gallery director reflects on ‘maybe our hardest year ever’

“It would be an interesting exercise to sit in there for a couple of hours with that critical eye and try to figure out, ‘Is there something COVID here?’ that over-arches the show?”

But if others are experiencing their own art like he’s been experiencing his own, he thinks it’s likely.

“Personally, I’ve returned into landscape as a coping mechanism,” he says. “I’m seeing in landscape the unpredictability of landscape – and of the sky, in particular – and that’s been reflecting how I feel about the world right now.”

His hope now, however, is that people’s love and embracing of art doesn’t slip away with the virus.

“It will be essentially important to hold onto this,” he says. “Anybody who thinks we should go back to the way things were before COVID is delusional, what with all of the problems we already had. We want to shift the status quo now that we have that opportunity, and one of the ways we can do that, significantly, within the community, is to have more connection.

“And that’s what the arts do.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

ArtCampbell RiverCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ravi Jain, Why Not Theatre’s founding artistic director, will present a Zoom lecture as part of the University of Victoria’s Orion fine art series on March 8. (Photo: University of Victoria).
Award-winning directors highlight coming University of Victoria lecture series

The March 8 and 18 Zoom events are part of the Orion fine arts lecture series

A shot from the rehearsal of Being Here: The Refugee Project, the Belfry Theatre’s filmed play that’s set to open on March 16. (Photo: Belfry Theatre)
Victoria’s Belfry Theatre shows filmed play on refugee, sponsor experience

Being Here: The Refugee Project is based off the first-hand accounts of refugees and their sponsors

(Black Press Media file photo)
Get the word on art on Sunday afternoons in Victoria

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria presents Sunday lecture series in March

GVPA authors
Write On! Greater Victoria Public Library releases 2021 local authors collection

Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL) is celebrating local authors with the unveiling… Continue reading

Hermann's Jazz Club
Hermann’s celebrates International Women’s Day and St. Paddy’s Day

International Women’s Day will be celebrated at Hermann’s Jazz Club with an… Continue reading

Gabriel Swift, 23, is one of three Victoria filmmakers chosen to receive $20,000 Telus Storyhive grants to produce Local Heroes documentaries. (Courtesy of Gabriel Swift)
Three Victoria filmmakers producing ‘local heroes’ documentaries with $20,000 grants

Telus Storyhive providing $20,000 to 40 Western Canada productions

The shadow cast of the Satyr Players production of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’: Linda Dohmeier as Dr. Scott, Olivia Erickson as Columbia, Brandon Caul as Rocky, Christopher Carter as Brad, Charlie Prince as Eddie, Branden Martell as Riff Raff, Jenna Morgan as Magenta, Megan Rhode as Janet and Adrien Kennedy as Dr. Frank-N-Furter (clockwise from left). (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
VIU student actors go online for 25th-annual ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’

Satyr Players theatre company to broadcast pre-recorded shadow production

Donna Hales next to one of her paintings of Sooke. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Parksville artist Donna Hales still displaying her work at age 94

Current exhibit at the McMillan Arts Centre through April 1

Nanaimo painter Shawnda Wilson hangs her exhibit Tropical Wallpaper at Jonny the Barber. The show runs until the end of March. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
Nanaimo painter battles pandemic blues with tropical exhibition

Shawnda Wilson presents ‘Tropical Wallpaper’ at Old City Quarter barbershop

It’s been almost a year since the last public performance inside the Chemainus Theatre. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Donors pledge $60,000 in matching campaign at Chemainus Theatre

Perrys, Hiltons and Duncan Iron Works help to Bridge the Gap during COVID shutdown

Artist Sandra Meigs will be the next speaker in NIC’s online 2021 Artist Talk series, appearing virtually on Friday, March 5 at 1 pm. For the full schedule and link to attend the Artist Talk Online Series, visit (Photo: The Glass Ticker (2017) — 15’ X 9’ X 5’, wood, enamel, lights, aluminum, glass, automata. Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid.)
Celebrated artist and mentor Meigs joins North Island College Artist Talk series

Vivid, immersive, and enigmatic style combines the complex with comic elements

Arts Laureate Barbara Adams joins artist Luke Ramsey and Mayor Kevin Murdoch in front of the Parade of Play mural at the Oak Bay High track. (Black Press Media file photo)
Curtain draws to a close on Oak Bay arts laureate’s term

Barbara Adams has been a champion for arts in the community

The students in the Timberline Musical Theatre program are rehearsing this year’s production, Once Upon a Mattress, three days per week after school in preparation for their upcoming virtual performances. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
Island high school’s musical theatre program hoping for last-minute ticket surge

Popular annual run of Timberline shows costs $7,000-$8,000 to stage, sold $750 in tickets

Most Read