Culture  Making art and community

St. Henri art space brings neighbors together with canvas and conversation

When it comes to art here in Montreal, we are undeniably spoiled. In any other city, just being artistic stands out on its own, but here, there’s usually something more. Handwritten signs, eclectic colors, and nifty décor are breathed into just about every corner of this vibrant city. The arts in Montreal have become the means rather than the end, usually paired with another grassroots movement or cause.

A more recent initiative – started April of this year – is a free community art space located in the revitalized borough of St. Henri, called La Ruche D’Art. It is open to anyone interested, at no cost, and provides a big studio space as well as a wide variety of materials to use for creative, therapeutic, or social purposes. The idea behind the La Ruche D’Art is to have an alternative space that is inclusive and accessible not only to artists, but to the general population.

When you first walk in the sunny entrance of the space, welcoming posters encourage you to “make good art” and to be part of the St. Henri Community. The studio itself is one large, open room with a spacious cluster of tables in the middle. A friendly mix of Francophones, Anglophones, and people of all ages gather around and chat while sewing, painting, doodling, and generally having fun. Along the walls surrounding the table, tall shelves are available to anyone looking for wool, tree bark, buttons, jars, pencil crayons, fabric, and almost anything else you could use to make art, all donated to the studio by community members. The other side of the studio is set up like a gallery, with a few installation pieces as well as paintings and photographs by La Ruche participants. In the back, the studio has a beautiful outdoor space called “the collective garden,” also free to use for art projects, gardening, installations, and general enjoyment.

For many art studios, the participants walk in with the intent of making art, and walk out with a much broader experience. What is unique about La Ruche is that most people that walk though its doors are not coming just for the art, but for the sense of community, whether it be in a listening ear, friendly faces, encouragement, support, or acceptance. Community members come in to talk about various current events or personal stories, as well as to teach and learn about arts and crafts in a nonjudgmental, informal setting, often walking out with a tangible piece of art.

Through this initiative, founder Janis Timm-Bottos and their business partner Rachel Chainey hope to overcome the social stratification present in Montreal. In a space free of differentiated social classes, participants can bond over shared food, collaborative pieces, and music. Bringing together experienced artists and amateurs alike, La Ruche provides the residents of St Henri and its neighbours with a space outside of work or school in which to express themselves.

For those interested in stopping by, there’s no need to bring anything but an open mind!