As I rounded the corner past Dollarama onto the south east corridor of Portage Place Shopping Centre, the music got louder as I approached the new Upbeat Artworks gallery-boutique.
The Grand Re-opening on Nov. 18 was in full swing. Marty Green was providing some rollicking Eastern European tunes on his accordion.
The new store was packed with people who were drawn in by the art while walking past. Well-wishers who appreciated the positive effects of Artbeat Studio on the city abounded.
Artists and alumni were on hand to soak in the new store’s atmosphere and to congratulate Lucille and Ernie Bart whose son Nigel started Artbeat Studio, finding that making art helped him heal after being diagnosed with Schizophrenia.
The Barts in turn insisted their success was all due to the talented artists and artisans whose work filled the store. In quick succession I met three of the artists and all were thrilled with the new location.
Yekaterina Kaplun paints primarily in acrylics. Paul Jordan was visibly moved when he caught sight of her painting Friends In High Places.
“It’s one of the most breathtaking pieces of art I’ve seen in years,” said Jordan.
“There’s so many different styles. I see the sun, trees, people. No matter how many times you look at it, it’s going to sing a different song to you.”
Yekaterina agreed, “When I was painting it, I went through certain psychotic episodes. I felt connected to the universe more than to people. I believe we’re strongly connected to the earth and the cosmos. It was a beautiful time for me as I felt the whole world was on my side.”
The artist had started volunteering at Studio Central and taking their studio classes before applying to Artbeat. Prior to her mental health difficulties, she had earned an accountancy certificate and was studying to become a teacher.
Yekaterina has nothing but praise for Artbeart and feels the program helped her become a much more professional artist.
If you want to see more of her art, she works in multiple disciplines and has jewellery and cards on display as well as that extraordinarily beautiful painting.
Sandy Rubinfeld who works in clay, took the same slow route to applying to Artbeat. After suffering a bad bout of depression and anxiety, she had been attending the Y’s wellness program for people with mental health issues and was going to the Mood Disorders Clinic, when she saw brochures there for Studio Central.
After the first Studio Techniques class, it was like, “YES, this is who I am,” she recounted.
“For me it’s not so much the finished project, it’s the process. The process of doing art makes me feel alive,” Sandy said.
Even though she almost completed a degree at NSCAD (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) in a variety of art mediums some years ago, and had come close to getting a certificate in glassblowing from Sheridan College, she didn’t get into Artbeat on her first try.
“It’s not about how wonderful of an artist you are, it’s how the program can help your mental health recovery. They’re not judging your art work,” Sandy said.
She’s a prolific artist generally working in clay, though she loves working with oil pastels and has been learning to weave at Studio Central.
I fell in love with her mixed media piece entitled Bird On A Wire and took far too many pictures of it. I loved the whimsy and the use of mixed media with the metal rod and the driftwood tail topped by the brave pink feather on top in artspeak.
I’ve always been a sucker for a dark green and hot pink combination and the $20 price tag is a steal. Thankfully most of the proceeds from a sale go to the artists and Upbeat Artworks only keeps a small portion to cover their operating costs.
Kailyn Pederson’s mixed media dolls also grace the central circular display unit with the glass shelves.
They have names like Mira The Mermaid, Peep The Harpy, Monique Little French Girl and Beatrice The Bride and are happy whimsical creations of scraps of fabric and other materials that Kailyn pairs together.
Kailyn credits Artbeat for giving her a lot more confidence. “It was the best thing ever,” she said.
Jamie Hogaboam sold a painting during the opening. His big smile and the red sticker on the bottom right of his painting spoke volumes.
Stefano Grande, head of the Downtown Biz. bought Jamie’s painting of Gianluigi Buffon to hang in the Italian Centre on Wilkes Avenue.
Gianluigi is the revered goalkeeper for the Italian National Team and both the guys could easily recite his stats.
Stefano’s office is only blocks away from the spot outside the Manitoba Hydro Building where Jamie can be found most days selling his art cards when he’s not selling them at the farmers market or volunteering at Upbeat Artworks.
He stays at Siloam Mission and is known by many downtown workers as he’s often in the same spot. The Downtown Biz are huge supporters of the Artbeat program as they see how creative projects enhance our city and add to people’s quality of life.
For this one event, Stefano, myself and all attendees were lucky to be drawn into the big extended Artbeat family. As well as the shiny new store with all the gleaming glass shelving, the alumni were most appreciative of the caring and kindness they still receive from the Barts.