Sharing privacy 

By Russ Cooper

Art Education explores solitude. Magnifying glass

Art Education explores solitude.

Personal privacy is something many of us hold dear – it's something we don't (by definition) share. But for those involved in the Inner Space/Outer Place project, it's an opportunity to reflect and invite people in.

Inner Space is a project of the department of Art Education helping clientele of Montreal's St. James Drop-in Centre to explore their own idea of privacy, as well as their own artistic intuition by creating personalized 'privacy panels' for the bunk beds of Montreal's Old Brewery Mission.

"This process is really empowering for those who call the Old Brewery home," says Art Education lecturer Carol Beer Houpert.

Last year, Amy Neff, the architect performing renovations on the Old Mission, approached Art Education professor Linda Szabad-Smyth. Interested in creating something special for a community centre, Neff gave her and her colleagues panels of 10-pound cotton specially made for this project and requested they use their to creativity to enhance the space.

Using the elements of art with the principals of design, Beer Houpert and her students met those from the St. James to share their artistic passion and, in the process, taught different techniques to transform the plain cotton canvases. The St. James clientele used paints and dyes to create their own personal pieces of art that doubled as individualized walls encompassing their own space around their beds at the Old Brewery.

The project has been expanded in its second year – last year saw five panels transformed and a vernissage at the Old Brewery (see Journal, April 5, 2007). This year's Inner Space saw 12 privacy panels. As well, a third edition is in the works for next year.

Two students reflect upon the <em>Inner Space/Outer Place</em> privacy panels at the FOFA Gallery vernissage on Nov. 7. Magnifying glass

Two students reflect upon the Inner Space/Outer Place privacy panels at the FOFA Gallery vernissage on Nov. 7.

From the start, Beer Houpert says the project became something more than just teaching and learning about art.

"The participants became part of a new community, rather than being just a number," she says. "The project has always been about community giving back to community."

Alexis Boyle, a BFA Art Education student involved in Inner Space, knew the project fit in perfectly with the spirit embodied at the drop-in centre. "I loved it," Boyle says. "As soon as I walked in, I knew I wanted to work here."

To inspire her students at the St. James, Boyle brought in a book of world textiles – many of which featured birds of all sorts.

This was not lost on Paul Hicks, an inhabitant of the St. James and the Old Brewery and a participant in the project. Hicks decorated his privacy panels with swans he carved into rubber stamps. Even with 10-years experience producing art on his own, Hicks couldn't explain why he chose birds for his work. "I just did it. I didn't think about it," he says. But when Boyle explains that birds are often a symbol associated with love and freedom, the soft spoken Hicks nods and smiles. "Maybe that's why," he says.

"Every panel is unique because everyone has a story to tell," adds Anne-Marie Beaulieu, co-coordinator of Old Brewery's art workshop.

While the focus remains on art education, Beer Houpert says the virtue of art is inherent without trying to evoke the therapeutic benefits. "It doesn't matter who you are, art always makes you feel good when you make it."

The passion and heart of all those involved is undeniable to anyone who experiences the art in this way. For some, they can't say enough. For Hicks, perhaps simply speaking from the heart is enough.

"It's something really different. It made me feel good," Hicks says.


Concordia University