Inside The Box Thinking Behind Art Space
Kathryn MacKay, artistic director, works with a student during a theatrical lesson at The Box, the recently opened creative arts space designed by H’art School. The Box will serve as a space for theatrical, musical and dance lessons for students at H’art School with intellectual disabilities. It will also be available for other art groups and organizations in the community to use, and is centrally located in GoodLife Fitness in downtown Kingston. (Supplied photo)
It is often said that people need to “think outside the box,” but according to those who know first-hand, it’s truly amazing what one can learn inside The Box.
The Box is the new flexible studio space that’s been built through a partnership with H’art School and Kincore Holdings Ltd.
Located on the bottom floor of GoodLife Fitness in the downtown core of Kingston, The Box was designed to be a creative art space that is fully accessible in all meanings of the term, MacKay explained.
“It’s downtown and central, it’s wheelchair accessible and what we’ve done is we’ve made it so that all the arts can practice there,” she said.
The Box is equipped to support classes and performances in all types of the creative arts. It has a full sound system for use with music groups and classes, a smart board and projector for audio/visual lessons and presentations, and can be configured in a number of ways to allow for theatrical classes and productions. The space also has a sprung floor, similar to what you might find in a gymnastics studio, which is semi-flexible and springy, ideal for dance classes and for the students the space will serve, MacKay expressed.
“The floor is great because quite a few of the participants, in addition to intellectual disabilities, have very physical disabilities as well, so it’s easy on their joints and for them to spend a lot of time there, so especially for dance,” she said.
H’art School serves adults with intellectual disabilities, and has long been known as an outstanding service in Kingston that combines education and art as a means of helping those transitioning from high school to adult life in learning to socialize, express themselves, and hone their skills.
H’art School already has rooms dedicated to the fine arts, such as painting and sketching, and will continue to maintain those, MacKay said. But The Box will now take over for the classes that used to be occasional special events for H’Art School in things like drama, music and dance.
But in keeping with theme of being fully accessible, The Box was not designed to be used only by students are H’art School, MacKay said.
“The long-term goal is to open it up to everyone. The Box just opened in September, and we’ve just been using it for a month and a half now, so I think the priority is to make it accessible to all artistic groups within the city” she explained.
“But especially those who are marginalized or come from special needs, and that includes mental health, street health, and people who, for economic reasons, can’t really participate in artistic activities.”
MacKay said she has already been pleasantly surprised by the effect The Box has had on H’art School students. Not only are they embracing the space, the fact that they have room to move and new technology to utilize has proved beneficial to lesson retention and students’ ability to participate in art classes they might otherwise not have access to.
Moving forward, The Box will be utilizing modern technology to increase and enhance fine art projects as well, MacKay said. Using Smart Boards, students can take paintings and prints they’ve created and turn them into animations.
“We’re just starting to learn how to use the technology, both in fine art for things like animation, and in terms of actually performing, speaking through smart boards, or performing with other students on screen,” said MacKay.
“They’re learning some drama techniques, but as well, some of the students find it really hard to say ‘Gee,’ just in terms of speech or being non-verbal … a lot of what we’re doing is just as well a form of speech therapy, like when we’re doing vocal exercises … it just gives them the confidence to say ‘Good Grief!’ ”
The Box was made possible thanks to Steve de Guise, operator of Kincore Holdings, who offered rent relief for the next five years to the organization. This offer represents an in-kind donation of nearly $500,000.
“It’s a fantastic space that is helping students to learn, and to grow as artists,” said MacKay.
“It’s just amazing how many ways we can now offer students to express themselves artistically.”
To learn more about The Box, to get involved as a student, or to suggest community projects that might be suitable for The Box, contact H’art School by going to www.hartcentre.ca or calling 613-545-1392.