Art Alchemy is a group of artists sharing studio space in downtown Courtenay, and I have the good fortune to be one of them. I have been a member of this collective for one and a half years, and during this time I have benefited incredibly. Being part of a group of like-minded people striving to follow their artistic dreams is rich and rewarding, not only in the creative sense but also in the sense of belonging, knowing that you are not alone in the journey.
During the five years since its inception, Art Alchemy has gone through a number of changes to get to where it is today. The idea of starting a collective in Courtenay was inspired by a visit to THE 3 AMIGAS studio in Nanaimo. Helen Utsal, Lucy Schappy, and Jennifer Weber, the founding members, became focused on the idea of creating something similar and when they found the space on 10th St, with its high ceilings, big windows and amazing light, it was obvious that they had found the ideal studio space. Artists Stacey Wright and Guillermo Mier were happy to join them and together they created Art Alchemy.
The concept was to have a place to make and show art, and share creative thinking and overhead. Establishing the studio took a lot of time, hard work and money, and now it is a smoothly running endeavour. In the beginning there was more emphasis on having designated exhibition space and frequent shows, but time has proved that the space and energy is best used towards the process of painting and making art. Now the collective puts on one or two shows a year and concentrates on the joy of creation, inspiring the members to grow as artists within a supportive haven of camaraderie and artistic expression that helps them experiment and push boundaries.
Throughout the past five years, artists have come and gone, and there are presently nine in the collective, with two of the artists sharing their space seasonally. All the current members joined looking for studio space to escape the distractions of home, and to paint in the company of other artists in what is otherwise a very solitary activity, but have gained so much more. They bounce new ideas off each other, are introduced to new materials and methods, share stories, and find the combination incredibly motivating. Helen says, “I feel so happy every time I come up those stairs, hearing the sounds of music, and people I care about going about their business, scraping paint, sharing a laugh, smells of oil paint, fresh bread or soup; the sounds of life.” Also, with so many hands to put to the task, organising and producing shows is much easier and more fun.
The artists here at Art Alchemy come and go – life involves change and being open to adapt frees us to move forward and get the most that we can out of these changes. But carried on this tide are constants, primarily an atmosphere of warmth and acceptance that nurtures creativity. Art Alchemy is not static, it is rich and vibrant and filled with positive energy that embraces everyone who comes through our door and makes that climb up our stairs.
Art Alchemy Studio Gallery is located at 362c, 10th Street in Courtenay. The studio is open every Saturday from noon until 4:00 pm, by appointment, and also whenever the sign is out. For more information, visit our website at www.artalchemy.ca