4elements Living Arts launches mobile ‘beehive’ studio in Kagawong

From left, 4elements chair Susan Snelling, musician Duncan Cameron, MPP Michael Mantha and MP Carol Hughes stand before the new 4elements Bee Hive mobile studio in progress during the Elemental Festival held Saturday in Kagawong. photos by Lori Thompson

KAGAWONG – On September 26, 4elements Living Arts provided a first look at its new mobile studio, the Bee Hive, outdoors at the Kagawong Park Centre. The studio was created thanks to capital funding of $53,500 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Visitors celebrated at the 4e Bee Mobile Studio Tour 2020, 4elements’ physically distanced version of the annual Elemental Festival on Manitoulin Island. This event was the first in a series of outdoor arts events this fall, supported through Local Festivals funding from Heritage Canada.

Susan Snelling, chair of the 4elements Living Arts board of directors hosted the event. “This mobile studio that you see behind me will become a hive a land-based arts activity and will therefore be called the 4e Bee Hive,” she said. The 4e Bee Hive is still a work in progress but when completed, the mobile studio will allow 4elements to present workshops and host arts activities in various public spaces and at different community events. The Bee Hive can easily be moved, allowing artists to stay and work in different locations or communities over a period of time, and allowing any community to host an artist-in-residence. 

Ms. Snelling introduced board members Richard Lathwell, who also brought his drone to take aerial photos, Gail Los and Melanie Hunt. Board members Natalie Hastings and Samantha Ramage were not available to attend. She offered “a great big thanks to Louise Hayden for coordinating the launch event” before introducing Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes.

Ms. Hughes congratulated 4elements for the launch of the mobile studio and studio tour. “We know that because of the pandemic so many festivals and events have been cancelled and we know that it’s an economic hardship for a lot of the communities,” she said. “It’s also been problematic in the way that we want to continue to show off our artists. We want to continue to promote our communities. We want to continue to promote our cultures. People have had to find innovative ways to do this and I want to congratulate you and your team for having done that. It is thanks to funding you were able to receive (from Heritage Canada’s Local Festival fund) to promote and host these events and to continue to show off the talent that we have here on Manitoulin Island. I want to congratulate you on obtaining that funding and making very good use of it. I think that you are showing that we can do things differently and we can go ahead with some of our projects, although a little bit downgraded. I’m sure a lot of people are appreciative of what is happening here today and I’m looking forward to hearing all of the talent.” 

“Hear the buzzing that’s going on?” asked Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha. “That’s the natural buzzing that’s going to happen out of this little beehive that we have here behind me. There’s going to be some major music, major talents, beautiful crafts that are going to be available and it’s going to be at many locations across the Island. I would encourage you to not only enjoy what you’re going to see here this morning but to follow it along its many trails. When you look at the beehive and you think about what it does, it conveys a certain talent and promotes a lot of what we have to offer here on the Island.” 

“We’ve become accustomed to the new way of doing things,” the MPP added. “Supporting our local businesses, coming out wherever the events are and practicing safe social distancing is the new norm. Where there’s a will there’s a way and we’re going to find a way. We’ve found a way to be safe. We’ve found a way to gather. We’ve found a way to share, to smile together and that’s really important these days.” 

Artist Jenna Carter shares a laugh while demonstrating weaving with strips of cedar bark lining.

Mr. Mantha gave a shout out to Ontario Trillium Foundation saying, “They really nailed this one on the head, funding this to the tune of $53,500. It is amazing the work that they do and they never forget the importance of community driven projects and 4elements, a shout out to you as well. You’ve really had an impact on the Island and on the tourism we have here. This is going to exactly that: promote the Island, promote the services that we have and promote the lot of good nature activities we have here on the Island.” 

Ms. Snelling added 4elements’ thanks to the Ontario Trillium Foundation for seeing the value in this “innovative project and for providing the funding needed to make it happen.” She also thanked Heritage Canada, through Local Festivals funding, for “continuing to support Elemental Festival year over year, even with the changes we have had to make in our approach this year.” The Township of Billings was acknowledged for hosting the launch. 

The concept for the mobile studio originated about five years ago with Sophie Edwards, 4elements’ former executive director, said Ms. Snelling. Sean Procyk, a sculptor, architect and specialist in art, architecture and landscape projects designed the studio on wheels that is based on a tiny house concept. The interior will be multi-functional, with benches and tables that fold up or down to create various spaces based on user needs. It will be usable for “a solid three seasons” throughout the year. Morgan Edwards, a Kagawong-based builder, is building the structure on a 20-foot trailer base. 

Ms. Snelling introduced “artist and weaver extraordinaire” Jenna Carter, who was on hand at the event to demonstrate her craft. “This is one of the first of many ways that we hope to see the mobile studio used by artists and crafters to share the work that they are doing with the community. Duncan Cameron, musician extraordinaire, will be playing today.”

Because it’s a mobile studio, someone needs to move it. Ms. Snelling offered gratitude and thanks to Dave and Lynn Bowerman from D&L Contracting and Kathryn Corbiere who helped to move the studio.

Visitors were directed to a craft table set up where they could either make a bee or take the supplies to make at home. “We’re all artists, at least for today,” Ms. Snelling said. She encouraged visitors to look at the mobile studio. “The door is open at the side and we can talk to you about our vision for the inside. We also invite you to contribute your ideas of how this space could be used.” A board was available where visitors could write comments or suggest creative ways the studio can be most useful in the community and for artists. 

Participating artists were asked to think about the concept of the beehive and what might that mean to them in the art form that they use. Ms. Carter displayed a basket woven with a checker weave base. “The integrity of the hexagon weave is a lot stronger than the checkerboard,” she explained while demonstrating the set-up and weaving process for a hexagon weave. Ms. Carter has been weaving for about three years. She uses cedar bark, willow, grasses and other natural materials in her pieces. 

Duncan Cameron is a Celtic singer and multi-instrumentalist, playing the fiddle, mandolin, guitar, Irish bouzouki, tin whistle, harmonica, bodhran and English concertina. At the launch event, he demonstrated live looping by recording and playing back music from several instruments in real time. 

In keeping with the mobile concept, the 4e Bee Mobile Studio Tour 2020 will move to different Island communities on Saturdays beginning with the launch on September 26 and continuing the first two weeks of October, showcasing the mobile studio with artists working on site. It will be in Providence Bay on October 3 with artist Sharon Preen and in Manitowaning on October 10 with muralist Michael Cywink. Visitors can see the studio in progress, watch as the featured artist develops their artwork, enjoy live music and some surprises and participate in art activities meant for everyone.

“And then who knows?” Ms. Snelling said. “The sky’s the limit.”