Four ways to get creative online in Kingston

By Jordan Whitehouse

With most creative spaces shuttered in the city, galleries, theatres, arts groups, and even individual artists themselves are still finding ways to connect with their audiences online.   

The Tett Centre, for instance, is offering its popular open studios via Zoom, while the Agnes Etherington Art Centre has launched a range of digital programs, like Agnes Learns, which uses artworks from its collection to inspire kids to get creative. Likewise, new west end business Tie One On Creativity Bar has a variety of craft kits to buy, and Improbable Escapes has digital escape rooms that you can solve from your couch. 

Here, in their own words, are the organizers of these four online creative spaces to tell us what they’re offering and how they’re dealing with the shift to digital. (Note: some interviews were edited for length and clarity.) 

Tie One On Creativity Bar – Natasha Reid, Owner  

Give us a breakdown of your online offerings right now, Natasha.

We have food and drink options for takeout and delivery and also our craft kits, which we’re offering more and more of. Some of the kits are from different artists in Kingston. One kit that’s really popular right now is the spring-wreath-making kit. It comes with flowers and instructions and everything that you need to make a spring wreath for your home. We also have candle-making kits, and then we have some macramé kits too from Hitch Collective, as well as essential oil diffuser bracelets. So just little projects that people can do at home.  

What have been the biggest challenges of switching to an online model?

I’m very tech challenged, so it’s been quite the experience trying to set this all up. The other challenge I faced initially was that there was no way to package the food we had available for takeout because most of it was in bulk. So, I’ve had to reach out to my food reps to ask how we can get things packaged differently, and we’ve sort of overcome this challenge by ordering things more as retail portions than as wholesale portion. So, for instance, we recently added red pepper jellies from Top Shelf Preserves in single serve portions to our charcuterie takeout option.   

I know you support a lot of local products and artists. Why is that important to you?

It’s double-sided. One, I like to keep it local because that way I know that I’m helping out families and people in Kingston. Even when it came to making my signs for the bar, I reached out to some sign companies and then I remembered that my friend makes signs, and I would rather give him the money because I know exactly where it’s going. Two, it’s part of supporting and building the local community.   

We’re all trying to help each other out right now, especially with all of us having to change our business model. That’s excellent to see, and it has been a great side effect through this whole thing.  

What are you most looking forward to when things get back to “normal?”

I’m looking forward to opening my doors again. We were only open for three weeks before we had to close, so we were just making a name for ourselves. And because the business that I have is sort of different — you can come in and do crafts and enjoy some food and a good drink — I’m really excited to be able to show more people what we’re all about. I’m optimistic that we won’t have to close our doors forever, but I also don’t know that for sure.  

Tie One On Creativity Bar 
1329 Gardiners Road, Suite 109 

Agnes Etherington Art Centre – Shannon Brown, Program Coordinator

What is Agnes Learns all about, Shannon?

AGNES Learns is a new digital resource for children and families that uses artworks from the Agnes collection to inspire fun ways to explore, understand, and get creative. The program takes the form of short educational videos that stimulate the imagination. Accompanying each video is a lesson plan which features unique and creative activities to try at home. The videos and lesson plans are playful, but also grounded by Ontario Curriculum links. We will be adding to this program weekly through mid-June. The videos and lesson plans are targeted for children in grades 1–8. 

How do you decide on the theme for each week?

We wanted this program to highlight the breadth of the Agnes collection. Agnes holds over 17,000 works of art, with major concentrations of contemporary and Indigenous art, and Canadian, European, and African historical art. The program features works from each of these areas including types of art that children may be less familiar with such as quilt making or installation pieces. Each week we focus on a specific aspect of art or art making, but connecting the whole program is a focus on the senses and imagination. Imagination is integral to creativity and we encourage children to let their imaginations run wild and explore ways of experiencing art beyond seeing.  

Why did you want to offer this?

We’re passionate about sharing the transformative power of art, and it’s especially important to share this with young people. Typically, we welcome students to the museum through our school programs for grades 1–8, but, of course, these can’t go ahead for the time being. However, we have a rich catalogue of educational tours at our disposal — we’ve developed AGNES Learns allowing us to share them with a wider audience. We also want to increase accessibility to engaging arts education for those who have limited opportunities to visit the gallery, whether that’s a result of COVID-19 or any other reason. We hope AGNES Learns will be a resource for teachers and families who are looking for original arts education.   

What other digital activities at Agnes can people check out from home?

For those interested in connecting to community and sharing creativity in a safe and welcoming online environment, we now offer a Virtual Art Hive @Agnes every Thursday from 4-5:30. This activity is for anyone 18+ who is looking to explore art and wellness during this time of physical distancing. They can sign up for upcoming weeks until May 28 on the website. We also offer our Digital Agnes platform where visitors can find new digital projects, curatorial research, talks, and tours including a number of videos from contemporary artist Carmen Papalia, including his “See for Yourself” non-visual tour. Our collection of over 17,000 artworks are online to enjoy and explore as are a number of Agnes publications including a free PDF download of Leiden circa 1630: Rembrandt Emerges which illuminates the early career of Rembrandt and his peers. Sign up for our Agnes newsletter and join us on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter for upcoming announcements and digital activities. 

Agnes Etherington Art Centre 
36 University Avenue 

Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning – Danielle Folkerts, Marketing and Programming Coordinator 

How do your online open studios work, Danielle?

Typically, on the second Tuesday of every month we get together at the Tett Centre for an open studio session. Since April, we have been hosting these free sessions via Zoom every Tuesday from 6:30 pm to 8 pm. Our goal with the program is to stay connected, encourage at-home art-making, prioritize self-care, and to promote personal and community wellness. We invite participants to grab a creative project and participate online. Participants work in a variety of mediums, including graphic design, painting, video, photography, 3D modelling, knitting, drawing, embroidery, punch needle, ceramics, colouring books, and more. In each session, we facilitate a warm and welcoming environment. We start with a check-in, and then we take turns discussing and sharing our current projects, techniques, workspaces, demonstrations, ideas, and questions. The program is interactive, and participants can engage in discussion, or sit back, create, and just listen. 

What’s been the response to the virtual studios?

The response has been incredible! We have regulars who attend each session, and every session we welcome new faces too. The best part about going digital is that anyone can access our programming. We currently have people outofprovince attending our open studio sessions online. Each session is unique, and everyone is eager to learn and share creative resources.

Why did you want to keep doing the studios virtually rather than put them on pause?

We don’t know when our doors will reopen, so it was important to adapt as a charitable arts organization. We have been running Tett Tuesday Open Studio for nearly three years, and we wanted to stay connected to our community, especially during a time of crisis. Art-making is an incredible tool for managing stress, and our community needs art more than ever. The Tett Centre staff are staying present and supportive for our community artists, students, instructors, tenants, rental clients, and partners. 

For those who would like to join in, any tips for making the most of a session?      

Yes! All are welcome to attend. The program is free, and geared for ages 18+. We encourage participants to set up an artmaking space in advance and tune in at 6:30 pm. You will also need to sign up for a free Zoom account. You can find the Zoom event details on our website or Facebook group. You can drop by for 30 minutes, or stay for the duration of the call. It is a fun and casual atmosphere, and the group has a great energy. Everyone is encouraging and supportive, and it has been a great place to get feedback, ask questions, or get inspired.   

Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning 
370 King Street West 

Improbable Escapes – Faith Begbie, Game Master  

Can you give us a breakdown of your at-home experiences right now, Faith?

Our at-home services for customers include trivia, merchandise delivery, and a virtual escape room design. We run trivia throughout the week with a variety of themes and prizes to be won. Customers can sign up on our website and choose which trivia night they’d like best! This is a really fun way to be social, playfully competitive, and test your knowledge! Our virtual escape rooms currently include the Seven Dwarfs: Mining Mission and Neverland: Heist on the High Seas. Through Zoom, customers guide their game host through the escape rooms. Our game hosts are your hands! Tell them where to go, what to hack with the clues surrounding you, and how to progress further into your adventure.   

What’s been the response to these experiences?

There has been an incredible response to both of these at home game styles. Our experiences have gone international, catching the attention and hearts of players across the globe! It’s been a really exciting and heartwarming experience to see people from around the world enjoying our experiences.   

What’s been most challenging about switching from an in-person to an online model?

The most challenging aspects of switching from in-person to online would be finding a sufficient source to host these experiences, and how to make sure our escape rooms are still magical and enjoyable for teams when playing online.  

Any news to share about upcoming offerings?

We have a third escape room coming to the online universe! Cure for the Common Zombie will be released for customers to play online with friends and family. We’re also hosting 90s trivia! All of our trivia themes can be found 

Improbable Escapes 
303 Bagot Street, Suite 16B 

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