NORTH SAANICH, BC | Years ago the hallways of the McTavish Academy of Art (MAOA) would have echoed with the sounds of children and teachers, and the bell marking out the day. The former elementary school closed in 2008, and sat empty until 2016, when a group of entrepreneurs with a passion for art and community managed to secure the purchase and began to bring their vision of accessible art and creative expression to life.
Now five years into that vision and the hallways of MAOA are still ringing with the sound of children (after all, there’s a preschool and before- and after-school care onsite). But there’s also guitars and ukuleles, and the music of dance classes. Listen closely and you might hear the hushed tones of yoga instruction, or the teacher of a watercolour or acrylics class. What you find behind the doors of MAOA is creativity, in all its forms, and people of all ages.
Carl Joosse, one of the founder partners, has spent many years learning about and witnessing the positive effects that the arts have on society. Working on a scheme that provided musical instruments to at-risk youth, he saw the way that access to music empowered the participants. It provided an outlet, boosted self-esteem and demonstrably led to better outcomes in other areas of the child’s life: “You see the change in a person when they have that opportunity to tap into their own creativity.” Alongside Sean McNeil (MAOA co-founder), the pair now oversee an organization that works to fill a need in our community. They see themselves as facilitators – opening space and providing support for the arts projects that the community brings to them.
They took some risks launching the venture, and the last five years have seen changes, refinements, and let’s not forget, a global pandemic. For a business so connected with people and community, being forced to close their doors was devastating – to the people who enjoyed using the space, but also to the finances.
Making and selling art kits wasn’t part of the original plan, but it’s easy to see how it fits with the ethos. Art is for everyone, and can be experienced in many forms. Sometimes the structure of a kit, or attending a paint party, is the way to take a first step to unlocking creativity and trying new techniques. Alongside classes in watercolours, oils and acrylics are writing workshops, woodturning and photography. There’s also dance and gymnastics. Local organizations are using the space too, including the Island Woodturners Guild, the Canadian Art Therapy Federation and Saanich Peninsula Hospital’s Long-term Care for their art therapy classes.