Like many services, businesses, and charities, H’art Centre in downtown Kingston has faced a number of challenges and changes during the COVID-19 pandemic – and according to those with the organization, their staff met those challenges and changes head on.
The not-for-profit community arts hub, which provides artists with disabilities and those facing barriers the opportunity to create and study art with qualified community artists, was forced to close its doors in March of this year due to the pandemic. Now, as Ontario is in Stage Three of the Provincial Framework for Reopening, H’art Centre is phasing in its return to normalcy.
However, during the time the Centre was closed, the talented artists it serves were able to continue their work and studies through new online programming, which will be available until at least March 2021, thanks to new funding.
After the Centre closed its on-site workshops, the organization began to offer an online version of its H’art Studio program, employing Zoom, social media, email, and personal phone calls to reach out to registered artists. According to the organization, a satisfaction survey conducted in June of 2020 found that 88.9 per cent of responding artists liked the workshops on Zoom and enjoyed the activities. Additionally, more than half of the respondents (and their parents and caregivers) want the online program to continue even after the return of on-site programming.
According to Tracy Ryan, Marketing and Communications Director for H’art Centre, the unexpected change to offering programming online brought about some unexpected exciting new developments. For the first time since its inception well over a decade ago, H’art Centre was able to include artists with developmental disabilities from outside the Kingston area in its activities – participants included those from Godfrey and Ottawa, and H’art has since received interest from those in the Toronto area.
“Right now, we see the virtual program as an enhancement to our H’art Studio program but it may lead to a future expansion of programming at H’art Centre. We plan on continuing to offer the virtual programming at least until March 2021 thanks to a recent grant and it will help with the transition phase,” Ryan said, noting the organization will assess whether to keep the online programming going or expand it to a stand-alone program based on the feedback they receive over the coming months.
“It is a promising new area that we had not considered until the pandemic and we will be looking at it closely. It did open up new opportunities for us to explore since we received interest from people outside of Kingston asking to join our online activities and it could have exciting implications for our outreach and training programs.”
Another new development during the pandemic closure was H’art’s initiation of a new study of its online inclusive arts programming for artists with developmental disabilities with the support of two occupational therapy field placement students from the School of Rehabilitation Therapy at Queen’s University. The best practices discovered through this study will be shared with artists and art educators through H’art’s MixAbilities Inclusive Arts Training Program. This will allow more local volunteers, artists, and arts educators to prepare to deliver virtual inclusive arts programming in the future, the organization said.
H’art Centre has started to offer limited on-site programming while continuing the new online programming thanks to the support of the community and a grant from the federal government’s Emergency Community Support Fund, which is administered through the United Way.
“This has been a challenging time and the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on all of us,” said Katherine Porter, Executive Director of H’art Centre, in a statement. “As most of Ontario is now entering Stage 3 of the Framework for Reopening our province, we wanted to thank all of Kingston for supporting us and to let them know everything that we have been doing to meet this challenge.”
In order to support the return of on-site programming, the following have been put in place:
- New tools, procedures, and protocols, developed with direction and guidance from Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health inspectors and nurses, including sanitization stations, barriers, physical distancing decals, and a new cleaning regiment.
- Strict limits on the number of artists who can return through this phased-in approach, which began in late July. The organization hopes to accommodate most H’art artists by late fall as restrictions ease.
- Resources to continue new virtual programming until at least March 2021 for those H’art artists who cannot return to on-site programming, thanks to the Emergency Community Support Fund administered through the United Way, and early support from the Harry E. Foster Foundation.
“I’m very proud that our staff, volunteers, and field placement students responded to this unprecedented challenge and how they uncovered new opportunities,” said Porter.
And while the grants and funding they have received has been incredibly helpful in allowing H’art Centre to continue delivering programming and reopen to its artists, the organization can still use the support of the local community to help make up for lost opportunities and continue the return to offering their award-winning programs, Ryan expressed.
“It has been a challenging time. We don’t anticipate most H’art Studio artists will be back for full-time, on-site programming until late Fall based on our phased-in approach and government guidance. Also, we were unable to stage our major performance, Small Things, that was scheduled for late April 2020. So yes, we would be happy to accept donations to help us through this tough time,” she said.
For more information about H’art Centre and the variety of programs they offer, or to make a donation, click here.