This morning, I had the great pleasure to visit with local artist Doris Charest and chat with her about what it’s like being an artist living in St. Albert. Not only is she a very talented mixed media artist and teacher, she is also an integral part of several networking collectives within the arts communities.
Doris operates a studio in the Big Lake Artists’ Studio in Riel Park. She, along with a number of other artists share a collective space where they can create art, teach classes, host open houses, and enjoy the space with other art-minded individuals. Doris has lived in St. Albert for 20 years. When asked what it’s like to be an artist living in St. Albert, she didn’t hesitate to answer with “it’s a great place with an abundance of artists. Everyone is helpful…we have a good community” here and have the ability to create. “St. Albert is a really friendly place,” Doris added.
Collective Devenir, a group Doris belongs to with four other artists, began a movement called the Mini Modern Art Gallery. Doris unveiled her community project on Saturday, May 22nd 2021, and is the only one of its kind in St. Albert to date. Of the other four locations, two are located in Edmonton and two in Calgary. This initiative was the brain child of the art collective, but it wasn’t the first collective project the group has embarked upon. Doris and the other members of Collective Devenir spent the first part of the pandemic with a 30 paintings in 30 days initiative. This year, the group decided to spread the art world to their front lawns with the creation of the Mini Modern Art Gallery as part of an art awareness initiative. Doris said that the group feels it is important to help teach people to learn about art. “People feel uncomfortable about art but if it is local, it is more accessible and if it is more accessible, people are willing to participate.” The mini gallery invites people to share art: to take a piece and leave a piece they have created in exchange.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected Doris’ business, like many others. While she was forced to shut down her studio, this meant she was unable to continue with her teaching and tutoring which naturally affected her financially. However, on the flip side, it gave her more time to be able to spend focusing on creating her own art. Being an outside-the-box thinker, she used the opportunity to learn new techniques, such as creating colouring books that are available for purchase on Amazon.
Beyond this, Doris has created yet another network of artists: Art By Locals. This is a province wide initiative that Doris and a business partner developed in late June 2020. The website was initially soft launched to friends and family, but then went live for the public in July 2020. Doris has created a great success for Alberta artists, currently with 148 artists engaged on the website. The initiative is constantly evolving, and has created the ability for Alberta artists to have a direct avenue to the community and art purchasers. The increase in commissioned art work during the pandemic is also a clear sign that art not only has its place within our society, but that it has become more essential in the needs and wants of the community.
“community helping community; locals helping locals”
I asked Doris how St. Albert can best support local artists. Her response was to go to your local artist when you need a gift. Having commissions on pieces of art made specifically for you not only creates a special gift, but it is also a one of a kind piece of art that has special meaning for the recipient and the giver. Words that Doris said that rang true for me were these: “community helping community; locals helping locals”. In my eyes, this is something that St. Albert does very well.