Community through creative connections: The Art Hive

April 22, 2022

By Mihaela Slabé, MSW Student Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary     

Read about the James House Art Hive


As social beings we have needed human connection to organize, survive, and evolve. We are also inherently creative (Harrari, 2014). We use our creativity to help forge social connections through image, story, song, and movement. Through art and imagination, we create and share community values, beliefs, and emotions that allow us to transcend the limitations of literal interpretations. Indeed, we learn to sing before we speak, draw before we write, and in many ways, dance before we walk. Yet as we age, many of us subvert our innate ability to create and often struggle to connect in a society defined by individualism and capitalism.

Community art studios have existed in some form or another since first peoples gathered to create together (Timm-Bottos & Chainey, 2015). An Art Hive is a term used to outline a specific group of guidelines and structures in relation to community art studios. The guidelines were created based on evidence provided through 1) Liberation Arts, 2) Feldenkrais’ Awareness of Movement, and 3) Neuroscience (Timm-Bottos & Chainey, 2015). Liberation Arts, formed from liberation theology, psychology, and popular education, emphasizes the use of arts-based methods as a form of freedom and co-creation of community (Watkins & Shulman, 2008, as cited in Timm-Bottos & Chainey, 2015). Feldenkrais’ (1972) Awareness of Movement pertains to the role of the facilitator and their relationship to the artist. The facilitator should act as “witness, sender, and receiver of relational information” (as cited in Timm-Bottos & Chainey, 2015, pp. 9) when working with the artist to allow a free flow of spontaneous creativity. Also, neuroscience, specifically Schore’s (2003) research provides evidence to support the healing of individual relationships that make up our communities through studio connections and other creative therapeutic modalities (as cited in Timm-Bottos & Chainey, 2015).

Dr. Janis Timm-Bottos, an art therapist and associate professor at Concordia University, was instrumental in creating and defining the current model and structure of the Art Hive (Art Hivesc, n.d.). As an ideology the Art Hive draws from historical initiatives that used community arts-based methodologies to connect individuals, empower movements, and maintain/share cultural traditions. One of the oldest community art cooperatives in Canada, Kingait Studios, operated from 1908 to 1983 (Whiteclaw, 2014, as cited in Art Hivesa, n.d.). Located on Baffin Island, the cooperative served a number of purposes such as preserving Inuit art, sharing traditional skillsets, and empowering the Inuit people, and specifically women, through social enterprise (Whiteclaw, 2014, as cited in Art Hivesa, n.d.). Timm-Bottos (2017) references the Misiones Pedagógicas, an undertaking by a group of Spanish educators, painters, and community members during Spain’s second republic, as a prime example of the Art Hive mentality. The Misiones Pedagógicas took place from 1935 to 1942 as a direct response to the Great Depression. The group brought art, music, puppet shows, and free libraries to rural communities in Spain to foster collaborative learning environments premised on the notion that art and education are for all (Urtaza, 2006, as cited in Timm-Bottos, 2017). Another example is the Ghetto Arts Program which led to the creation of the Urban Arts Corps in New York City, a federally funded program designed to bring art programming to impoverished youth in Harlem. This catalyzed the Urban Arts Corps in 1967 (Art Hivesb, n.d.). The initiative brought the performing arts into community spaces, directly involving community members and engaging youth in dialogue for empowerment and change. More recent origins of Art Hives are rooted in folk art festivals as pop-up hives in which people could join in free creation among fellow music and art lovers.

Dr. Timm-Botto’s (1995) first community art studio using the open art therapy studio model, ArtStreet, was developed with Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless in the mid-90s. The studio offered a safe space for individuals and families experiencing homelessness to gather and make art alongside other community members, artists, and art therapists (Timm-Bottos, 1995). Timm-Bottos went on to establish more community art studios including, La Ruche d’Art in 2010, located in the lower income neighbourhood of Saint-Henri in Montreal. Supported by the JW McConnel Family Foundation and private donations (Timm-Bottos, 2017), La Ruche d’Art operates as an experiential learning environment for art therapy students at Concordia University, a free community maker space/art studio, and a store front for members to sell their art (Reilly, 2014), providing an endless source of innovation and creation while making art less intimidating (Timm-Bottos, 2017). With the success of La Ruche d’Art, the Art Hive network was created providing “How-to guides” and locations of existing art hives that have sprouted across Canada, the US, and various parts of the globe to connect the global community (Arthivesc, n.d.). (

As a goal, Art Hive initiatives support the power of community art programs in bringing people together and working towards change. Art Hives provide opportunities for individuals who do not identify as artists, to engage meaningfully in collaborative creative solutions. In doing so, the arts instigate a multisensory collaborative method for sharing personal experiences, amplifying typically silenced voices (Timm-Bottos, 2017). Art Hives provide a third place - defined as a space outside of the home and workplace providing a free space to gather and exchange ideas in a safe and inclusive way (Oldenburg, 1989, as cited in Timm-Bottos & Reilly, 2014) - for social inclusion, community engagement, and service learning. Third places are commonly understood as public home spaces and extended families (Oldenburg, 1989, as cited in Timm-Bottos and Reilly, 2014). They are inclusive and nurturing environments that respond to the needs of community members, specifically those that have been excluded and silenced (Belenky et al., 1997, as cited in Timm-Bottos, 2017) Today, our society has few third places that instill a sense of belonging without financial barriers to participation. Community spaces such as Art Hives, libraries, and community centres are essential to promoting community engagement by enabling civic discourse and idea sharing across diverse demographics (Timm-Bottos, 2017). Within Art Hives, activists adapt art modalities to fit the needs of local conditions. Members are encouraged to think outside of their personal experiences and actively participate as citizens within a democratic society (Timm-Bottos, 2017). In developing relationships with each other, and by share our hardships and challenges, Art Hive members are emotionally invested in working towards change.

So, what do Art Hives have to do with Aging in the Right Place (AIRP)? The Calgary AIRP research team is currently evaluating the Art Hive located in James House, a supportive housing best practice operated by McMan Youth, Family, and Community services (McMan, n.d.). In our work we seek to understand how integrating an Art Hive within supportive housing contributes to a sense of community belongingness and social inclusion for older adults experiencing homelessness.

Community is a vital part of feeling a sense of belongness (Fortune et al., 2021). Older adults are at a higher risk of being socially isolated due to life transitions and diminishing opportunities for meaningful social interaction (Fortune et al., 2021). Additionally, community leisure spaces have been proven to encourage feelings of belonging by providing the social infrastructure to support relationship building over shared interests (Fortune et al., 2021). To support AIRP, the distinct needs of older persons with experiences of homelessness must be addressed. Understanding how community building initiatives, such as Art Hives, can reduce loneliness and social isolation among older homeless adults is critical.

In the next blog post, we share more about the James House Art Hive Coordinator to learn more about her experiences with Art Hives.

To Learn more about Art Hives, or if you would like to start one in your community, visit for more resources. To learn more about the Art Hive at James House.


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