Submitted by Bev Duke, Hat Art Club president
After nearly eight decades in operation, the Hat Art Club is getting ready to celebrate its 75th ‘diamond anniversary’ in 2021. The 100-member not-for-profit club, which was founded by Mrs. Helen Beny Gibson and Rev. L.T.H Pearson in 1946 and began its education programs with ‘learn to draw’ sessions in the City Council chambers, has gone through many different phases through the years. It has offered a variety of programming, from life drawing classes to art markets. But it was the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020 that pushed the completely volunteer-run club to evolve into its most recent incarnation: a digitally-based arts education organization.
Though the club has operated a shared studio space in the Medicine Hat Cultural Centre in partnership with the City of Medicine Hat since 1983, the temporary closure of the facility and the need for distancing due to the pandemic meant that the club’s popular in-person adult art classes couldn’t run in their original format. So in October 2020, the club made the decision to follow the lead of many businesses and expanded its digital presence, investing in a website that allows members to join and pay for classes online. It also started holding digital art classes via Zoom, with club volunteers quickly learning how to use the technology and best practices of hosting digital events.
“As a not-for-profit club, we exist to serve our members and our community, and COVID-19 really forced us to quickly find a way to continue offering programming and provide value,” commented Bev Duke, president of the Hat Art Club’s board of directors. “Early on, we recognized the need to help support people through periods of isolation by providing affordable, creative and fun ways to safely connect with others. It is amazing how good it feels to see people online and hear people laughing and see them sharing their artistic trials and triumphs and encouraging each other. The connection is really what it’s all about.”
The club also recently announced a special promotion in honour of its 75th anniversary, reducing the already very affordable price of an annual membership to just $75 for both new and returning members. It also announced a Winter Session lineup of five virtual classes in mediums ranging from contemporary watercolour painting, to oil, and pastel, as well as other digital events, including free artist talks. The majority of classes are open to complete novice artists, and require basic materials which can be purchased locally or online. Signing up for classes doesn’t require a membership, but members receive 50 per cent off non-member rates for all classes.
“I feel privileged to be part of this small and mighty team that’s bringing such amazing opportunities for connection to our growing community,” said Hat Art Club Director of Education, Julie Downey-Hoglund. “Our online Winter Session classes feature some of the best art instructors in the province, and Hat Art Club classes cost 50 per cent to 80 per cent less than in larger centres even before member discounts. Going online has also been great for participants because the pandemic-proof format means people know the class will go ahead, plus they get the flexibility of joining live or watching videos of classes for two weeks afterwards.”
The 75th anniversary will also see the club collaborate in building the 2021 Biennial Exhibition at the Medicine Hat Esplanade Art Gallery, an exhibition that curator Xanthe Isbister is curating around the notion of “the new normal” brought on by the pandemic. “I feel grateful we have an opportunity to stay connected through virtual capacities, though they are not ideal, it provides links to a community whom we can rely upon and connect with in regards to our creative endeavours.” said Xanthe Isbister, Curator of Art, Esplanade Arts and Heritage Center.
“Although the switch to running our club has been a very big undertaking for everyone, we are already seeing how these initial efforts will pay dividends in years to come, even beyond the pandemic,” continued Duke. “It’s got us thinking about how to make our art classes accessible to people who, for a variety of reasons, value the convenience and flexibility of online programming. Whether they’re a parent with small kids, people with mobility or sensory issues, or anyone for whom our traditional classes just weren’t a great fit. It’s driven us to be even more inclusive, and that can only be a good thing.”
The 2021 Hat Art Club memberships are valid until Sept. 30, and are available at the special promotional price of just $75 for a limited time until Jan. 31. To purchase a membership or sign up for a class, visit hatartclub.com.