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Updated: 7th September 2018 16:27

Calgary art instructors get boost as laid-off workers look to reconnect with their passion

Some Calgary art instructors say the economic downturn pushed laid-off workers towards more creative pursuits, offering a unique business opportunity.

Art workshops popular with laid-off engineers, says instructor

Brian "Bunny" Bastita opened a studio called "Atelier Artista" during the economic downturn. He was surprised to discover laid-off Calgarians signing up. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Some Calgary artists say while the economy has taken a toll on the city, it's bringing out the creativity in some Calgarians and offering a unique business opportunity.

Last year, after deciding to give up on selling his large paintings, Brian "Bunny" Batista opened an art studio, called Atelier Artista, at cSPACE in the 100-year-old King Edward School. 

Very quickly he discovered the fizzling economy was pushing some Calgarians to reconnect with their passion.

"What I've seen as a trend in the economic downturn is a major increase in the students of art," said Batista, taking a break from teaching a group of students how to draw the human form in his colourful, light-filled studio.

Brian "Bunny" Batista teaches a class on drawing the human form at his studio, Atelier Artista, in cSPACE at the old King Edward School (Jennifer Lee/CBC )

Batista says his workshops quickly became populated with laid-off engineers.

When he spotted the trend, he started asking students to raise their hands if they fit that description. "It would be one or two in the beginning and then it was half my class was engineers."

Batista, whose eclectic studio is adorned with large paintings, wooden easels and an antique school chalkboard, says his classes keep growing.

"People [are] wanting maybe to recapture something from their youth that they lost ... maybe they're laid off and have more time to focus on the study of art."

Bringing them joy

In a time when many businesses are struggling, Kensington Art Supply owner Annette Wichmann says her shop is also experiencing a bit of an upswing.

According to Wichmann, she's seen an increase in both sales of art supplies and growth in the number of people taking art classes.

​"There's not a lot of time sometimes for art until circumstances change and then all of the sudden there you are back on our doorstep looking for art supplies," said Wichmann who has talked to a number of laid-off oil and gas workers who frequent the shop.

Kensington Art Supply owner, Annette Wichmann, says sales and art class attendance are up as laid-off workers look for a creative outlet. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

"They have an opportunity to get back to something that brought them joy and something that gave them comfort or made them happy — in an otherwise stressful time," said Wichmann.

Mary-Leigh Doyle, an artist who rents out teaching space at Kensington Art Supply, wasn't really surprised when she started seeing students attending who had lost their jobs and were suddenly faced with more free time.

"They are looking to the things that they've had to push to the side for the rest of their careers. I'm not surprised to see them come," said Doyle, who worries her students won't continue pursuing art once they return to work.

"I'm always concerned I'm going to lose them and they're not going to be able to achieve the outcomes they hope to," said Doyle.

Mary-Leigh Doyle, a Calgary artist who teaches art classes, worries when laid-off students go back to work, they may give up on pursuing their passion. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Keeping the artistic connection

Brian "Bunny" Batista is determined to at least try and maintain a connection with those who have rediscovered  a passion for  art. He plans start offering evening classes, so as his laid-off students find jobs, they can keep doing what they love.

"In an economic downturn, I started a business and my business is already successful — in art."

About the Author

Jennifer Lee


Jennifer Lee is a CBC News reporter based in Calgary. She worked at CBC Toronto, Saskatoon, and Regina, before landing in Calgary in 2002. If you have a health or human interest story to share, let her know.

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