COVID-19 vs. Hamilton’s art scene: How the pandemic changed ‘traditional’ art classes


Published September 10, 2021 at 2:49 pm

Back-to-school season is here.

Over the past year and a half, schools across the city have been drastically impacted by the pandemic. Students and teachers have had to adjust and re-adjust on the fly. However, those within the ‘traditional’ classroom setting are not the only ones who have had to adapt.

Earlier this summer, intheHammer explored how the work of local authors has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the first part of the ‘COVID-19 vs. Hamilton’s art scene’ series. Now, in part two, we look at how different art schools and classes have been affected.

Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts
Vitek Wincza, Artistic Director

How have classes impacted since March of 2020? 

When it was clear that the province would be in lockdown for quite some time, we decided to offer Pay-What-You-Can online classes.

In September 2020, we were able to return to in-person classes. We worked with Hamilton Public Health and an infectious disease expert from McMaster University to develop our COVID-19 policies and protocols. We also offered opportunities for students to join our dance and music classes virtually, to accommodate those who didn’t feel ready to return to in-person. Planning for every possible scenario was key to our success. 

As we approach the “new normal,” what does this look like for the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts? 

We’re happy to have very strong registration numbers for the fall so far, and we’re looking forward to building on our programming – which includes an expansion of classes for adults. We typically have more course offerings for children, but during the pandemic, we realized that arts education is important at every age.  With the arts contributing to mental and physical wellness, adults deserve to have their own specialized programming streams.

Studio on James
Tara Smith, Owner

What was it like transitioning to more of an online format?

For the students who’ve been with me for a long time, many of them enjoyed the online classes, mostly for the opportunity to connect with their community and to create. For new students coming in, it was a little more challenging. In-person, I can connect one-on-one. I did my best to do the same online, but nothing beats being in person.

What is something you’ve learned over the course of the pandemic?

The need for children and parents to create is strong. It’s not about the final piece, it’s about the process. Creating allows people to express and process their feelings in a safe space. My goal is to create creative habits that stick with kids outside of the classroom and hopefully the rest of their lives.

Stoney Creek School of Art
Lisa Tziatis, Owner/Director

How were you first impacted by the pandemic back in March of 2020?

It was right at the start of our March Break Camp. We were full for registration and the weekend before just a few parents pulled their children when rumours about COVID started. I went into the building I rented to open that Monday morning and the City of Hamilton had placed a note on the door saying it was closed until further notice. I had to franticly, with the help of one of my amazing instructors, call parents.

I think we all thought that we could wait it out, by the summer things would be ok. I was offering credit for the classes to be used any time, for sessions, camp, parties, and workshops for that year and into the following to accommodate the shutdown. 

How were classes, birthday party events, and PA Day events impacted?

I had to start thinking about packaging for the delivery of materials such as the box to hold all the art supplies, the paint containers, what could travel well, what would happen if it was raining, how to make the packaging for parties a little more special than our regular art boxes. I had to almost rebrand as this virtual art school. I had to plan what would translate and work in an environment (the student’s home) where everything is out of arm’s reach. Project executions changed slightly as well to make it friendly for at-home completion; glitter is out of the question now!

(Getting) supplies became difficult for multiple reasons. I had to invest in more supplies even with having fewer students. This was because in person I could have a set of watercolours between two students to share, now with the boxes going out, I have to have all individual material sets. 

At the time of really starting to pick up momentum with the virtual classes, I still couldn’t get into my rented building so I had to purchase materials that were sitting locked in my closets at the physical location. 

I was only able to attain all of my supplies in February of this year.

Dundas Valley School of Art
Claire Loughhead, Executive Director 

The Dundas Valley School of Art has so many classes. What was it like navigating how all these classes would work moving forward?

There was a lot of art programming already online. And after looking at all sorts of different sort of models, we realized, this wasn’t something we were necessarily feeling confident that we could deliver, particularly at the level of quality that already exists. We really had to wrap our heads around that and ultimately realized that what we know we do well, is in-person classes, where the class sizes are small and there’s a lot of interaction. There’s a profound sense of community, people are grateful to get here and be amongst like-minded thinkers and so on, which was exactly what we had to produce online. 

By the spring term, we had moved about 10% of our program onto an online platform. 

Loughhead on what has come out of this digital experience.

In some regards, it created whole new markets for us. We had students who, for example, were older, and did not like all of what it took to get everything packed up in the car, drive to the school, park, unpack, get everything into the school, and pack, do their class and then do the whole thing in reverse. What (online offerings) created in terms of equity and access, was breathtaking. 

However, we thought that kids would be absolute naturals (doing classes) on the computer – they are digital natives. But it doesn’t change the fact that they had had enough screen time. This is one of the reasons why last summer we made such a huge push to be able to reopen and to be able to be ready and safe for the kids to come back. 

They desperately needed to be amongst other kids their own age, making, laughing, sharing in a way where they were socially distanced and masked but in person.


Author’s note: comments have been edited for clarity and consistency.