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Interview with Chrissy Poitras of Spark Box Studio

October 20th, 2011 · 7 Comments

Chrissy Poitras and Kyle Topping bought a 100-year old house in rural Ontario, renovated it themselves and have lovingly turned it into a one-of-a-kind artist residency where the two also reside full-time. Young artists from Canada and the world over stay come to stay with Chrissy and Kyle, benefit from their knowledge and know-how, make connections and share ideas.

What is Spark Box Studio?

During Kyle’s last year of university and my first year in the work force we started having dreams of owning our own studio space. The original idea was to create a private studio space for us to work in, this grew into a space where local artists could work as well and the idea continued to grow into what it is now. Spark Box Studio is a print studio and residency located in Picton, Ontario, Canada. The studio space is open to local artists as well as visiting artists. Basically Spark Box is a space for artists to live, work, experiment, research and network.

Paintings by Chrissy.

What inspired you to pursue this unusual venture? 

After I had graduated I was finding it hard to find time to work and paint and really missed the university experience of having dozens of creative people around me all the time. This was one of the jumping off inspirations for us, just the idea of creating a space where we would be working with a number of other artists. Making a place where we could share ideas, give feedback, grow our networks and learn from one another. The other inspiration, or motivation, was the desire to have our own printing studio. It is pretty hard to find a space to print in Ontario. Once we knew we were both happy with living in rural Ontario we knew we could find a space large enough to develop our own printing studio.

Seriously, what was it like to live through the renovations? Give us a picture.

I am not going to lie, despite all the advance warnings from fellow DIY house renovators, we weren’t prepared for how much work it was going to be. At first it was so much fun– tearing everything apart, finding cool artifacts under floor boards and making plans for our dream. It took us nine months to get the house to a place where we could move in and re-open. I think the hardest part was trying to keep everything running. With the studio, the residency and the magazine it was tough to find the energy to work on the house.

There are so many times where you want to break down and cry from the challenges but then something goes really right and it makes up for all the hard bits. With the house there was a long chunk of time where everything was a mess and then all of sudden it was painted and furniture was moved it and it became our home. It is pretty great.

We divided our workforce, I managed the business and Kyle focused on the renovations. When it was needed we would shift gears and both focus on major projects and deadlines within both the studio and the house. It was an amazing experience restoring a 100-year-old home on a limited budget.

 I’m sure funding was a big question. How did you go about obtaining it? 

The original idea for Spark Box was presented to our local municipality who, for the first two years, helped us access funding. This funding gave us the start up funds for many of our projects and also allowed us to develop some projects, like our residency award, which we may have otherwise been unable to support. The two of us funded the new location and all its renovations. Luckily I have a financial planner for a mother who has helped me save up for my own home. Funding is probably the most challenging part of running an arts organization. Currently we aren’t funded by any outside source.

Artists have come to Spark Box Studio from all over. How do they typically find you?

Most artists find us online. There are a number of fantastic websites for artist residencies– re-title, res artis and trans artist to name a few. We try to get our name out there as much as we can. Besides those sites we do a lot of postering, social media, newsletter, etc. to help spread the word about the space. Now that we are into our second year we are finding that word of mouth plays a big part.

Running the residency, studio space, workshops, etc. must be a ton of work. What’s a typical day for you?

Ha ha. I would have to say that I don’t really have a typical day yet. Every day is totally different from the next, which is probably why I like this job so much. I would say that I do a lot more admin/computer work than I was expecting. I guess the everyday tasks would be emails, social media, and blogging (which is probably one of the hardest things to commit to).  When we have artists staying with us we usually check in on them and make sure everything is going well, answer any technical questions, etc.  Generally these visits lead to longer talks about art, life, and the future. We also do our own printing and painting, run workshops, produce a small run arts and culture publication, teach at a local college, host lectures, speak at conferences and so much more. The job is seriously ever changing which keeps me interested and excited.

You have the chance to closely interact with all these different artists. What are some of the common threads that run through the Spark Box Studio community at large?

Everyone is so different and at different stages in their career. Of course the common questions or topics of conversation are money, exhibitions and further education. We have had some amazing people stay with us and I would say that we learn as much from as our residents as they do from us. The great thing about the artist community, we have found, is that everyone is willing to share their “findings”. It is like everyone is ready to give the next person a helpful hand.  I have heard that artists can get competitive and strange about sharing information but we have found it to be the direct opposite.

What are you most proud of? 

I am so proud that we own our own space; this is a huge step for any artist-run-centre. I am proud that we can share our space with other artists and that they are excited to come and work here with us. I am proud of Kyle and I taking a big risk and building something we believe in. I am most proud of the fact that we are making it work.