What does it mean to follow your heart?
This is what Carrie Harper and her partner Jesse Padgett have been discussing in the construction site amid cans of paint and ladders, tractor-wheel chandeliers and four-foot troll paintings.
This is the home of HeART school, Harper’s personal renaissance from workshop queen and multi-faceted artist to downtown creative community visionary; and it just might be the heart of a good portion of this city’s artistic vision for many years to come.
“In all my workshops, I kind of have the same goal: To help people find their own creative voice,” said Harper, owner of The Pear Workshop and mother of two.
Finding her own voice has been a life project for this primarily self-taught, self-sustaining talent.
Harper studied metalsmithing and textiles at the Alberta College of Art and Design, yet has managed to evolve into one of the area’s more prominent mixed media painters largely of her volition, figuring out how to sell her work on mobile phone covers and quirky pendants, traditional canvasses and via creative workshops.
In recent years, she has been quite open about letting people know she is bipolar—a common refrain among creative brains, she has been known to point out. Whatever the well, the spring of creativity she draws from certainly seems boundless.
As she puts it on the vaguely warm spring day of this interview: “I’m good at the art of crashing and burning, but the art of rest, not so much.”
By hook or by crook, she’s equipped herself to teach others how to reconnect with their ability to innovate and channel their inner artist. This is her passion and HeART School is the vessel allowing her to see it through.
Beautifully named for its location, HeART school is perched just above Bernard Avenue in the heart of the city, which is aptly under a creative refacing at the moment.
The school is the site of the studio Harper and fellow artist Kendra Dixson shared for many years before Dixson took a maternity break and the landlord announced much of their floor was going to need new tenants as the previous tenant was leaving.
“I said right away that I would take the space,” said Harper. “I had seen other spaces in town and things just didn’t really sit right. It was almost in the instant that she told me this space was coming open that I just knew this was the right thing to do.”
It was initially conceived of as a teaching space, but in less than six months, the creative hub that one snap decision has evolved to encompass is astounding.
Harper and Padgett have since hired a carpenter to help knock out several walls to create one continuous room with movable barriers that block off five distinct studio areas.
In the first one is Joshua Ferguson, a visual artist who served at Raudz before quitting to join Harper’s vision. Like the other five studio areas, his floor is painted with a mural Padgett describes as a “pseudo art deco,” evolving element of the school’s look that will change as artists drop paint on it.
Next door, Jackie Poirier and Jolene Mackie have a symbiotic painting experience going, one’s work feeding off the other.
Each space is designed to hold two artists, but Ferguson, whose studio also sports a vault closet as the building is a 100-year-old former bank, is starting in his space solo.
Padgett and Harper are sharing the studio on the end where the storage space has a false back capable of opening up to the rest of the room.
The Kelowna Folk Club loves the school as a venue, telling Harper its got serious potential as a downtown evening music spot, and other musicians have approached Harper about using it as a listening room.
Harper herself sees teaching journaling and summer kids’ workshops, teachers’ professional day workshops and home school students; and of course, she wants to have plenty of time left over for her own mixed media projects.
In Januarys, she hopes to repeat the intention setting workshop she hosted this year during the first few weeks of construction—extension cords and lamps played a big part.
“I’ve got probably about 200 workshops that I want to teach,” she said, noting she’s even got one one about ancient prayers.
Surely, she must have a knack for praying to see a dream this big through to reality so quickly.
Then again, on the floor in the main space is a mural of the nine muses of Greek mythology and it’s also very possible she just found the right inspiration when she opened her studio door.
The HeART School grand opening will run Friday, April 26 from 6 to 10 p.m. and Saturday, April 27 from 1 to 9 p.m. at #5, 375 Bernard Avenue. Harper is taking bookings for those who want to teach out of the space and is still looking for an artist or two who might want to work out of the school.
“The way I operate my life is to live from my heart,” she said.