By Fiona Campbell/Quinte Arts Council
Opening a new business during a pandemic takes courage, passion, creativity and vision – traits that Belleville resident Christopher Bennett used as fuel for his dream of launching Art Works, a new art and dance studio on North Front Street.
Bennett, a well-known visual artist, dancer, teacher, entrepreneur behind SeRnA custom Artwork, and muralist, who recently completed the “Essential Workers” mural on Dundas Street West, is an enthusiastic advocate for the arts and for providing opportunities for both youth and adults to “learn, grow and find their passions through the arts and express themselves passionately and freely.”
“The fact that Chris has pushed ahead with the opening of his studio during this uncertain time is a great example of the resilience and perseverance of artists in the Quinte Region,” says Janet Jarrell, executive director of the Quinte Arts Council. “He is so motivated and passionate about his work. It’s a great benefit to the community to have an arts champion such as Chris offering his unique art and dance opportunities to kids, youth and adults.”
Arts Works features art and dance classes for ages 5 and up specializing in Hip Hop, Breaking, Popping and the original dance forms of Hip Hop culture. There are also workshops, paint nights, and themed birthday parties, as well as an art gallery featuring the work of 10 local artists and a retail shop.
“When I opened [phase 1 of] Art Works two years ago [on Pinnacle Street] my goal was to give those voiceless yet extremely talented visual artists, dancers and photographers like myself a place to showcase their artwork and passions,” he writes on his Facebook page. “The old location didn’t really have the space to do so. But this time around in our new location I knew right away what I wanted to do with this big long wall – and that’s to give artists a chance to be seen outside of that traditional and very limited route of the typical gallery setting.”
He adds: “I have a gallery every day in the physical streets of my own city where I vowed to break down those barriers and standards for others to know that you can do it. Art Works is just that. It’s about giving the underdog a chance to shine without limitations or expectations.”
But to open a studio during a global pandemic? “Months ago if you were to ask me about opening a studio again I would have said, ‘no, not at all. Not during COVID. It’s too much.’ But the space I couldn’t pass up. It literally made me fall in love with wanting to do it again,” says Bennett.
Born in Trenton and moving to Belleville at age 8, the 39-year-old Bennett is proud of his roots but acknowledges he followed a solitary and self-directed path. He discovered rap at age 8, graffiti art and hip hop at age 12, but when he looked around at the art forms in his community he realized, “there is no one else doing graffiti art here, no breakdancers, no rap music here – why not?”
Not only did these forms of expression give him his individual voice and a means to apply his artistic talents, but planted the seeds for his future: “I vowed to be the [artistic] influence in my community that I didn’t have growing up,” says Bennett.
“Whether they’re young or a teenager, kids deserve to be shown or given the opportunities to express themselves… to open the door for them and have them realize, ‘wow… this could be something.’”
Located at 257 North Front Street, Art Works is hosting their grand opening on Saturday October 24 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visit Facebook for more information about classes and opportunities.