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Then and Now: From humble beginnings, Quest Art School and Gallery paints inspiring story

With more than 25 years of creating, and community building, organization has come a long way

When you walk through Quest Art School and Gallery in the Midland Cultural Centre, you gain a new appreciation for how an idea can blossom into a raison d’être.

The quest for art in Midland began when a group of artists started meeting in the basement of the library more than 25 years ago. They met for the love of their art, to learn, and to continue on their journey developing as artists.

The lighting in the basement of the library may not have been ideal, but it clearly did not stop this artists’ collective from evolving into one of the area’s most important places for art.

Today, natural light pours into the spacious environment at Quest Art through expansive windows, and lighting designed to allow the artists’ vision to shine through in the exhibition room and gallery.

The current exhibition called Metamorphose by Marli Davis is a three-part instillation that addresses how her Japanese culture, rich in ritual and tradition, creates the connection and provides meaning that has shaped Davis as a person. The mixed-media pieces are like a cabinet of curiosity devoted to the remembrance of time that asks the viewer to consider their own histories.

With this perspective in mind, it is fitting to consider the changes in art over more than 25 years since a group of nine watercolour painters gathered together to explore their passion, meet with guest artists and develop their skills in 1995.

After meeting in various members’ homes for some time, the group found space at the Penetanguishene Public Library in the basement. Eventually, word of mouth made it through the art community, and it became clear that the group needed to expand.

Space became available at the mall in Penetanguishene, and the watercolourists grew to include mixed and multi-media artists: woodcarvers, jewellery makers, ceramicists and oil painters.

“People started asking us: ‘why don’t you include people that work with acrylic? Or oil?’,” says founding member Mary Lyn Beauvais remembering the early days of Quest Art.

For the watercolourist who transitioned to print-making, Beauvais says, “change is good.”

“Quest helps artists in the area have a place to go and meet. And, the workshops are fabulous,” says the artist.

Beauvais took a workshop about printmaking at the gallery about five years ago, and has devoted her artistry to printing ever since. She has even learned how to make a homemade printing press using a pasta maker such is her passion for her new craft.

“If you really want to increase your talent, that’s the place to do it,” says Beauvais.

Quest executive director Virginia Eichhorn explains that Quest is an art school first.

“The importance in art and arts education is a core backbone of what Quest does and everything else comes out of that,” says Eichhorn.

“In 25 years,” Eichhorn notes, “what that means has changed considerably.

“One of the things that’s really wonderful about Quest is that it very much started with people from the community with their passion and their heart.”

The devotion to remaining in the community is clear in the programs offered by Quest Art today. These programs were initiated with a view to helping others find passion through artistic expression.

The HERO project, now in its third year, is a partnership with Waypoint Mental Health Services, the Hero Centre, and the Midland Library, that provides space for artists to work in a safe and supportive environment.

Community Living Huronia and Quest Art also have a program that runs year-round for those with developmental support needs. Through another partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society of Simcoe, art is helping people find voice through creativity.

These program bring people together with professional artists, and art therapists to assist them in claiming their place in the community.

Due to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the programs were offered virtually for the last two years or more, and will likely continue with a hybrid model of in-person and online classes.

These programs are free of charge and are offered with the help of donations, fundraising and sponsorships.

“Even for some people, $5 can be prohibitive,” explains Eichhorn. “That was a big priority for Quest. We want to deliver programs for people even if they don’t have financial means. It’s important that their voices and creativity are supported and welcomed.”

The school and gallery partners with many other organizations to deliver programming like with local Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Youth Council comprised of local school kids, the gallery is celebrating art made by everyone.

For Beauvais, the focus on the youth and their expression is inspiring.

“It’s important for the school children to know that their art is just as important as the famous artists,” says Beauvais.

Beauvais encourages everyone to check out the student shows to appreciate the talent and ingenuity of local, budding artists.

Eichhorm is looking forward to a return to in-person art appreciation. While she noted that the virtual model has made Quest Art’s programming available to those with transportation challenges, and fostered a larger community to participate, like people from BC, Manitoba, and even as far as Australia, “it’s wonderful having people come back" into the gallery.

“It’s really about being a  place for people to gather. After COVID, with Me Too, Black Lives Matter, and a huge number of significant, important, seismic, cultural shifts, so much has changed," says Eichhorn. "Look at what’s going on in Ukraine and with the trucker convoy here at home."

There is no shortage of material and inspiration to choose from in the face of so much adversity.

In 2005, in another context, Toni Morrison said: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

Morrison’s words seem to fit the current tenor of our times.

“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed,” says Eichhorn. “Quest offers that sense of hope that it’s going to be okay. The whole act of being creative is a repudiation of despair, or giving up.”

Eichhorn is hopeful for the future, and believes that things are going to change. Considering the latest environmental report form the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “we have a limited time to make changes,” says Eichhorn.

“We need to do things differently or better. Being in an environment such as what Quest provides is an opportunity to look at what those differences could be for the communities that we’re a part of.”

Through the pandemic, Quest Art placed tear-away flyers around town that said “Take what you need” and each tearaway paper said something different. The one I tore away this summer said “HOPE.”

Eichhorn audibly smiles with pride at hearing how a simple piece resonated with someone in the community.

“It really is around the community that makes Quest the place that it is,” says Eichhorn.

“At Quest, we want to give people that sense of something to smile about. We need art for our hearts, for that sense of release and rejuvenation.”

If you’re interested in becoming a part of the community that Quest Art School and Gallery  has developed over 25 years, click here visit to learn about membership, workshops, and programming available for all ages.