A re you unsatisfied with the typical deluge of Valentine’s Day activities? Do chocolates and roses not fit your idea of romance? Do you wish there was an escape from this commercialized holiday? You aren’t alone — Kathryn Smith and Geneviève Paré of Cat on a Leash Creations feel the same way. With HeARTvark, their newest project, they created an alternative to traditional Valentine’s Day fare with a unique showcase of local artistic talent.
HeARTvark is an experiential art gathering that will be hosted in Calgary’s historic John Snow House from Feb. 14–16. The house will be filled with musicians, visual art pieces and performance art installations, creating an interactive environment for guests to explore. Smith recalls that the idea for this event began the same way many ideas are seeded — over a drink with her friend.
“It came to be in the same way most of these events start — it was over a pint with Gen,” says Smith. “We went to university together, and went for a drink one night. We were discussing different projects we had seen in the past and what inspired us in our careers as theatre artists, and developed this idea for an interactive art gallery that would occur in a house. From there it sort of took off, we enjoyed the idea a lot and we wanted to create an experience for people to meet up.”
Soon the project began taking shape, and when Smith and Paré found that the best time for the event would be February, the concept of a Valentine’s Day themed event was quickly formed.
“When we first discussed this idea we flipped through our schedules to find the best time, and it happened to be February,” says Smith. “We liked the idea of making it a themed event, and we started talking about the idea of love and the commercialism of Valentine’s Day and we both sort of had a dislike of where Valentine’s Day had taken us. Not out of any particular experience, it was just that most of the time Valentine’s is very concentrated on that commercial aspect. So we wanted to give people another option for what they want to do for their Valentine’s Day.”
Due to the pair’s background in performance art, Smith and Paré were able to quickly find many local performers that were eager to collaborate with them in creating HeARTvark.
“We pulled some of our performance art from people we have met in our line of work, including a couple of friends both new and old,” explains Smith. “For a lot of our visual artists and musicians it’s sort of a friends of friends thing, and we did send out a call for artists a couple months back and got a lot of responses. People seemed to be really drawn to the idea, a chance for them to produce something they didn’t have to feel any pressure about. We gave them a lot of freedom.”
Their choice for the location of the event was an easy one — the John Snow House is known throughout the city for being one of the most interesting and exciting venues for art exhibitions in Calgary, and was a perfect fit for this type of event.
“Gen had talked really fondly about the John Snow House — she had done a performance in there before,” says Smith. “We fell in love with the space as soon as we walked in and had a tour of it. It is an amazing location, a little historic building that is really supportive of artists in the community. That was a large draw for us, the fact that they are so supportive.”
With over 25 artists helping to contribute to HeARTvark, the John Snow House will be filled to the brim with art. The exhibition will take up every room in the house, with installations even featured in the backyard.
“It’s going to be very packed,” says Smith. “We have 16 different pieces, and that’s including installations, still art and performances. There are a couple of installations and performances in each room, so there is something to look at or listen to everywhere you go.”
The cozy atmosphere of the John Snow House combined with the sheer number of pieces in the exhibition are sure to make HeARTvark a unique and exciting way to spend Valentine’s Day. Adding to the mood of the event is the interactive element of many of the installations, which helps to create an experience centred on community rather than commercialism.
“They are all very interactive pieces,” says Smith. “You have the option to interact with some of the performers and to write things down and add stuff to installations, so don’t be shy. It’s not in any way abrasive or scary, we just want people to come out, enjoy the community and enjoy other people and artists.”