COVOX Art Incubator offers Opportunities for Mentorship and Collaboration with Local Artists

On July 29, Waterloo-based Inter Arts Matrix announced a $462,700 grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to create the COVOX Digital Incubator. 

The first-of-its-kind incubator is working with six regional arts organizations to design and stage interdisciplinary productions that they hope will increase the awareness of the regional arts scene. 

Inter Arts Matrix partnered with five regional artistic organizations for the incubator—NUMUS Concerts, Open Ears Festival of New Music and Sound, MT Space, Neruda Productions and Studio D20 Women’s Media Arts Collective—to offer space and mentorship for the projects. 

Sheila McMath, the Artistic Director for Inter Arts Matrix, said the incubator pairs an established and a younger artistic director to bring a project from concept to realization. The program was initially meant to be done in person. With COVID-19 restrictions, Inter Arts Matrix adapted it to a mix of online and in-person.

McMath said the digital aspect of the projects is helping to build an audience before the performances or exhibitions are complete. 

“We’ve learned that the integration of digital tools with all the projects means the divide between the audience and the creators is very different. We can have people involved in projects from the very early stages and there’s a community that’s building as these projects are incubating that wouldn’t have wouldn’t have necessarily happened if we’d been doing them solely in-person,” McMath said. 

“When [COVID-19] hit, we had to rethink the whole project and think about there being a digital or online aspect to every incubated project,” she said. 

Viktorija Kovac is an artistic director and founder of Cosmic Fishing Theatre. She has been involved with the incubator since the original discussions for the project in 2017. She said that the idea came out of a focus group conversation on what is possible—and what is needed—for the local arts community. 

Kovac spent time in the Toronto theatre community and recognized that many people worked as artistic directors much earlier in their careers. 

“I thought it was a very interesting aspect to the work as a whole, that we have people wearing their Artistic Director, but not necessarily developing the tools needed to really dive into that role and not creating enough space for them to try out some of their very bold visions and interdisciplinary work,” Kovac said.

Kovac applied to the COVOX Digital Incubator and is planning an interdisciplinary performance of Nick Payne’s Constellations. The two-person play tells the story of the characters’ relationship as it plays out across the multiverse.The play has been performed in Canada but this will be the first Waterloo Region staging. It is a story that Kovac thinks has relevance today during the pandemic.

“We have these characters and we get to see snippets from these different worlds. I thought about being in this pandemic where we’re faced with considering deeply what our relationships are when we’ve been stripped away from being physically connected,” Kovac said.

McMath said the incubator is already forming new connections within the local art community. The six projects being incubated are learning from each other and the creators are building a community. 

“We support each other and go to each other’s shows, but this is a new level of collaboration,” McMath said.