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Hazel Cochran: Experiencing mental wellness through her art and business

Author: Hazel Cochran (BAMAC’14)

Posted on Oct 25, 2021

Category: UNB Saint John , Insights

Hazel Cochran (left)
Photo: Hazel Cochran (left)

UNB alumna Hazel Cochran (BAMAC'14) opened The Art Warehouse in 2020, a bar, cafe and drop-in art studio located in Saint John, New Brunswick. A lover of supporting local, Cochran has given the community a space to gather for a beverage and experience art - whether that be through some solo painting, or by attending one of the business' art workshops, painting nights and themed events. Here she tells us a little bit about her inspiration behind  The Art Warehouse and how painting has been a therapeutic experience.

What inspired or influenced you to open The Art Warehouse in Saint John?

While traveling in Costa Rica with my newborn son we found a cafe that offered drop in painting. I loved this idea. I took some alone time for an hour and went to the cafe for a cold beverage and played with some watercolours and I can remember Bob Marley playing.  It was incredibly relaxing and exactly what I needed.

What can customers of The Art Warehouse experience when visiting?

Customers can expect a very relaxed atmosphere.  The smell of coffee hits first, and it’s very good coffee! I always recommended an oatmilk latte. The cafe menu includes specialty coffee, espresso drinks, liquor menu, and in the back of the cafe our “paint menu”.  The paint menu includes prices, sizes, and options for mediums. There are several tables for customers who are looking to work or meet with friends and enjoy the cafe menu and several easels available for those who want to create.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of launching your business?

The guests, unequivocally.  Building bonds and friendships with regulars, getting to watch some beautiful paintings come to life, seeing painting dates with children and partners or nieces/nephews etc. People enjoying a space that is focused around coffee, art, and music - it’s like watching someone open a gift that you gave, it’s a very good feeling.

In what ways has painting been a therapeutic experience for you personally?

The Art Warehouse opened in February 2020, I had to close the doors mid March due to COVID-19 with no idea for how long. The stress was palpable with rent and loan payments coming and having no idea when or if the doors would open again.  I advertised through social media that with each purchase of a gift card during this time customers would also receive a small watercolour painting. I didn’t realize then how many of these tiny paintings I would be doing! It turned out to be exactly what I needed. The stress and the internal dialog would stop as soon as I sat down to paint. It was a relief from my own mental struggles. The noise literally stopped and in those moments I found peace.

What piece of advice would you give to beginners who may not feel ‘artistic’ and are just getting started?

You don’t have to be ‘artistic’ - just have fun.  Kids do this so easily.  They don’t think “ugh this dinosaur that I painted doesn’t look good” - they simply paint and draw because it’s fun to create. Adults worry too much it’s not going to turn out, or look good, or they will be judged. Art is whatever the hell you want it to be ;)

Are there any particular types of art or painting you would recommend to others looking to incorporate it into their mental wellness?

Anything. It doesn’t matter, just create. I’ve been favouring watercolours lately, I find them very forgiving, but I also believe that painting a blank canvas one colour would have the same effect. I can’t believe I’m going to quote Andy Warhol but “art is what you can get away with”. It should be about letting go.