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Year in Review: Port Coquitlam art instructor had to rebuild trust

The Tri-City News revisits some of the stories it told early in the COVID-19 pandemic to see how people have coped, and the things they learned. Michelle Cheong had to find new ways to get creative to save her Port Coquitlam art studio.
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MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Michelle Cheong has been preparing to reopen her Hippo Art Studio in Port Coquitlam by assembling plexiglass panels to keep students separated.

Michelle Cheong wasn’t going to let the COVID-19 pandemic put her Port Coquitlam art studio out of business.

So she got creative to ensure that wouldn’t happen.

When Cheong’s Hippo Art Studio reopened after the initial lockdown last spring, she discovered putting up plexiglass barriers between work stations wasn’t enough to bring students back.

She also had to gain their trust that she could keep them safe.

“Like all businesses, we had to troubleshoot to regain the customer base,” Cheong said. “Our relationships with clients have become stronger since we have gone through this challenging period together.”

To make up for those customers still reluctant to venture out, Cheong expanded her offerings to include online art and math tutoring. She said it took her own leap of faith to overcome some of the unique challenges of teaching over Zoom.

“It was not easy for kids to learn art via Zoom and they always required assistance from someone,” she said. “Most people crave direct social interaction, and unfortunately Zoom could not completely fulfill that desire.”

Cheong said the reward of sticking it out and finding new ways to conduct her business has been seeing the joy students get when they’ve completed a painting.

“To get the children engaged and continuously learning is the most rewarding part of my working day,” she said. “Kids teach us how to live in the moment and stay in their wondrous world, which is the best psychological mechanism to combat a pandemic.”