MacArt Studios finds niche with outdoor games
By Angelica Ingram
Published Aug. 14, 2018
Take a stroll through Head Lake Park and you may see kids huddled around a large structure with pictures of animals on square slats of wood.
Who’s Your Critter is just one of four new interactive games that have popped up in the park over the course of the summer.
The games are made locally by a company called MacArt Studios and have been donated to the community by owner/operators Richard and Jo MacArthur.
The couple started the business 16 years ago and moved it from Ottawa to Eagle Lake eight years ago, due to a desire to raise their family in the Haliburton Highlands.
About four years ago the pair decided to branch out their business to incorporate agritourism development and marketing and started creating items such as life-sized tilt games, colourful archways, photo op boards, game boards and maze games.
“Our company basically became the marketing company for agritourism ... we started doing a lot of stuff in Ontario and now a lot of stuff in the [United] States,” said Jo. “Through doing that work we recognized that our customers were buying these games and things from a couple of companies that were in the States and we thought, we could do that.”
The result has been astounding, said Jo.
“We started to get ideas ... we said let’s come up with some ideas that don’t already exist,” she said. “There’s a clear need for, if you go to an attraction and you’re waiting in line, you don’t want to be waiting in line bored.”
The couple, along with their three children, came up with the concepts themselves, creating original games or variations on games that are popular.
“It kind of blew up,” said Jo. “We knew there was a need ... it’s been really great.”
Calling it a family business, MacArt is also very focused on families playing outside, something Jo refers to as a “personal passion.”
Their tagline is “We make FUN of everything,” and they truly try to live by that.
A lot of the games and activities can be found in farms, orchards and places throughout Ontario, but the majority are sold to the USA, where there is a very large market, said Jo.
Soon the company will be branching into zoos and other family style attractions. Jo also sees potential for the items to be incorporated into public parks and trail systems.
“We’ve seen so many avenues for growth, we have to pick carefully,” said Jo. “We’re pretty stoked about it, we just hired our first full-time staff member.”
The company hired Kelsey Russell as a production assistant with the support of the Haliburton County Development Corporation.
Jo believes the business will grow even more over the coming years and sees a wide potential for economic benefits to the area, not just for her own company but for suppliers, etc.
She thanks Chris from Vista Signs for all their help with the projects, along with Kawartha CNC.
“They were really helpful as we were prototyping ideas and getting orders ready. Also, Parker Pad prints all our DIY building guides, as well as all the activity books that we ship to farms all around North America.”
The games have been in the park for a variety of events, including the Haliburton Craft Brewery Festival and the recent Midnight Madness.
The partnership with the township came through a conversation Jo had with Dysart recreation co-ordinator Andrea Mueller, who was keen on incorporating the games into the village.
“This is the first time they’ve been in a public place,” said Jo.
The games are durable and able to withstand the elements, as well as oversized, to allow groups to play together at one time.
“We try to really make sure that everything we do is an inspiring social interaction,” said Jo. “Ultimately, we would like to use our markets/distribution channels to expand opportunities in the local area for makers, builders, and even some entrepreneurial teens. It’s part of our vision… we’re hoping that our project in the park will help us connect with other folks who take FUN seriously.”
Jo hopes they bring not only joy but help families and people connect to one another.
“So in our world we’re lacking connection to nature and food but we’re also lacking connection to each other,” she said. “A lot of families go to their local farms as their family trip and so we’re trying to make sure that they’re not just walking through the corn maze but they’re actually working together.”