• LivingArts: INSECURITIES by Tor Lukasik-Foss

    September 15, 2014 by Lesley Loksi Chan


    As a means of an introduction, let me describe my insecurities, of which I have many:

    Over twenty years ago, I got a degree in English and History because I was too chickenshit to go into an arts program.  Instead I learned by doing, making a lot of very naïve, sometimes very bad art, and by dabbling in as many different things as I could pursue.  I have always felt vulnerable because I don’t have an arts degree; but I also know that because of my education, and my constant dabbling, I can do things like write a decent grant proposal, design a postcard, effectively use a biscuit joiner and table saw, yodel, facilitate a public meeting, to list just a few things. 

    I describe myself as being an artist / writer / performer because I am legitimately passionate about all of those things, but also because I’ve never been able to figure out a way of making a living from just one of them.  In fact, I routinely have to tack on arts administrator / educator / casual laborer to my name, in order to make even a modest annual income.

    I live in mortal dread of the German/Yiddish word ‘luftmensch’ which translates as ‘dreamer with no business sense’ or more literally ‘air person’; I also dread the term ‘charlatan’, ‘jack of all trades’, and the proverb ‘bagful of knives, none of them sharp’.  In my low moments, particularly after having met someone who is my age, who is either deeply skilled in a single pursuit, wealthy, or just well organized in their affairs, these words and phrases gurgle up in my brain and haunt me.

    Being a working artist carries with it some public responsibilities. I first learned this in the mid-nineties, after taking a job with the Arts Hamilton (then called the Hamilton and Region Arts Council) and volunteering as a board member at the Hamilton Artists Inc.  It was a palpably different climate back then; art and culture was routinely described as a frill, and there was an unwritten understanding that to remain in Hamilton as an artist was to handicap one’s own potential.  Still, there was a small, angry, dedicated community of people trying to challenge those assumptions.  To be part of it felt in equal measures intoxicating, rebellious, and foolish.   Eventually I learned that fighting for the artistic soul of a mid-size post-industrial city is an absurdly beautiful pursuit, a cause worthy of devoting one’s life. 

    Insecurity is part of the fabric of creative work. Your doubts become the things you confront in order to produce your art.  You put yourself at financial or physical or professional risk in order to keep working.   And you don’t ever vanquish your insecurities; you find ways to use them to make yourself stronger.


    Tor Lukasik-Foss (born Hamilton, Ontario, 1967) is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice includes writing, sculpture, performance, and varied other pursuits.  A major part of his creative practice for the last decade has been a series of performances and performance-related sculptures, loosely assembled under the moniker ‘unlikely concerts’; they are attempts to reformulate the performance stage as a place that is simultaneously public and private, confident and insecure, hidden and exposed.  

    Lukasik-Foss has exhibited both individually and as part of TH&B, an artist collective of which he is a founding member (along with Ivan Jurakic, Simon Frank, and Dave Hind). He writes arts profiles and a regular column for “Hamilton Magazine”, is assiting the City of Hamilton’s Public Art Program, and has recently taught at the Dundas Valley School of Arts as a instructor in the full-time foundation and advanced studies program.   The artist has been awarded the 2007 K.M. Hunter Award for Visual Arts, 2008 Visual Arts Award from the City of Hamilton, a 2009 Hamilton Music Award (Best Male Artist) four Ontario Arts Council Mid Career Visual Arts Grants, and a 2014 Canada Council Visual Art Grant.


  • LivingArts: LITERARY CROWD by Jessica Rose

    September 15, 2014 by Lesley Loksi Chan


    You've seen Hamilton's literary crowd before. We're the ones at Mulberry, Radius, or My Dog Joe, obsessing over word counts and syntax on our laptops. We're the ones rushing off to planning meetings, racing against deadlines, and nervously getting up on stage to share our work with others. You've seen us browsing the shelves at Bryan Prince, Bookseller and J.H. Gordon Books. We're not just writers. We're editors, booksellers, festival organizers, librarians, publishers, readers, spoken word artists, and educators. The list could go on.

    Hamilton's literary scene may sometimes seem to lurk in the shadows of Toronto, but we have created our own identity, one that continues to expand to include new faces and new ideas. Some might argue that print is dead, but Hamilton's literary community proves otherwise. Besides our many talented novelists, poets, and essayists, there are literary arts organizations and festivals: gritLIT, Lit Live, Steel City Stories, the Hamilton Poetry Centre, the Hamilton Youth Poetry Slam, and Project Bookmark Canada, to name only a few.

    This Living Arts column will be a space to share my own experiences and observations living and working as a writer, editor, and festival organizer in Hamilton but, more importantly, it will be used to chronicle the ongoing conversations in literary circles. Like all artists, those in the literary arts face challenges, from navigating grant systems, finding our voice in the national scene, and capitalizing on change in the digital age.

    To steal lyrics from a favourite song, "the city loves you; it gives you oxygen." It's a great time to be an artist in Hamilton. I look forward to contributing to the ongoing dialogue and bringing to the page the conversations already being had in bookstores and coffee shops around the city. 


    Writer and editor Jessica Rose was born and raised in Burlington, but escaped the suburbs to become a proud Hamiltonian living in the downtown core. Since earning a degree in journalism from Carleton University, she has written for a number of publications across Canada, including THIS, Ricepaper, Broken Pencil, H, and She is currently a committee member of gritLIT, Hamilton’s Literary festival. She also writes the “Shelf Life” column which appears in every issue of Hamilton Magazine. Jessica edits children's books by day, and writes book reviews by night, many of which appear on her personal blog at

  • L A Y I N G: LivingArts Hamilton

    September 12, 2014 by Lesley Loksi Chan


    “To lay is to set something down or put it in a horizontal position. It can also mean to position or prepare something for action, or, simply, to lay eggs.”--

    A few days ago, Stephen plucked a book of poems from our office shelf for me. “Read this.” Since then, Amanda Jernigan’s Groundwork has been a gorgeous and sensitive companion to the in-between moments of my day. The first sequence of poems, “Excavations, displays delicately lit vignettes of various labourers on an archaeological dig: The Night Guard, The Fieldworker, The Scholar, The Smuggler, The Physical Anthropologist, The Cartographer, The Cook, The Photographer.  Displaying equal strength in their singularity and their sum, these pieces prevail as a roughed in and wrinkled group portrait of workers by foregrounding the nuances of their work. Jernigan quietly underscores how observing the details of each person’s profession has much to tell us about the larger work site. I don’t know if this is the reason why Stephen recommended Groundwork, and perhaps it is too much of a stretch for me to even connect these dots, but somehow the spirit of this set of poems reminds me of our recent quest for a group of writers for the LivingArts series.

    Assembling a crew for our site has been an exercise in estimation and hope. The search has settled now and we are pleased to announce the following writers for LivingArts Hamilton:

    Crystal Jonasson (Theatre & Performing Arts) - @crystalinhammer

    Laurie Kilgour-Walsh (Arts Education) - @lauriemkw

    Tor Lukasik-Foss (Visual Arts) - @tinybillcody

    Ciara McKeown (Public Arts) - @ciaramckeown

    Steve McKay (Music) - @STEVEathePMG

    Jessica Rose (Literary Arts) - @notmytypewriter

    This series, comprised of six individuals sharing their perspectives on their particular fieldwork, is meant to build a foundation for a better understanding of the current artscape and guide us toward a stronger future for the livelihood of artists. By now, we've all  heard the talk about how revitalization of the Hamilton arts scene is in the pipeline, but how are we to proceed with thoughtfulness and care for artists? It is our hope that the LivingArts writing series can offer us some concrete clues.

    These writers were selected because they have a personal yet broad understanding of what it means to be a working artist in Hamilton: they understand the day-to-day, they have travailed in manifold contexts of arts and culture, they see how the landscape of this city has changed (is changing, will always be changing) and have a deep concern for reconstructing the road for arts workers in this city.

    The LivingArts articles will offer us a close-up of each artist's experience and artistic discipline, but read in relation to each other, they also offer us the benefit of the panoramic view. How does each field have its own set of challenges? Are there similar struggles across the board? Are there ways that we can exchange ideas with other industries and draw from strategies outside of the arts? How can we expand what “art scene” means to benefit artists? What do arts workers need?

    Whether you are an artist or not, LivingArts will speak to you. What I appreciate about these writers is their commitment to make their lived realities relevant and accessible to all, to lay language. Above all, their pieces will widen our viewpoints and give us a clearer picture of how we can all contribute to the improvement of artists’ lives.

    Tor Lukasik-Foss’ article "Insecurities" marks a strong beginning to LivingArts series. Sincere, insightful and fraught with fragile truth, he generously offers us a glimpse into what it means to live with art. Read this.

  • Culture Days Coming

    August 22, 2014 by Stephen Near

    Five years ago, when I first started at the Hamilton Arts Council I was a newly arrived resident to the city of Hamilton. I was excited about the promise I saw in the arts here and eager to get started in a role that would see me working with so many in Hamilton's culture scene. One of the first programs I became aware of was a new initiative called Culture Days. Envisioned as a cross-Canada celebration of the arts, Culture Days was set to take place over the last weekend of September.

    Though I wasn't sure how our organization could best be involved, I did think it was an exciting prospect. Back then, Culture Days was entirely new and the idea of a national weekend of arts events largely organized at the grass-roots level seemed like an innovative if somewhat daunting proposal. But what excited me the most was that any artist or group could participate with just about any sort of event. So long as the event was free and engaged the public in a direct or participatory way with the culture of their community it was viable for Culture Days. Now, five years on, that still holds true and the initiative that started at the grass roots is growing into a celebrated part of Canada's culture landscape.

    But Culture Days is a bit of a curious thing in Hamilton. Set at the end of September, the Culture Days weekend takes place in the wake of large-scale festivals like Locke Street and Supercrawl and around the time that many local arts groups have already begun their fall programming. Perhaps because of this proximity, Hamilton has never fully embraced Culture Days with the same drive as other similarly-sized cities. Is it a bit of festival or community fatigue? Or is it simply that many artists and organizations still aren't sure how they can participate in this national event?

    As the community organizer for Culture Days in Hamilton, this year I was determined to get more artists aware of and interested in the array of possibilities open to them with this event. And given the growth of this city's culture sector, along with the influx of new artists, I think there's a greater appetite for Culture Days activities to take root. And if you're an arts and culture maker, it's incredibly easy to plan an activity in time for the end of September.

    Just about ANY arts or cultural activity can be promoted as part of Culture Days. Be it professional, community, amateur or educational, all it takes is for the activity to meet the following criteria:

    • FREE to the public
    • Takes place during the Culture Days weekend (Sept. 26, 27, 28, 2014)
    • Involves audience participation or reveals a behind-the-scenes aspect to the public

    It's really that simple. So, if you've got something that fits these criteria go to the Culture Days website and Register Your Activity. This will allow Culture Days to promote your activity and include it in their upcoming national ad campaign. The website is also a veritable trove of handy tips and tools to make your activity shine, from marketing resources and PR toolkits to useful advice on how to publicise and promote your arts event in the community and to the media. You can even print a customized hand-book of Culture Days events in your area!

    Last year, attendance at Culture Days activities topped 1.7 million with over 800 communities participating across the provinces and territories. This year, they're predicting an even bigger and better turnout so let's put Hamilton on the map for this national celebration.


    TWITTER: @culturedays

    FACEBOOK: Culture Days | Fête de la culture

  • Introducing LivingArts Hamilton

    August 22, 2014 by Stephanie Vegh

    For all that Hamilton’s arts scene is growing and flourishing, people working in all avenues of the arts in this town tend to agree that this community’s human energy is rapidly outpacing the growth of infrastructure, audiences and mindsets needed to support a strong arts landscape. Hamilton is extraordinarily gifted with new plays lacking venues, with new works of art lacking a local market – in short, plenty of art but few opportunities to make a sustainable living as an artist.

    We tackled this conversation about the working lives of artists when we presented Market Value last March at the Hamilton Farmer’s Market. We were thrilled to see everyone from market regulars to local media openly embracing the message that art is work, and something worth compensating. So you can clearly imagine our frustration as well as that of Hamilton artists of all disciplines when just last month we saw a major local corporation pitch an unpaid “opportunity” to Hamilton musicians. We clearly have a long way to go.

    LivingArts Hamilton is our next step towards advancing this dialogue by drawing back the curtain on artistic labour while providing individual practitioners in various disciplines with the tools they need to build their careers. We have been busily at work behind the scenes laying the foundations for a professional development project that will play out over the next eighteen months under the exceptional guidance of our newly hired Community Outreach Officer, Lesley Loksi Chan. As a practicing artist herself, Lesley brings her first-hand experience of these issues to LivingArts Hamilton as well as a passion for the storytelling needed to raise awareness among artists and audiences alike.

    Several of the first stages of LivingArts are set to launch in the coming months, from new writing about the arts in Hamilton to our first round of community consultations. Things to look out for include:

    LivingArts Blog – We’ve been recruiting some of the best local experts on Theatre, Visual Arts, Literary Arts, Music, Arts Education and Public Art to contribute monthly articles on the issues that impact working artists in these sectors. Stay tuned for the first round of blog posts coming to our website starting in September.

    LivingArts Podcast  - Later this fall, we begin production of a new podcast series interviewing local artists of all disciplines about both their challenges and successes working in Hamilton. We’re still accepting expressions of interest from Hamilton artists interested in being interviewed until September 26.

    Public Consultations – Before we can develop our professional development resources and workshops, we need to know what local artists need. To find out, we’ll be holding six consultations to learn more about the challenges faced by Hamilton artists and the support they need to thrive. Online registrations will be available soon but save the date now to make sure your voice is heard (all consultations will take place in the evening in downtown Hamilton):

    Visual Arts – Monday September 29

    Theatre – Wednesday October 1

    Music – Monday October 6

    Literary Arts – Thursday October 9

    Public Arts – Tuesday October 14

    Arts Education – Thursday October 16

    To stay informed of the latest on LivingArts Hamilton, make sure you’re subscribed to our e-newsletters (easily done from the bottom of our home page) and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. We look forward to sharing more about this exciting new project as it develops and wouldn’t want you to miss out!

    Endnote: The header image for this post was photographed in the studio of Hamilton artist John Haney as part of our ongoing effort to document artists' work spaces for LivingArts Hamilton. Contact Lesley if you would be interested in having your work space photographed as part of this growing archive.


    Thank You!

    LivingArts Hamilton has been made possible with the generous financial support of the Government of Ontario through their new Culture Development Fund. In addition to our two-year grant, we were delighted to see the Culture Development Fund support four additional arts organizations here in Hamilton. Congratulations to the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Centre3 for Print and Media Arts, Culture for Kids in the Arts and the Workers Arts & Heritage Centre – we’re wishing you all the best in your own efforts to create a stronger cultural landscape here in Hamilton!