• Volunteering and the Factor of Three

    April 14, 2016 by Olivia Vanderwal

    [Olivia Vanderwal is an English Literature graduate and short fiction writer living in Hamilton. She is an aspiring novelist, world traveler, and professional student. You can find her at and @vanderwalrus on Twitter]

    I’ve been a volunteer with the Hamilton Arts Council for the past seven months. In that time, I’ve helped with setup and promotion during Supercrawl, organized and participated in the Hamilton Literary Awards, written countless media updates and calls for entry, sent out dozens of emails to local artists and organizations, and, most recently, become a member of the Hamilton Literary Committee. I say this not to showcase all the work we do here, but to share the many opportunities I have had to network and grow within my city.

    Volunteering is such an integral part of the non-profit sector, and whether you’re an individual or a larger organization, there are certainly many factors to seek out when considering or evaluating a role. There are, I think, three components required for a successful and meaningful volunteer experience: trust, passion, and engagement.

    Volunteers are essential to events like the 2015 LivingArts Symposium (above)

    In order to be effective in the work you’re doing, your organization needs to trust in your commitment and your effort – that is, they need to give you a certain amount of freedom in order to get things done. On the flip side, you as an individual need to trust that the organization you’re working for is using your time effectively and providing a positive and supportive environment.

    It’s also important to be passionate about the organization you’re volunteering with and the work you’re doing. This is what drives volunteers and what makes them so valuable – they are motivated to do their best not because they expect anything in return but because they simply love what they do. And when people are passionate, they are also more productive and more invested. 

    Lastly, volunteering requires engagement. To really find meaning in the work you’re doing, you need to connect not only with the organization but the community at large. At its best, volunteering is about serving the people around you. If possible, seek out the individuals and families who you are working to help, talk with them and see the ways you and your organization are making a difference.

    Celebrate #NVW2016

    So this week, I hope you will consider these factors, as a current or soon-to-be volunteer. And please remember to take the time to thank the many volunteers around you!

    For more information on National Volunteer Week, you can visit


  • The Turning Tide in Arts Funding

    March 23, 2016 by Stephanie Vegh

    After a busy winter of arts advocacy on the budgetary front, we have seen some very positive developments that bode well for the future of the arts. The most notable and timely of these have no doubt already hit your radar with yesterday's 2016 Federal Budget announcements including $1.87 billion in arts and cultural investments over the next five years. The media coverage and response from arts organizations at the national level has already been in active circulation so I'll leave it to these notable links to speak to the particulars - though we are naturally very excited about the direct support to artists that is brewing in Canada Council funding increases and the reinstatement of international touring programs.

    CBC: Budget boosts funding to Canada Council, CBC

    Canadian Art: 2016 Budget: What Artists and Arts Orgs Need to Know

    Globe and Mail: Arts community had better spend its budget money wisely 

    Even better still for our local arts community here in Hamilton is the decision of our City Council to wholeheartedly support both the second and third years of phased increases to arts and cultural investments through the City Enrichment Fund. After last year's protracted game of Budget Survivor to secure that initial $500,000 increase to support new Arts programs as well as $250,000 for other City Enrichment Fund programs, this year's Budget process proved to be a welcoming environment - one in which our Mayor and Councillors understood the positive impacts of last year's decision and the merits of maintaining that momentum by following the three-year road map proposed by the Arts Funding Task Force in their 2014 recommendations. 

    As such, the City Enrichment Fund received an additional $300,000 for Arts programs and $150,000 for other funding streams, including Communities, Culture and Heritage funding that supports much of Hamilton's grassroots cultural celebrations. This 2016 budget boost provides the funding needed to deliver two new Arts funding streams that were opened to applications last autumn: Capacity Building for Arts Organizations, and a much anticipated Creation and Presentation Grants program that provides support directly to individual artists in all disciplines. 

    In an equally encouraging move, a motion from Mayor Fred Eisenberger to extend advanced approval to 2017 increases to the City Enrichment Fund passed during this year's budget process. This alleviates any remaining uncertainty around the final $200,000 increase in Arts investment for next year and paves the way for City staff to implement the remaining funding programs proposed for the City Enrichment Fund, from Arts Innovation Grants to Capital Improvement and Equipment Grants. A full listing of the proposed Arts framework is available on the City website via this PDF.

    Another benefit of this City-level support for the arts is that Hamilton Community Foundation will continue to deliver its own new grant programs through the Creative Arts Fund, which was established as equal parts incentive and enhancement to the City Enrichment Fund.  As though in acknowledgement of this exceptionally good week for the arts, HCF has just opened applications for the 2016 Creative Arts Fund. Be sure to follow that link for guidelines and forms to pursue this valuable funding opportunity - the Creative Arts Fund is exceptionally well suited to small arts presenters and community engaged programming.

    Notable Dates:

    The Creative Arts Fund deadline to receive applications in Wednesday June 1. 

    2016 Grant Recommendations from the City Enrichment Fund will be reviewed by the Grants Sub-Committee at its Tuesday May 24 meeting.

  • Finding a Rhapsody of Colour

    February 26, 2016 by Eva Ivanov

    On right now, at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, is something a bit different. Rhapsody in Colour is a Members' Show for the Central Ontario Art Association.  After a very robust Opening Reception and Awards Ceremony in late January, this unique show runs to April 24, 2016 and is on display at the Jean and Ross Fischer Gallery.

    COAA President Brenda Turnour and myself at Rhapsody in Colour Opening Reception

    This show came about because I am a member of the COAA and have been since 2012. In the  fall of 2014, the Association’s President set me to task on seeking a venue for the Members' Show in 2016.  My personal contact at Hamilton City Hall suggested I contact Bridget MacIntosh at the City’s Tourism and Culture division. We had a great meeting over coffee where we discussed a variety of venues for the show as well as the history of the COAA organization. I'd asked for her help approaching some venues and, after she suggested the Art Gallery of Hamilton, I sent a message to Melissa Bennett, the Curator of Modern Art at the Gallery. I prepped for my meeting with Melissa with a proposal in hand and came away with an offer of a three month exhibition space for COAA Members’ Show.

    COAA Members Diane Maranger and Kelly Drennan at Rhapsody in Colour Opening Reception

    The variety of artistic styles on display as part of Rhapsody in Colour is truly wondrous. Many Hamilton artists are featured and been juried into the show, including Paul Elia, Diane Maranger, Sandee Ewasiuk, Nikola Wojewoda-Patti, Lesley Cordero, Kristina Kirkwood, Leslie Furness, Jodi Kitto-Ward, Marten Visser, Tim Francis, John Storey, Tzvia Devor, Sylvia Simpson, Naomi Frolich,  Lorraine Coakley and Claudette Losier. To see the work of these artists all on display under the same roof is both humbling and inspiring. Juried by Andy Fabo and Kelly Drennan, the show high-lights selected works that not only demonstrate technical skill but also works that take different creative approaches. From the 178 pieces of fine art that were submitted for consideration only 57 works were accepted into the final exhibition.

    A jam-packed Jean and Ross Fischer Gallery hosts Rhapsody in Colour Opening Reception and Awards ceremony

    There are over 180 members currently in the COAA spanning all across the province from London to Orillia to Toronto to Niagara Falls and, of course, Hamilton. This exhibition marks an unprecedented milestone for the profile of the Association. We hope you’ll take the time to see the work and share this event with us.

    -Eva Ivanov

    Eva Ivanov runs the Gooderham Gallery and Fine Art Studio. She is the recipient of several awards in juried exhibitions in the GTHA, with memberships in Central Ontario Artists Association (COAA), Franklin Carmichael Group, Associate CSPWC, CARFAC,  Women's Art Association of Hamilton, Hamilton Arts Council, and Hamilton Artists Inc. Find her on Facebook at and follow her on Twitter @EvaArtist.

  • An Arts Advocacy Trilogy

    February 12, 2016 by Stephanie Vegh

    The start of a new year is often a busy one for arts advocates across the country as governments at all levels work to develop their budgets, including their allocations for investing in arts and culture. With a new federal government in power and promising change, a provincial funding agency in dire financial need, and momentum to be maintained at the local level, it became readily apparent that the Hamilton Arts Council needed to score a hat trick on the advocacy front to encourage all three levels of government to make more resources available to the arts in Hamilton and other communities.

    I was fortuante to receive an invitation from Filomena Tassi, MP for the new Hamilton riding of Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, to participate in a pre-budget consultation session with François-Philippe Champagne, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance. With a significant increase already projected for the Canada Council for the Arts, our remarks at that meeting included much positive reinforcement of the government's intentions for arts and culture, as well as calls to support job creation, adaptive reuse of industrial space, and an echo of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce's call for a national urban policy to support under-resourced municipalities. You can read the full text of our recommendations here.

    A similar invitation received to participate in the Province of Ontario's pre-budget consultations with the Associate Minister of Finance, Mitzie Hunter, prompted a more concerned and focused response specific to the diminished funding capacity of the Ontario Arts Council. After a long period of receiving no funding increases from the Province, the OAC was forced last year to reduce all its granting envelopes by 5% in an effort to release some funds for the many emerging artists and organizations seeking support. While the rationale for these cuts was respectfully communicated to and sympathetically received by the arts community, we also recognize that such measures are not a sustainable solution to the provincial government's lack of attention to this critical part of Ontario's economy. Our call for increased support to the OAC can be read here.

    As a community arts council, our greatest advocacy advocate rests in our local context and the City of Hamilton, where budget deliberations are currently underway (for an added dose of reality, I am writing this blog post from Council Chambers while observing discussions of budget enhancements). We have come into this year's budget process on the success of having secured $500,000 in new arts funding through the City Enrichment Fund in 2015 - the first of three phased increases proposed to increase the City's investment in the arts to $1 million by 2017. This year's recommended increase of $300,000, as well as a further $150,000 for additional City Enrichment Fund programs included Culture and Heritage, is included among the budget enhancements currently under discussion.

    I presented the Hamilton Arts Council's favourable call for this increase during public delegations on February 9, which can be read in its entirety here. While the Mayor and members of Council warmly received this presentation, we will remain watchful during budget meetings of the General Issues Committee during which Council will be reviewing budget enhancements with a goal of either rejecting or advancing these funds through a process that is more colloquially understood as Budget Survivor.

    Today is the first day of this process and we will be keeping our community updated on the fate of this year's City Enrichment Fund increase through Twitter, Facebook and email notices. Each of these meetings of Budget Survivor also present the opportunity for the arts community to observe in Council Chambers and show their visible support of increased arts investment - the calendar of Budget GIC meetings can be found here if you wish to show your support in person, which we have found does have a tangible impact on members of Council.

    Advocacy is one of the most important roles we play as an arts council to ensure that Hamilton is the best possible city in which artists and their organizations can sustain creative activity in this city. You can continue to support this work and add your voice to our efforts by becoming a member of the Hamilton Arts Council or making a charitable donation.

  • What and Why Site-Specific?

    January 28, 2016 by Claire Calnan

    (Rose Hopkins is a Hamilton playwright and performer. She is a founding member of Mooncalf Theatre and a member of the Hamilton Fringe Festival'ALERT Program )

    By Rose Hopkins

    Hamilton’s first winter performance festival, Frost Bites, will be kicking off this February 11th to 14th at the Cotton Factory (270 Sherman St.) This is good news. With one ticket you have access to the work of seven different Hamilton companies and over thirty site-specific performances a night. So, what is site-specific theatre? It’s performance that engages a space typically not used for performance. And it’s become a bit of a “thing.”

    A quick Google search pulls up companies across North America and Europe who specialize in this work. Consider Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play, produced in 2013 by Outside the March, Convergence Theatre & Sheep No Wool. Performed in Toronto’s Withrow Park and Eastminster United Church, it examines a group of actors putting on a passion play in three distinct eras, utilizing outdoor spaces and the Church’s architecture to contextualize the story.

    Passion Play by Outside the March Theatre Company

    Okay, so right now some of you may be thinking, “That’s great, but why do I want to pull myself out of my warm house to hang out in an old cotton factory in the middle of February to see Frost Bites?” Because site-specific theatre is the new black. Here’s why.



    Site-specific theatre offers creative options that other performance doesn’t. As part of Mooncalf Theatre, a company participating in Frost Bites, my imagination ran wild when we chose the parking lot as our performance space. Did we want to use the space literally as a parking lot, or could we transform it to take on a new meaning? Would the whole piece take place in a car? Would we build a completely different set within the lot? How many audience members would watch the piece at once? In a proscenium theatre, these choices aren’t always available.

    Flip side: Big dreams require work to become a reality. There were some realities of the parking lot that had to take some creative problem solving to make work. For example, how would we get power to the playing space so we could have some lighting? What would we do if a car drove through during performance? How would we keep the actors warm while performing outdoors in the middle of February? What happens if it snows? These were all things that had to be taken into consideration.



    Site-specific performance can take you to some pretty unexpected places. Abandoned churches, backyard sheds, strangers’ cars, and shipping containers have all served as venues for this kind of performance, and they all lend themselves to create a very specific experience for the audience.  Mooncalf Theatre’s piece, The Distance Between Us and the Sun, has the audience looking down into the parking lot from a second story window. Only eight people can watch the piece at a time, so there is a sense of intimacy even though the audience is fifty-something feet away from the performers. This contrast of distance and closeness creates a feeling for the audience that perfectly serves the story we are trying to tell.

    The flip-side: It’s not for everyone. British company Blast Theory ran a piece in 1998 called Kidnap. In Kidnap, two lottery winners were taken prisoner (literally snatched in broad daylight) and held for 48 hours while their kidnapping experience was broadcasted online for others to watch. Definitely a specific participant experience, but not one that everyone might enjoy.

    Kidnap by Blast Theory

    **they have a pretty cool archival website, you can tour the safe house and stuff: BLAST THEORY


    Site-specific theatre can be more affordable. If a piece calls for a specific set, going to an existing living room can be less expensive than building one onstage. And often, found performance spaces can be less expensive to rent than traditional venues. This is great for new artists without a ton of resources, and even better for audience members whose ticket price will be lower because of it.

    The flip side: It can also be more expensive. Sleep No Moreby U.K. company Punchdrunk, has had a long run in New York. The film-noir re-imagining of Macbeth has masked audience members exploring the fictitious McKittrick Hotel - actually three adjoining warehouses in Chelsea that span over 100,000 square feet. One can assume their rent isn’t pocket change.

    Sleep No More by Punchdrunk


    We all love Hamilton. From Gore Park to Albion Falls, the vintage shops on Ottawa Street to the waterfront trail by Cootes Paradise, this is the place where we work, play, and create. The architecture of our buildings, the history of our parks all serve as valuable inspiration for performances about the place we call home.

    This is exactly the type of work that the growing ‘indie-theatre’ community in Hamilton is producing, at festivals like Frost Bites and the Fringe. Performance that breaks convention, and isn’t contained inside the walls of the Players Guild or Theatre Aquarius, but meets the audience in the communities where they live. Performance that speaks to our identity as Hamiltonians. What more could you want?