• Your Vote and the Arts: The 2014 Hamilton Municipal Election Survey

    October 20, 2014 by Stephanie Vegh

    That palpable anticipation hanging in the air a week ahead of Hamilton’s next municipal election is riding in the wake of a cultural shift that has been seen, felt and written about more so than ever these last few years. Now more than ever, Hamilton is taking pride in its potential and daring to defy expectations of what this steel town can become.

    Here at the Hamilton Arts Council, we firmly believe that arts and culture have played a pivotal role in shifting perceptions towards a more optimistic way of life in our city. Our artists have reclaimed abandoned space, contributed to neighbourhood associations and landed Hamilton on the pages of national newspapers as an exciting cultural destination. We already have a claimed our place in Hamilton’s civic conversation and participating in the democracy of electing our next City Council is an essential part of that process.

    In Cobalt Connects, we found a ready and able partner who understood the need for swift action. We drew upon our collective experience in the arts, creative industries, culture and heritage to formulate questions that speak to the most urgent issues in our community, from funding to adaptive reuse of space for artistic purposes, and jointly reached out to candidates to encourage their responses by a set deadline.

    The survey responses made available on our website are posted exactly as we received them from the candidates so that you can hear them speak in their own voices and from their own experiences. In turn, we call upon you to read what they have to say and use this information to make your own informed voting decisions. As a not-for-profit charitable arts organization and advocate, the Hamilton Arts Council is not seeking to influence decisions or endorse particular candidates, but rather to ensure that candidates’ positions on the arts are made known as widely as possible.

    In addition to sharing the perspectives and ideas of these candidates, the following should be kept in mind when reviewing the survey results:

    • The survey had an overall response rate of about 36%, with the most responses being received from wards where the incumbent is not running for re-election (these being Wards 1, 3, 9 and 13). We received no responses from any candidates in Wards 8, 10, 11 and 15.
    • In the interests of providing voters with the most complete information available, the Hamilton Arts Council has included responses from candidates who submitted their answers past the deadline date we set with Cobalt Connects. We will also update the survey results with any further responses received between now and Friday October 24.
    • The City of Hamilton’s Cultural Plan was adopted by Council in 2013 and includes 8 Transformational Goals, 12 Recommendations and 78 Actions; the use of numbers in candidate responses (for example, 1.2 or 2.4) are direct citations of the actions outlined in the Cultural Plan.

    Finally, we would remind all our friends in the arts community that the City Council we elect next week will be charged with approving a proposed increase in funding for the arts through the City Enrichment Fund several short months from now. The choices we make as voters can and will have a direct impact on the outcome of that decision for the arts, and all other decisions that will impact our ability to make, share and access the arts in the four years to come.

    This city has benefitted greatly from friends and allies on City Council who have recognized the boundless benefits and value that the arts bring to bear on Hamilton’s future. Recognizing in turn the candidates who will help us continue that journey – and demonstrating that recognition with an informed vote on October 27th – is one of the most significant steps we can take as individual artists and cultural workers to protect our investments in this city.  

  • In the meantime: LivingArts Hamilton Community Consultations

    October 3, 2014 by Lesley Loksi Chan

    The resources available to us as artists (or lack thereof) has a deep effect on the stories we tell about ourselves and the way we work. Conversely, the ways in which we make sense of our artistic lives and practices has a great impact on the resources and the opportunities we seek. Listening to artists and learning from this complex relationship between lived experiences and the means to make art is one of the key aspects of LivingArts Hamilton.

    To remind you, the purpose of LivingArts Hamilton is to create professional development resources to help artists sustain their careers in this city. Seeing Hamilton’s recent scenery changes in arts and culture, we know that new forms of resources are needed for artists. But in order to create resources that are relevant and meaningful we need to find out more about artists’ realities. Instead of being presumptuous and telling artists what they need, it is crucial for the Hamilton Arts Council to collaborate and consult with artists and arts professionals so that our work is both pointed and pertinent. This is why it is important for us to go out into the community to ask, What do artists need?

    The LivingArts Hamilton Community Consultation began this week. We have held two community consultations so far, Visual Arts and Theatre & Performing Arts, and both have engendered a range of ideas and emotions. I am encouraged by the enthusiasm, but also realize that there is a lot of work to be done, especially with regards to expectations of artists, organizations and the wider community.

    After only two community consultations, it is apparent that there is a thirst for more professional development opportunities. Not surprisingly, a recurring request from artists and arts organizations is for grants. However, like many other community arts councils in this province and country, the Hamilton Arts Council is not a funding agency at the moment. This is the reality in which we are living and working in this city - as artists and arts professionals. In the past, I myself have often wondered, why doesn’t the Hamilton Arts Council just give artists grants?

    But after working here for a few months, after listening to artists and arts workers I have begun to ask, What does this inability to give grants have to do with the broader context of how art is valued in this city? And what can we do to increase the chances for this reality to change? These are the critical questions that concern my colleagues at Hamilton Arts Council. This is what they do on a daily basis: they work hard to shape the context in which art happens in Hamilton. They work hard to reshape the larger scene so that artists may have the chance to apply for grants in the future.

    Meanwhile, given the context that the Hamilton Arts Council is currently not a funding body, the LivingArts project aims to find alternative ways to effectively serve, support, empower and advocate for artists. Arts grants are very important to the development and sustainability of artists’ careers, but different contexts require different strategies. LivingArts is what we are doing in the meantime.

  • New Arts Funding Framework Approved for Hamilton

    September 19, 2014 by Stephanie Vegh

    After four years of intense research, consultation and advocacy by many artists and organizations, Councillors unanimously approved a new City Enrichment Fund at the September 17 meeting of the General Issues Committee. This represents a long-awaited overhaul of grants programs for many stagnant community and cultural programs and the introduction of a new arts funding framework that promises a more streamlined and transparent means of funding artistic activity in this city.

    The Arts Program Guidelines approved at GIC preserve the eight new funding categories recommended by the Arts Funding Task Force as a result of their research and consultations since 2010. While funding is not yet secured to deliver grants for individual artists or the other new programs for capacity building and equipment purchases, the approval of the framework clears a significant hurdle towards delivering future support to both artists and organizations.

    In the short term, existing arts funding redirected from Boards & Agencies and the now defunct Community Partnership Program’s Culture stream will be applied to the delivery of two priority granting categories: Operating Grants for Arts Organizations, and Arts Festivals. With this first year’s intake being treated as a transitional year for the new grant process, the City has expressed its commitment to maintain all funding levels for current B&A and CPP recipients unless an organization reports significant changes in its operations.

    What Current Grant Recipients Need to Know

    City staff are anticipating a deadline of Monday December 1 for 2015 applications to the new program. As with previous CPP applications, these applications are expected to have a 4:30pm deadline to be received at City Hall so arts organizations should plan accordingly to mail or hand-deliver their applications by that time.

    Arts organizations and festivals currently receiving municipal funding will be allocated to one of six potential application forms depending on the nature of their operations. By the program’s definitions, an organization is emerging in its first five years of operation, and “semi-professional” organizations are defined by the inclusion of participants who are not generally paid for their artistic work, whereas “professional” organizations are required to pay the artists involved in their activities.

    Operating Stream for Emerging Professional and Semi-Professional Organizations

    Operating Stream for Established Semi-Professional Organizations

    Operating Stream for Established Professional Organizations

    Operating Stream for Organizations Requesting Less Than $5000

    Arts Festivals Stream for Emerging Arts Festivals

    Arts Festivals Stream for Established Arts Festivals

    Each of the above categories will link to you a DRAFT version of that program’s application form as presented to GIC this week. The fact that these are DRAFT application forms cannot be understated, as these are still being revised and edited by the City’s Arts, Events and Grants staff; in the meantime, they offer a useful overview of the new process and requirements. All the grant writers out there will no doubt find it useful to review the new questions posed in the various sections in anticipation of responding to these themes in their upcoming applications.

    Next Step: Securing Additional Funding

    While additional funding for these new arts grants was not up for debate at this week’s meeting, the approved framework includes the go-ahead for City staff to request increased arts funding over the next three years, starting with an increase of $500,000 in the 2015 budget. Additional requests of $300,000 in 2016 and $200,000 in 2017, if approved, would increase overall arts funding by the key $1 million proposed by the Arts Funding Task Force as the minimum amount needed to bring Hamilton’s arts investment up to par after over a decade of stagnation.

    The decision to increase arts funding in Hamilton by that crucial first step won’t be deliberated until the 2015 budget process is underway in January and February – notably, after the municipal election with a new Council that will include at least four new faces.  While this arts community and its allies will need to throw its collective support behind this request when the time comes, we all have the ability to make our voices heard much sooner through the votes we cast on October 27.  Deciding who will make that decision on Hamilton's behalf is the next, most immediate step we can take to secure stronger investment in this city's arts and cultural sector.


  • 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