• 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!


  • Reclaiming Public Spaces Through Public Art

    August 8, 2014 by Emily Power

    The next time you are on Locke Street South, look down. Snippets of Simon Frank's peripatetic pavement poem will be revealed as you step from one sidewalk square to the next. Prompted by these lines, your commute becomes a time of reflection. The sidewalk speaks: “to walk the streets / of the city / is to love it.” Frank reminds walkers that the city is more than infrastructure – it is a human endeavour.

    Public spaces (like sidewalks, roads, parks, and civic squares) host a bustle of human activity. We all have ownership of these spaces where we live our daily lives. But it seems that we spend very little time truly enjoying them. In the morning, we travel from our homes (private spaces) through public spaces to the workplace (again private). Come 5pm, we spend as little time as possible in public spaces in order to rush back home. Why is this? Do we forget that public spaces belong to us? Is it because public spaces are perceived as uninviting, or uninteresting, or unsafe?

    One of the ways to encourage citizens to fall back in love with their public spaces is through public art. Examples of many types of public art can be found throughout Hamilton.

    a) written word: I have mentioned Simon Frank's “Concrete Poetry” on Locke Street South.

    b) visual art: King William Street hosts the King William Art Walk of visual art and interactive sculpture.

    c) theatre: Driftwood Theatre's outdoor performance of The Tempest took place at the Dundas Driving Park a few weeks ago.

    d) dance: Dusk Dances had a great run at Bayfront Park last weekend.

    e) music: On Sunday August 10 at 8pm, catch the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra's brass ensemble playing at Gage Park followed by a film screening under the stars.

    f) landscape art: Until the end of August, visit the gardens outside the McMaster Museum of Art to see (and smell and touch!) the blooms that make up another Simon Frank installation: a ‘planted painting’ inspired by a watercolour piece by Paul Klee.

    You will notice that some of these local examples of public art are permanent installations while others are temporary, experienced for a brief period by those who happen to be in attendance. But all of these examples capture the best aspects of public art since they are:

    i) free and accessible to all;

    ii) hosted in a public space, inviting citizens to reclaim ownership of these spaces as more than thoroughfares from one private space to another;

    iii) and acting to enhance the local environment, making Hamilton a more pleasant, safe, and exciting place to live.

    You can read the City of Hamilton's public art investment plan here. Are you an artist? Find open calls for public art here.

    We can also look to other cities for inspiration. The City of Toronto has a Percent for Public Art program that requires every private developer to allocate one percent of his or her construction costs to public art. Every year, Rochester hosts the WALL\THERAPY event when owners of private buildings donate their walls as canvases to local graffiti artists, commissioned to create pieces of public art that represent the identities of their neighbourhoods. Infecting the City is an independent festival in Cape Town that invites artists from all disciplines to respond to a particular social issue by creating public art, witnessed across the city by members of the public. These three examples show that public, private, and grassroots initiatives can work to achieve the same goal: transforming public spaces through art.

    Be sure to check out local examples of public art happening this weekend: Art Crawl on James Street North this evening and the HPO Brass at Gage Park on Sunday. Keep your eyes peeled as you go about your business. Take the time to notice how fellow citizens are reclaiming Hamilton's public spaces – the guitar player outside Jackson Square, local guerilla knitters who wrap trees with scarves, and community gardeners who beautify traffic medians with flowers. 

    Image sources: 1 (author's own), 2, 3, 4, 5 (author's own). 


  • One step closer to new arts funding for Hamilton

    June 20, 2014 by Stephanie Vegh

    Many members of Hamilton’s artistic community, myself included, had a long day at City Hall this past Wednesday for deliberations and eventual approval of the City’s proposed new City Enrichment Fund, which included a draft framework for a new arts investment strategy developed over the past six months by the joint efforts of the City's Tourism and Culture Division and Finance Department. This is the result of four years of hard work by the Arts Advisory Commission and their Arts Funding Task Force to develop a transparent and equitable arts investment strategy that increases financial support for the arts in Hamilton and introduces new processes for the distribution of grants.

    While the AFTF introduced an initial recommendation of an addition $1 million in arts funding at their presentation a year ago, the report presented to Council on Wednesday recommended a phased increase over three years to reach this goal, starting with $500,000 in 2015, $300,000 in 2016 and $200,000 in 2017. While a three-year plan to reach this additional $1million in funding is praiseworthy and strategically smart in an election year, these gradual increases will, for some years at least, be insufficient to serve the needs of the arts community or to fully implement the proposed arts investment programs. The deplorable state of arts funding in Hamilton remains dire relative to the growth of its arts community due to stagnation in funding since the turn of the century - adjusting for inflation over this time period alone would have required an additional $1 million just to preserve the value of arts investment since 2000.

    John Hertel presenting at General Issues Committee

    Difficult though it may be to secure a dramatic increase in arts funding, John Hertel wisely recommended that the recommendation be considered in two parts - the model, and the money. Receiving Council's approval of the funding model in principle, even if the money to implement it isn't yet in place, creates essential groundwork for the ongoing pursuit of funding increases in future years.

    Briefly stated, the City Enrichment Fund consolidates grants currently distributed through the Community Partnership Program, Boards & Agencies, and various other municipal sources as a streamlined system that includes the Arts Investment Program as its own category alongside Communities, Culture and Heritage; Community Services; Sports and Recreation; and a new category for Agriculture and Environment. This overhaul of the CPP program as a whole is dramatic enough to warrant its own discussion; however, for now we'll focus on the key implications of the Arts Investment Program, through which activities and organizations with artistic excellence as their primary mandate will be funded (those for which the arts are used as community enrichment may find themselves in that Communities, Culture and Heritage category instead).

    The staff recommendation approved by Council for further staff development (which will include a 30-day public input period in July 2014) preserves all eight funding streams proposed by the Arts Funding Task Force, even if funds are not necessarily in place to fund all categories. Operating Grants for Arts Organizations and Arts Festivals will be the first priority to maintain supports already in place via CPP and Boards & Agencies, with Capacity Building and Creation/Presentation Grants for Individual Artists likely to follow on the priority list.

    You can read the full program description here (link goes to a PDF on the City of Hamilton website), but in the interests of providing some key highlights (which may or may not be subject to change as development continues):

    • Operational grants for Arts Organizations and Arts Festivals will be assessed in two categories: Emerging and Established, with additional sub-divisions for Professional and Semi-Professional organizations in the Arts Organizations stream (creating categories for Emerging Professional, Established Professional, Emerging Semi-Professional and Established Semi-Professional)
    • Both Professional and Semi-Professional Organizations are defined as those that pursue standards of excellence in their artistic discipline and are led by arts professionals; the distinction lies in whether arts professionals working with the organizations are consistently paid or not (“paid” vs. “generally not paid”)
    • Established organizations (defined as those operating for five years or more) would be eligible to apply for multi-year grants
    • Operating Grants for Arts Organizations would be capped at 30% of operating budgets, with dollar maximums set for Emerging organizations ($30,000 for Emerging Professional Organizations, $10,000 for Emerging Semi-Professional Organizations); there is no maximum dollar amount applicable to Established organizations at either the Professional or Semi-Professional level
    • Arts Festivals operating grants are capped at $10,000 for Emerging Arts Festivals, and $100,000 for Established Arts Festivals
    • CADAC Financials and Statistical Data will be required for organizations with operating budgets of$300,000 or higher; a standard form is available for organizations operating below $300,000
    • Assessment citeria for Arts Organizations is based on Organizational Viability, Cultural Impact, Economic Impact, and Social Impact
    • Assessment criteria for Arts Festivals is based on Artistic Vision, City-wide Impact, Viability and Economic Impact
    • Capacity Building grants (which will not be implemented until additional arts funding is secured) would only be available to those receiving funding through another Arts Investment Program stream; these grants have a maximum value of $25,000 with collaborative applications between two or more organizations encouraged
    • Creation and Presentation Grants (which will not be implemented until additional arts funding is secured) are available to individual artists and collectives at Emerging ($5000) and Established ($10,000) levels; for the purposes of this program, an Emerging artist is one who has geneerally been practising professional for seven years or less
    • Innovation Grants to support new artistic initiatives with a maximum grant of $25,000 would be made available to individuals, collectives, incorporated not-for-profits and arts businesses
    • Peer assessment is recommended as part of the decision-making process of Arts Organizations, Arts Festivals and individual artist grants

    For the time being, a unanimous approval from Council to move forward with implementation of the City Enrichment Fund is cause for celebration, and the decision to prioritize operational grants for organizations pending additional funding helps ensure that arts organizations are not destabalized during this transition. Core stability for Hamilton's arts infrastructure must be the first priority, with funding decisions made through a fair process rather than the radical redistribution of funds. This arts community has already been destabilized by the lack of transparency and fairness that has plagued our granting programs, and any strategic arts funding decisions moving forward must aim to support and unify the arts sector rather than create further rifts.

    Many thanks are owed to Tim Potocic of Sonic Unyon, Svava Thordis Juliusson of Hamilton Artists Inc., Vitek Wincza of the Hamilton Conservatory of the Arts, and Carl Turkstra of the Incite Foundation for the Arts speaking on behalf of the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Boris Brott Music Festival, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and Theatre Aquarius for appearing as delegates during this important meeting of GIC. The community consensus expressed by all these representatives was our strongest support in favour of adopting this new funding model, and may well be needed again when a more detailed model is brought back to Council in September 2014.

    As ever, we'll be keeping you updated on the status of this new Arts Investment Program as it develops; you can also keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter (the latter will reveal a flurry of live-action updates from Wednesday's meeting) for ongoing updates.

  • ArtsVote: From Grassroots to General Issues Committee

    June 10, 2014 by Stephanie Vegh

    Last week, Hamilton artists gathered at 121 Hughson Street to hear City Councillors and candidates answer questions about their support of the arts at the first event of Hamilton ArtsVote, an artist-led initiative spearheaded by Sky Gilbert during March’s Stage Directions, an Open Space meeting of Hamilton theatre artists. Equipped with questions sourced from the arts community in the weeks leading up to this panel discussion, moderator Jeff Mahoney from The Hamilton Spectator facilitated an in-depth conversation about municipal support for the arts with four City Councillors as well as six candidates in the upcoming municipal election:

    • Councillor Brian McHattie (Ward 1 Councillor, Mayoral candidate)
    • Councillor Jason Farr (Ward 2 Councillor and candidate)
    • Councillor Bob Morrow (Ward 3 Councillor)
    • Councillor Brad Clark (Ward 9 Councillor, Mayoral candidate)
    • Aidan Johnson (Ward 1 candidate)
    • Sandy Shaw (Ward 1 candidate)
    • Mark DeMillo (Ward 3 candidate)
    • Matthew Green (Ward 3 candidate)
    • Cam Galindo (Ward 9 candidate)
    • Danya Scime (Ward 13 candidate)

    The most striking feature of this panel was the consensus among all speakers that the arts are an essential social good deserving of strong public investment; while the weight of the conversation rested upon the economic benefits of a strong arts community, the fundamental cultural impact of the arts – and recurrently, the importance of preserving arts education opportunities for youth – was also widely understood by the various speakers throughout the evening.

    A number of smart audience questions kept the pressing issue of arts funding at the forefront of the debate. One audience member drew attention to the high cost of arms-length economic impact studies and questioned whether the burden of proving economic impact should rest with arts organizations or the City. Various models of promoting financial stability in the arts were put forward in turn by various speakers, from Councillor Clark suggesting that funding should support professional development to teach sustainable business practices to artists to Sandy Shaw’s mentions of microloans and alternative financing models developed by the Centre for Social Innovation.

    The full conversation among all ten speakers is not easily summarized; thankfully, Joey Coleman was on hand with a live audio stream of the debate which is available as a replay on his website for those who wish to listen to the event in its entirety:

    This first Hamilton ArtsVote event is one in a number of important moments of civic engagement for this arts community, with the next coming up fast at City Hall on Wednesday June 18 when a proposed new arts investment model comes back to General Issues Committee for debate. While these measures are long overdue, their value is not as universally recognized at Council as it was at that ArtsVote panel, which is why the arts community needs to step forward, as citizens and voters, to show that this new investment is both desired and necessary.

    There are several things you can do individually to amplify the collective voice of our arts community leading to June 18:

    Show your support on social media - We have an Invest in the Arts graphic available here for download that you can use online to back up your messages of support.

    Write a letter to your Ward Councillor - You can find contact information for your Ward Councillor on the City of Hamilton website. Tell them your story, what the arts mean to you and this city, and why the arts deserve sound municipal investment. While you're at it, you can formally submit that letter to GIC by email to the clerk at

    Ask to speak as a delegate at GIC - If you're able to be at City Hall, you can register to speak in support of the recommendation. This link will take you to the city's online form; please note that the City Clerk will need to receive your delegation request by Tuesday June 17 at 4:30pm in order to be approved to speak and that delegations are asked to respect the five minute time limit on presentations of no more than two people.

    Or if speaking isn't your cup of tea, show up as an observer. Councillors do notice when a motion had strong support in the gallery so your presence in the audience makes a huge difference. Let's show them how many people care about the arts! Let us know if you will be joining us at GIC by confirming at our Facebook event for June 18.

    We hope to see you at City Hall next week for what we hope will be an important turning point in Hamilton's fight for arts funding, but whatever the news we'll be keeping you updated here as well as on Facebook and Twitter so stay tuned for updates.