• Volunteer for the Win

    April 17, 2015 by Stephen Near

    This week is National Volunteer Week which means you may have seen a lot of talk across social media about the importance of volunteers and the contribution they make to the not-for-profit sector. Part of my job with Hamilton Arts Council involves finding volunteers who are willing and able to contribute their time to furthering our goals. Aside from finding the right person for the right job, organizations that seek volunteer support must themselves be prepared for the experience. This can present challenges to those in the not-for-profit sector where a do-it-yourself attitude often rules the day.

    Join Volunteer Canada in celebrating Canada's volunteers!

    Like many not-for-profits, the Hamilton Arts Council has worked extensively with volunteers to shape our work in the community. Our organization has gone through many changes and volunteers have helped us turn ideas into action along the way. And some of our most valuable volunteers have come from the most unexpected places. For example, my friend Marvin was a recent arrival to both Canada and Hamilton back in 2011 and was looking to put down roots in the city. He not only offered to volunteer for the arts council in a number of ways but also took our mission to serve the arts community very much to heart. From designing our e-newsletter to troubleshooting office technical issues to support at countless fundraisers and events, Marvin exemplified the type of volunteerism that is a boon to the not-for-profit sector and greatly helped the growth of the arts council. Much of that has to do with the fact that, as a volunteer, his desire to contribute and strengthen the community was close to our own. In other words, the arts council and our volunteer shared the same values in common. This alignment creates a meaningful volunteer experience and helps retain their talent in the long term.

    The Hamilton Arts Council's MVP volunteer!

    Ultimately, volunteers are an important agent for organizational growth not just because they are an extra hand but because they advance our mandate in the work that they do. Tasks that might seem mundane are often exciting opportunities for growth in the hands of dedicated volunteer. It all comes down to giving your volunteers a stake in the success of the organization and tying their success to the future of your organization. So, this week, I hope you'll remember to take a moment to thank all of your volunteers who have helped make your organization what it is now and what it will be in the future.

    For further resources regarding volunteers and Hamilton volunteering opportunities check out the following resources:

  • The Real Dirt

    February 23, 2015 by Lennox Toppin

    When first approached with the opportunity to write the February blog for the Hamilton Arts Council, I did what any arts loving Board Member would do: I balked. In spite of it originally being discussed early last fall, I knew, come February, we would likely be in the middle of some kind of enduring deep freeze. I figured even those among us who go on about the heat and humidity would likely be saying how they could not wait for the bitterness of winter to end. I felt I would be stressed, exhausted, and most of all irritated – because I would rather suffer in the heat of summer bliss than a mind-numbing deep freeze.

    Yet, here I find myself on a frozen Sunday evening with a glass of wine in hand, trying to suss up enough energy to put together some words. Not only words, but thoughts that convey some kind of meaning in the middle of this long winter. Thoughts which express something about arts and culture and Hamilton. And I keep coming back to the same thing: what I really want to write about is my garden.

    I could write about my passion for my garden, and how that passion came about. I could write how one of my colleagues said one of the most interesting things she discovered about me was this passion lay dormant until it exploded in a wild frenzy when I purchased my Hamilton home. I could write about some of the themes I place in my garden – themes which explore love, sex, death and decay. But I am going to save those for another time and place.

    Instead, I think I am going to write about my dirty side: how I have been on my hands and knees in the pouring rain, caked in mud, beads of sweat co-mingling with my tears and those from the heavens, listening to the voice and heartbeat of my garden. There is a deep, profound, spiritual and physical connection that I make with the earth, and I can tell you – not only is my garden as hungry as I am, but it is surprisingly carnivorous!

    While it rests under a thick blanket of snow in a winter that would seemingly never end, at this time of the year the garden represents hope and renewal...and work. While most people only see the end results of the garden, the real joy for me, as with many artists, is the work that goes on behind the scenes, down and dirty, while the world is not watching. In keeping with that theme, while we anticipate the arrival of the Spring season, I think Margaret Atwood summed it up best, from Bluebeard's Egg: "In the Spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt."

  • Give Me Space

    February 20, 2015 by Stephen Near

    Get in a conversation with any theatre artist working or living in Hamilton these days and talk quickly turns to a variation on several topics including who is doing what work in the city, where to look for additional funding for projects, and how theatre is growing in Hamilton. But no other topic seems to arise with such force as the urgent need for more space.

    The Bright Room at the Staircase Theatre

    At last year's Stage Directions, hosted by the Hamilton Fringe Festival, one of the discussions was on how theatre artists can have greater access to what is seen as a hidden cache of space in Hamilton. And if what many theatre artists say holds true--that the best way to get a project off the ground is to book a space--then the need to reveal this cache is critical to the growth of Hamilton theatre. With this in mind, the Hamilton Arts Council has begun a project to gather information on available spaces in the region and post it on our site in our new Space Directory.

    The Hamilton Theatre Inc space

    This Directory not only includes performance and rehearsal space for theatre artists, musicians and other performing artists but also gallery and studio space for visual artists. It is meant to be a widespread and growing resource that can be easily accessed by artists wherever they are with contact information and details on venue availability and suitability. The Directory includes widely known spaces as well as a handful of lesser known venues with a goal of being as comprehensive a listing as possible to serve the arts community of Hamilton.

    The factory floor space of 270 Sherman

    The question of finding viable and affordable space is, in many ways, the issue of the day in arts creation circles. A recent blog article on performance space in Toronto cited ten under-the-radar live venues that are actively in use but which deviate wildly from conventional theatres. All of these are repurposed venues with some being modified retail and storefront properties. Though our Space Directory isn't meant to address such repurposing, we do hope it will make the process of finding suitable space easier and encourage further talks between artists and developers in Hamilton towards creating new and innovative venues that can accommodate the cultural growth we're now seeing here.

    For more information, feedback or suggested additions to our Space Directory follow the LINK or contact our offices at

  • The Week That Could Make Arts Funding Happen

    February 19, 2015 by Stephanie Vegh

    Next week is going to be a big one on the arts funding front here in Hamilton.

    Those who have been following along on our Advocacy page updates will already know that Tuesday February 24th is Public Delegations day at City Hall where anyone with anything to say about the 2015 Budget will be presenting to Council from 3:00-7:00pm. I’ll be presenting on behalf of the Hamilton Arts Council in favour of the $500,000 proposed budget enhancement for arts funding to the City Enrichment Fund alongside many other arts leaders who are all keen to let Council know how important this increase is to the future of the arts in Hamilton.

    Want to know what you can do to help? If you haven’t gotten around to registering yet and would like to speak your five minutes, you have until 12 noon on Monday, February 23 to submit a request to speak to Stephanie Paparella, Legislative Coordinator (Phone: 905-546-2424 ext. 3993 Email: Don’t forget that written delegations are also acceptable if you’re speaking-shy, and that writing to your Ward Councillor (or all fifteen plus the Mayor as I’ve already done) is equally important to showing your support for increased arts investment.

    Three short days later, that desperately needed $500,000 budget enhancement for the arts will be formally presented to Council at their Budget GIC meeting on Friday February 27th starting from 9:30am. John Hertel from the City’s Finance Department has worked closely with the arts community over the past year and will no doubt make a compelling case on our behalf, but this is another occasion where visible support in the gallery would be a great asset and make it that much harder for Council to overlook the importance of this increase during a difficult budget process.

    If you are able to attend on the 27th to show your support for increasing arts funding, please join me in Council Chambers where I’ll be witnessing the discussion alongside our fellow arts colleagues, sending out Twitter updates from @HamArtsCouncil for those following along from home and work, and hoping to have good news to share by end of day.


  • When flatlining leads to decline in arts funding

    January 23, 2015 by Stephanie Vegh

    As difficult as it can be to muster enthusiasm for municipal procedures, I have to admit to keeping a close and eager eye on the City of Hamilton’s current 2015 Budget Process. After four years of research, consultations and countless presentations to City Council, we have a formal request on the table for an additional $500,000 in arts funding to bolster the new City Enrichment Fund. It took a lot of digging and an assist from Tourism & Culture staff to find the right bit between two massive PDFs so here’s the relevant page for ease of viewing:

    Given how long local arts funding has been flatlined by municipal indifference – this is the first proposed increase to arts and cultural spending in about15 years – even this modest first step towards closing the yawning gap between Hamilton's arts investment and that of similar Canadian cities comes as very good news. Unfortunately, the timing could scarcely be worse in the context of what’s already shaping up to be a taut negotiation to cut costs in favour of addressing Hamilton’s notorious infrastructure deficit.

     We’re also entering these budget deliberations while dragging along the shadow of recent announcements from provincial and federal arts funders – those who have been providing significant funding to Hamilton artists and organizations while our municipal programs remained stagnant and inaccessible to new initiatives. The Ontario Arts Council has been the first funder of many new projects in Hamilton but five years of receiving no additional funding from the Province of Ontario has finally taken its toll. In their own words:

    But after several years of stopgap measures, such as the use of reserve funds that are now depleted, we are out of options. If OAC grants were to continue next year at the same level as this year, we would have an unsustainable $1.6 million gap between revenues and expenditures. To address this, OAC plans to reduce all operating grants, and all project program budgets, by five per cent starting in 2015-16.

    Representatives of the OAC came to Hamilton (among other communities province-wide) to personally explain these developments, which went a long way towards recognizing their efforts to both minimize the damage of these cuts and keep the arts sector moving forward. A portion of the funding gleaned out of all those programs by that 5% cut - $500,000, to be exact, in a telling parallel to what could come to pass here in Hamilton – has been earmarked for the sole purpose of providing long-overdue increases to operating grants for organizations whose exceptional performance has not been matched by additional funding, while another $500,000 will be reserved for new and emerging artists.

    Reassurances aside, these reductive measures from the OAC will create an even more competitive climate for accessing provincial funding for the arts, one that will no doubt be further exacerbated by the Canada Council for the Arts’ more nebulous forewarnings of a new funding model in the works. Simon Brault’s announcement at this week’s Annual Public Meeting was thin on details, but we do know that the Canada Council intends to reduce its existing portfolio of 142 to somewhere around ten through a process of simplifying programs into non-disciplinary categories that will be developed and announced later on this year. While it’s difficult to envision what the Canada Council will look like once these programs are implemented in 2017, Simon Brault’s references to the Australia Council for the Arts and their new grant model may provide a telling glimpse of the future of arts funding in this country.

    So what does this mean for Hamilton? With resources dwindling at both the provincial and federal level, it will become increasingly necessary to seek support from within our own communities, from those who know our work best and have first-hand experience of its positive impact. This will mean a stronger push to expand audiences and repeated calls to become more entrepreneurial in how we operate – no matter the corrosive epidemic of a society that doesn’t want to pay for arts and culture, as Elizabeth Renzetti so compellingly reminded us this week at The Globe and Mail. Now more than ever, Hamilton needs to take the opportunity to lead a charge to invest in the arts community it wants for its future.