• The 21st Hamilton Literary Awards: The Poetry Shortlist

    November 25, 2014 by Stephen Near

    For a city known for its gritty urbanism Hamilton abounds in poets. Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition of the beauty of the escarpment against the light of the flares from the steel mills that inspires them, but this year we’ve quite the poetry shortlist. From a several strong collections submitted this year, three experienced poets have been selected for our shortlist. Slack Action, Jeffrey Donaldson’s fifth collection, A Bee Garden Marilyn Gear Pillings fifth collection and John Terpstra's seventh collection, Brilliant Falls show the unusual strength of the poetry being written in our city.

    Marilyn Gear Pilling's A Bee Garden is composed of poems of family, memory, love and friendship, centered around a searing sequence of poems tracing a family’s grief at the death of a young woman from suicide. Laced through these all-too-human stories are gardens, greenery and beauty. Gear Pilling writes of this difficult topic and all other poems in this book with warmth and forgiveness, balancing them with her delight in the physical world. She brings her well-known compassion to bear, and invites the reader into her poems.

    In Slack Action we again encounter Jeffery Donaldson's thoughtful yet witty verse. Borrowing its title from a railroad term describing the interplay between train cars, where free movement transmits from one to another, Donaldson’s words highlight the floating space of mid-life. The uncertain space where children are leaving home and parents may be returning, where one can’t always remember how things started and certainly can’t tell how things will end. It is a slippery concept to capture in poetry but Donaldson succeeds admirably in this innovative collection.

    John Terpstra's Brilliant Falls is grounded in the grace notes of the everyday. The epiphanies that occur as you teach your daughter to drive or as you clear a house of years of a parent’s accumulated belongings. These poems acknowledge endings, either slow ones or sudden, but as all good poets do, Terpstra tells us these truths slant. We consider being let into heaven due to cutbacks or whether or not a crow on a prairie road might be Sitting Bull. As always Terpstra questions our place in nature and what constitutes divine. But he does it while wrestling an old mattress from the roof of a Honda.

    Coming Next: The Fiction Shortlist

  • I'm not an artist, but I love the arts!

    November 19, 2014 by Kerry Jarvi

    I don’t sing, dance, sculpt, write or paint. My work history is rather varied and I have never been employed by something within even arm’s reach to the arts.   So... why am I fortunate enough to be on the boards of two incredible arts organizations?  Well… I wish I could sing, dance, sculpt, write or paint.  I am fascinated by the amazing things others create.  I have paintings on my walls that bring me joy every day and never tire of written words that can make me laugh out loud or draw the sincerest of tears.   I hope that in some way, channeling my envy of artists through the skills that I have will support those that can do all of those wonderful things.

    Why are 'non-artists' helpful on arts boards?  We are enthusiastic about what you do.  I have been known to share with great exuberance the wonders of Hamilton Fringe or the supports made available through the Hamilton Arts Council.  It is very easy in our day to day lives to find ourselves surrounded by the same network of people.  We 'non-artists' most likely have a network of people who may not be as involved in the arts community.  We can share what is happening with a broader network.  When signing on to volunteer on a board there is an expectation to fundraise for the organization. This is to benefit what you do and we each have varying abilities to fundraise whether it be cutting a cheque or connecting our colleagues to the cause.  All board members I work with, either artists or not, appreciate the work that staff of arts organizations do.  Generally, wages are not exceptional for staff in arts organizations and I believe most of us hope that we can volunteer our time at events or through committees to lighten their load.   Lastly, us 'non-artists' are generally great consumers of the arts.  We volunteer in arts organizations because we appreciate what you do and want to see your shows, buy your art (although some of us may have walls that are about to burst) or read your articles or books. 

    Help us!  Share with us!  Tell us why you do what you do.  We are genuinely interested and can’t wait to share your work!  Sometimes you may need to ignore our ignorance in your process and teach us.  Speak to us so that we can be better advocates of your work and the arts in general.  Support the organizations that are supporting you.  If you have spare time, volunteer at an event or attend the events that they host.  Share with others why you are involved with those organizations.  Please keep singing, dancing, sculpting, writing and painting - there are many 'non-artists' out there that can't wait to share what you are doing!


    Kerry is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the Downtown Hamilton BIA.  She is Vice-President/Secretary for the Hamilton Fringe Festival and a new Director for the Hamilton Arts Council.  


  • The 21st Hamilton Literary Awards: The Non-fiction Shortlist

    November 12, 2014 by Stephen Near

    From one man's poignant and intimate recollections about growing up on the shores of Lake Ontario, to another's recounting of four Hamilton murders and the ensuing work of police to another's provocative and profound review of the scientific and social history of blood, the finalists for this year's Non-fiction category for the Hamilton Literary Awards are all examples of true and compelling tales matching that of any work of fiction.

    This House Is Condemned represents a hard-hitting and heart-felt testament by author David Haskins to a life lived on the edge of Lake Ontario. It is an exploration of the currents of humor and sadness that flow through both his physical landscape and his memory of it. Within the book, Haskins combines a myriad of forms, from fictionalized prose to personal essays to poetic interludes, to capture the geographic impact of the lakeside environment on the human condition and his own personal journey from childhood to adulthood.

    Lawrence Hill's Blood: The Stuff of Life is a meditation and examination on the power of blood. Written as a series of essays for the CBC Massey Lectures, Hill boldly breaks down ideas of identity, belonging, gender, race, class, citizenship, and nationality by looking at the scientific and social history of blood. Through his examination  of how it liquid pulses through the veins society, Hill offers a profound insight into ways that blood both unites and divides us all.

    Death's Shadow is Jon Wells' taut and visceral recounting of four harrowing stories of murder and justice in Hamilton. Collected from his multi-part series from the Hamilton Spectator, Wells shines a light on the details of these crimes while focusing on both the investigations by police and the unheard voices of the surviving family and friends of the victims. What emerges is an intimate yet captivating addition to Canadian true crime writing.

    Coming Next: The Poetry Shortlist

  • Hamilton Literary Awards Update

    October 27, 2014 by Stephen Near

    November is literary award season, and everyone is watching the big prizes being announced across Canada, but here in Hamilton we’re all particularly interested in celebrating the talent in our own city.

    This year we have even more reason to celebrate. We’ve had an abundance of books submitted with 18 in total and in all four categories. In addition to this year’s awards for Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry, we will once again be presenting the Kerry Schooley Award for the book most evocative of the Hamilton region in honour of the late literary icon Kerry Schooley. The submissions are all of the highest calibre and have generated a lot of excitement at the Arts Council offices.

    We’re also happy to be presenting our upcoming Literary Awards with the continued generosity of The Hamilton Spectator as well as our long partnership with our Venue Sponsors at Theatre Aquarius. Each year they have given us the perfect place to enjoy our ceremony and raise a glass to our winners and we couldn’t ask for a better venue in which to hold our celebration.

    This year we’ll be holding the awards a bit later than usual due to the exceptional preparations for Theatre Aquarius’ run of Mary Poppins, which we encourage you all to see. As a result, we’re moving the date of the 21st Annual Literary Awards to January 5th, 2015, in the Norman and Louise Haac Studio Theatre at the Dofasco Centre for the Arts. We hope you'll join us in ringing in the New Year with true bookish style.

    Keep watch for our shortlisted books, which will be posted very soon. The judges are still deliberating the last few titles, and we invite you all to read our shortlists once they’re posted to see just how hard a decision the final choice will be.

  • 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.