LivingArts Blog

LivingArts
  • Kids Do The Darndest Things

    September 6, 2017 by Laura Ellis

    While directing a bunch of (rather awesome) youth over the summer, I realized something very quickly. They were better artists than me and better artists than some professionals that I’ve worked with on productions.

    Now wait. Calm down. Hear me out.

    If I’m being totally fair, their technical skills were not stronger. Not by a long shot.  But skills can be learned and practiced very easily. Theatre schools are everywhere, the opportunity to take part in workshops is at our finger tips (Literally. Seriously…Google “Theatre Workshops”. The options are endless), and being in a production is always a possibility especially if you are willing to make your own work. All of these experiences can hone the skills you have and help develop skills that you don’t, just by being in the room. So, if my colleagues and I have more experience, then what exactly makes those darn kids better artists… at least in that moment?

    1. They had no egos

    One of my favourite things about working with youth and teens is that they haven’t quite developed a full concept yet of what “good theatre” entails (obviously, this is subjective).  They just went through the process. They didn’t think for a moment to focus on anything negatively.  All they knew was that they had to make the show the greatest it could be. At auditions, each one of them was EXTREMELY nervous regardless of whether they had auditioned for me seven years in a row or never before. The thought that they were superior to others around them didn’t even cross their minds, even though, as a director, I could SEE the difference (for the sake of simplicity let’s say in their “talent”). None of that mattered.  They didn’t feel the need to cut anyone else down, to feel more important, and not one actor felt that any particular role was owed to them.

    As we move forward in our careers, I think at times we forget to be humble or grateful.  We forget that core phrase that there truly are “no small parts but only small actors” and our experiences are what we make of them.  Not only were these young artists AMAZINGLY SUPPORTIVE of each other no questions asked, but they, quite frankly, didn’t have time to judge what their peers were doing. I gave them props (pun intended) for that and told them the old actor’s ego joke:

    How many actors does it take to screw in a lightbulb? One. And all the other actors to stand around and say “I could do that.”

    They didn’t get it.  But it made me love them more.

    2. They just focused on the work

    It wasn’t until I went back to work full time with these eager beavers that I realized how um…perhaps lazy?…my techniques, routines, and focus had gotten. For example, my students have eight days to learn an hour long show. They need to be off-book by day four. They ALWAYS WERE.  ALWAYS. When my directors ask for that, I do try. But that off-book date (for most of the shows I’ve been a part of) has been…*cough* fluid. A “mostly off-book” day and not just for me, but for most of the actors I work with.  But these guys went home after 7 hours in class, after soccer games, ballet lessons, competitive jiu-jitsu competitions, you name it and they spent time memorizing all of their lines, songs, and dances. These mini go-getters found the time to do the work (with no excuses) regardless of circumstance. They consistently asked important questions, and took notes ensuring that they improved the next time.  They arrived on time for class every day prepared mentally and physically to get to work (and work hard). The dedication they had to their work at such a young age blew me away.

    3. They created a family

    When I say they supported each other, I really mean it.  They worked so hard on a show that finished so quickly; a feeling that most artists can relate to. But beyond just working together on a common goal or product, they truly cared about each other.  They wanted to succeed, but more importantly, they wanted to succeed TOGETHER.  They knew that we  were all on the same ship (the FRIENDship?! Okay, too much.) They realized that we either all sank or we all swam together.  So they often put their own tasks aside and took it upon themselves to help each other.  It was not something I imposed or insisted upon as a teacher. Even though I LOVED the idea of forcing them to help each other, I knew it wouldn’t be as powerful. But I didn’t need to do that. They wanted to help and they wanted to support their peers. Every day I would see them at lunch or break going over dances together, running lines with each other, or bringing someone up to speed on new script changes, etc. and it just made my heart full.

    Some of these are students have come back every year at the same time just so they can work together again. I know they are staying in touch via social media and other means after the show is over and that makes me so happy.  And I know that they really felt like a family when most of them cried on the last day of class (though if you ask the teenagers, I’m sure they will deny it!)

    As more established artists we often forget to let our walls down. We are so busy being “professional”, even competitive at times, that we forget to really connect with our peers throughout the process. Sometimes, we don’t really let ourselves become friends; friends that could eventually become cherished colleagues, inspiring bosses, or hey…even family. 

    4. They let go of their insecurities and have fun

    At a crucial time in the lives of these young artists, the dreaded progression through the teenage years, they have managed to keep the self-doubt, self-consciousness, and crippling insecurities at bay. Why? Because of all of the things above. By becoming such a close and supportive theatre family, they have developed a firm groundwork of respect and trust for one another. They created an environment that is free for them to ask questions without judgement and take big risks; even when it fails the first time. They push themselves and each other outside of their comfort zones and trust their director to do the same. It’s a safe, fun, and an all around enjoyable work atmosphere.

    Here’s the catch. THEY DON’T TAKE THEMSELVES TOO SERIOUSLY. Not like a lot of us do (or at least not like I do sometimes…). Are they serious about working hard and putting on a good show? Why, yes! Do they tell lame jokes and dress up in each other costumes while making farting noises sometimes? Also yes!  I’d be lying if I said that they didn’t make me laugh every day. And I’d be lying if said it wasn’t important to be silly.  Bottom line: They are serious about the work without taking themselves too seriously.  Maybe we could all take a page from their books.  After all, aren’t we just a bunch of weirdos who dress up and pretend to be other weirdos in front of a group of weirdos who want to watch? 

    Our fear of looking stupid is holding us back. THAT’S what kids make us realize. They remind us what it is to be free and to be present in the moment.  And remember that if we all commit to our ideas 100% and try it together, then none of us really look ridiculous…right?  Or at least we all look ridiculous together.

    So, after these moments of self reflection and brutal self-honesty, I realized some things.  Whenever I work with kids and teenagers, it inspires me.  They inspire me.  Seeing their kindness and respect for one another never ceases to re-ignite my passion for teaching theatre and lighting the way for others.  It reminds me to check in with myself and re-evaluate my process as an artist (in a very constructive way). It also makes me proud of my job and more than anything…makes me excited for the future of theatre.

  • Bodies that Smell

    August 21, 2017 by Aimee Burnett

    A white collar is the collar that’s hardest to keep. 

    Somebody’s scrubbing and sweat maintains the white collar. Some one whose collar is now not white. 

    A white collar is durational. It cannot last without careful attention and regular, continuous care. Soap. Water. Agitation. Each moment the white collar is on the body it is becoming less white than it was the moment before.

    The white collar is the collar we want to represent. Photograph, share widely, fetishize its purity, gaze furtively toward our own. The collar of capital. The collar of status.

    Muted autumnal shades tinted brown: raspberry, mustard, puce, brown itself - these are the collars of the bodies that smell. The brown tone collar is that of the craftsperson but infrequently the collars of the client. Our clients aspire, not perspire. 

    A brown collar becomes so by the inhabiting of craft which is to inhabit dust, and labour’s processes; to be inhabited by dirt of whatever material. 

    I had lazily believed the world was made up of two kinds of collars: blue collars and white collars. It’s not.  A full spectrum of collars exist, as I might have guessed had my mind roamed more freely to the end of that thought. Collar - mood ring, aura. I believe my own to be brown.

    I have been advised RE: the general look and feel, that my marketing isn’t ‘aspirational’ enough - that polish and beautiful old machines, not labour or quality craft, will sell my product to the buyer who can afford the price tag. Perhaps this is true. It still feels weird to build an immaterial dream in which to house a functional, material object. Is every sale predicated on the exact same fantasies which maintain locomotion by never delivering?  

    A collar is  literally ‘that on which the head turns’; on which we turn. We wear our lives on our collars like Iago once wore his heart on his sleeve. A brown collar is a collar full of labour, a collar full of scent and olfaction’s telling about the wearer. In the case of craft, the maker of your goods. 
    TMI? 

    Labour smells. 

    Smells are informants; the only sensory route to the limbic brain: emotion, behaviour, memory. Aspirational marketing is the spray of flowers on the funeral box, perfume misted upon the unwashed, the bridge from brown collar to white collar - status of the scentless. 

  • Lost at the Fringe

    July 20, 2017 by Crystal Jonasso...

    It's that time of year again, Fringe time!  I'm sure most theatre lovers in our city have already poured over their Fringe guide and circled the shows that they just can't miss. (If you haven't checked out this year's line up of 50 companies and hundreds of performances you can find everything you need at hamiltonfringe.ca

    Hamilton Fringe line-ups outside Mills Hardware [Photo: Dave Pijuan-Nomura]

    As a long time fringer, in past years I have found myself seeing 10 or more shows and totally binging on Fringe goodness. However since becoming a parent I've had to be a little more selective when making my Fringe wishlist.  This year I found one show that I simply cannot miss: The Lost Years. It instantly resonated with me since it is an exploration of the early parenting years. Are these years lost in the haze of sleep deprivation? Are they years where you often feel lost as life changes sometimes quicker than you can adapt and you encounter situations you never imagined?  I decided to ask writer/actor of The Lost Years, Peter Gruner, what the play is all about.

    "The Lost Years is about one couple's journey through parenthood.  It is told in a series of snapshots to give you a feeling of glancing through a photo album of emotions.  It is definitely inspired by our experiences with parenting, but also dramatized, exaggerated, and with some things completely fabricated." As a fellow artist right in the middle of the haze of the lost years myself the next big question on my mind is: How? How do you balance not only family and work responsibilities but also art? "Balancing family and art?  That is definitely easier to do when the kids get older, but it is important to carve out little bits of time here and there... I think it's important too for your kids to see that you are involved in things." 

    Peter Gruner performs with Deb Dagenais in The Lost Years [Photo: P. Gruner]

    Gruner is starring in The Lost Years alongside his wife of 29 years and fellow experienced actor Deb Deganais. He tells me that although the piece is written by him and directed by Al French the 3 person team had a collaborative spirit when bringing The Lost Years to life. "The lost years aren't really "lost".  It's more about how your focus changes from a self-focused perspective to an other-focused perspective." he tells me andI couldn't agree more. You may have seen some of Gruner's other plays in previous Fringes including Minced, Laund-o-Mat at the End of the World and Mommy's Mask

    "There is definitely art at the other side of the lost years!  And the lost years help inform your art." He reassures me. I can't wait to see the roller-coaster ride of parenting brought to the stage at Artword  Artbar this week. 

    Have an amazing festival fellow fringers!

    Peter Gruner's The Lost Years opens Thursday, July 20 and continues until Saturday, July 29. For complete listings of the Hamilton Fringe Festival line-up follow the LINK.

  • Where do your ideas come from?

    July 20, 2017 by Vanessa Crosbie...

    I genuinely love working as an artist, and I appreciate that I get to do this for a living. But, just as with any other job, there are some days when I just don’t feel motivated – I’m tired, or there’s a lack of time, or a budgetary constraint. Luckily though, I can’t ever recall a time when I’ve suffered from a lack of ideas.

    Thinking creatively is not solely the domain of artists. Humans the world over do it every day – we solve problems, make substitutions, re-route ourselves – but recognizing these abilities as being ‘creative’ is easier for some than others. Not to say creative thought is equal to artistic talent – not everyone has an innate natural ability, but for anyone who’s determined and dedicated, talent can be practiced, improved, and honed over time. There are opportunities all around us to live more creative lives.

    If you’re open to inspiration, I think it’s easy to find wherever you are. There are provocations, stimulations, and invitations, everywhere. When I’m asked where I get my ideas, the truth is they come from every facet of my life. From conversations, newspaper articles, real-life, imagination, a shot in a movie, a sentence in a book, old photos, a piece of fruit – any of these can become a jumping off point for something else. I keep running lists, and take lots of pictures to refer back to later. One of my past film projects was based on an idea that came to me while watching the National Ballet of Canada perform. Another project coalesced into being after combining a comment about a second-hand shop, together with a friend’s Facebook post about a bookstore experience. Deciding how to weave these random threads into a finished piece is where the real work lies.

    Most people have heard of ‘writer’s block’ – but equally challenging is the opposite of that – too many thoughts running around in your head. When brainstorm becomes brain tornado. When you have a surplus of ideas, harnessing them can be difficult. Looking at your own work with a critical eye and choosing what to leave out – how to edit yourself – is a key part of the creative process. Some ideas truly deserve to be left on the ‘cutting room floor’, as we say in film.

    If you’re looking to jumpstart your creativity, try something new. Take up a hobby. Socialize with different people. Travel somewhere you’ve never been. Experiment. Collaborate. Debate topics of interest. Visit galleries. Read books. Watch movies. Ask questions. Seek out new experiences. A particularly wonderful (and awful) thing I try to do is challenge myself to overcome uncomfortable situations. I’ve accepted invitations to parties where I barely knew anyone. I’ve eaten at restaurants where the menu was in a different language. I’ve befriended interesting strangers. I’ve travelled by myself. At times these things have been awkward or scary, but ultimately, so rewarding. Afterward, I’m always glad I pushed the boundaries of my regular comfort zone and took a risk. These situations often make for good stories, and discomfort can be a great catalyst for creativity.

  • Writing as Resistance

    July 11, 2017 by Jesse Dorey

     

    “Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” - David Foster Wallace        

                I was born and raised in Hamilton, where I spent my elementary and high school days in the publicly-funded Catholic education system. From an early age, we were taught about the multicultural makeup of Canadian society. Our teachers called us a cultural mosaic, where each individual, regardless of their differences, was just as integral to the success of the nation as the next person. We were told that this mosaic, along with hockey, Tim Hortons, and saying “sorry”, was what made us truly Canadian. More than anything else, though, we were taught to define ourselves against America, the great Melting Pot. Because that’s what makes Canada so great - we’re a land of explorers and hockey players, sure, but, at our core, we’re a country that thrives in spite of our differences. Even if we are unable to firmly establish a definitive Canadian identity that isn’t intimately tied to double-doubles and Gordie Howe hat tricks, we are content in knowing that we are a peaceful, tolerant people.

    ***

                For anyone who isn’t familiar with the geography of the area, Hamilton is roughly 35 km away from both Six Nations of the Grand River, the largest First Nations reserve in Canada, and the Mohawk Institute, the oldest residential school in Canada and one of the few that still remain standing to this day. Beyond our immediate borders, the last federal residential school officially closed its doors in 1996. For some perspective, I was just starting junior kindergarten that year. The high school that I attended ten years later was named after a Catholic saint who, according to religious canon, had his heart removed and eaten by Iroquois warriors after being tortured and killed. But don’t worry, the administration was sure to remind us of that every year. It’s what made us the Braves. Oddly enough, though, I never once heard the words ‘residential school’ until I took a Canadian history course in university…

                But let’s pan back for a second. It’s now July 4th, 2017, and we’re still recovering from the collective hangover of the nation’s sesquicentennial celebrations. All around Canada, fireworks were set off to the tune of some of Canada’s most noteworthy citizens telling us how lucky we are to live in such a great country. We took our national myths - of Tim Hortons and hockey and snow and everything else that makes us us - and turned them into a nationwide party. Hell, even U2 was somehow involved, I think, though I’m still waiting for an official explanation of how they’re proud Canadians. On Parliament Hill, a lone teepee stood as a symbol of Indigenous resistance. It was taken down on Canada Day.

    ***

                So, what am I trying to do by invoking stories from my childhood, my place of residence, and #Canada150 celebrations? In a roundabout (if slightly convoluted) way, I’m trying to say that collective myths - whether they be national, institutional, or communal - are dangerous. Sure, they make for great stories and even better parties, but they don’t tell the whole story. When we reduce Canadians to simple, hockey-loving, Tim Hortons-drinking, denim-wearing folks, we neglect to recognize the very real genocidal history that this nation is founded upon. In celebrating our myths, not only are we neglecting our duty to bear witness to the past, we are also continuing the silencing of Indigenous voices from all across Canada. From the disgusting Appropriation Prize debacle to the Joseph Boyden identity controversy, this year has, if nothing else, proven the fact that systemic racism is still alive and well in our nation.

                Let me return to the epigraph, a quotation from David Foster Wallace who was, I believe, quoting a professor he once studied under, if only briefly. “Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Take a look at what you just saw this past Saturday. The fireworks, the music, the Canadian tuxedos… What we just witnessed was arguably the most vivid, complete example of collective comfortableness in Canada’s 150 years. As writers living and writing in both the physical and historical shadow of our shared colonial history, it is our duty to resist the national myth-making process. We need to ensure that Indigenous peoples are given the voice that they have been denied. We need to read literature that unsettles the national myths that we have been taught since infancy. We need to write literature that disturbs those comfortable enough to celebrate a deeply flawed nation. Art has the ability to change the world; it’s up to us to make sure that it happens. 

    ***

                Before concluding, I’d like to be clear about one thing. Nothing that I am saying here is new. Indigenous authors, artists, commentators, and people have been talking about these things for a long, long time, in a much more succinct and intelligent manner. Though I wish I could list all of the people that have helped (indirectly) educate me, here are a few writers, artists, musicians, and scholars whose work I’ve found to be particularly illuminating over the years: A Tribe Called Red; Thomas King; Tracey Lindberg; Tomson Highway; Richard Wagamese; Eden Robinson; Bev Sellars; Hayden King; Leanne Betasamosake Simpson; and Drew Hayden Taylor.

  • Disciplinary Thinking

    July 5, 2017 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

    Recently I have been exploring the notion of disciplinary thinking – that is, the different concepts or frameworks that are specific to individual fields of study or work.  The term ‘interdisciplinary’ is one that is thrown about so often that I hadn’t really unpacked what it means, even to ask the basic question of what the opposite of interdisciplinary is, until I spent some time with a terrific group of history teachers about how their work and mine can support each other.  So, here it is: every field of study (discipline) has specific ways of categorizing what it is all about as a guide to looking at the world.

    Take, for instance the idea of ‘Historical Thinking’ – my entry point into this interest – and its core six concepts: historical thinking, evidence, continuity and change, cause and consequence, historical perspective and ethics.  Or ‘Design Thinking’ which includes empathy into its basic stages or principles, along with experimentation and iteration.  In each case, and many others, there are specific priorities that guide our interpretation and interaction with the world (past and present) and the people, stories and objects we encounter within it. 

    A bit of reading sent me down the rabbit hole of trying to determine the principles of every other discipline, but at the same time, left me with some questions – What is ‘Art Thinking’, and when considering art-making and art-history, are there unique concepts that are at the core of these two things.  How do they intersect?  Where do the elements and principles of design fit in, since these form the basis of so many arts curricula? How similar and different are art- and design-thinking?  What about history and art-history?  And how can we use art to support learning in other disciplines? And, what can we learn about art through these other lenses?

    Take, for example a painting of a woman in a kimono painted in 1914 (currently on view at the AGH).  If we apply the Historical Thinking framework, we are pushed beyond the notions of technique and style and think about questions that include the impact of WWI on the role of women in society, the attitudes held by euro-centric society about other cultures and the idea of the ‘exotic’, and what the conditions within which the artist was living might have been like.  We learn to set aside our contemporary attitudes for a moment to delve into another person’s time while at the same time looking for the lessons that have been learned since then.

    In another example we can analyse an everyday object like a chair through the lenses of empathy and function to see how an object that most of us never thinking about has evolved to ideally serve human needs.  We can also think about engineering and structure, science and materials and so much more.

    I am left with more confirmation of my opinion (bias) that art is everywhere, and that interdisciplinary study is the best way to learn things.  But also more appreciation for everybody else.

  • LivingArts: Across the Pond

    June 22, 2017 by Brandon Vickerd

    As I write this I am currently wrapping up my participation in a temporary public art project in Sweden. I am exhibiting a version of Sputnik Returned #2 (see image) that I have been invited to present as part of OpenArt2017 in Ӧrebro. As I prepare to hop on a plane and head back to Canada it seems like a good opportunity to reflect on my experience working as an artist in Europe versus North America. 

    Often in Canada we tend to romanticize how artists are treated in Europe based on experience, assumption, and rumour. We assume that European society values the contribution of creative individual. We hear anecdotes of how galleries are free of admission fees, artists do not pay taxes, some countries pay professional artist a living wage, and that generally exhibiting in Europe is a more professional experience that what happens in Canada. Of course, this all conjecture and there is no objective way to evaluate these assumptions; however, having completed a number of projects in Europe in the past decade (Denmark, Scotland, Iceland, and Sweden) there are some observations that I am willing to make based on my experience.

    In Europe, it seems easier to get permission for public art projects. Want to crash a replica of Sputnik into a parked car and let it sit in the street for three months? Sure, why not, no questions about permits, or insurance, or other forms of bureaucracy.  To be fair, I have never been turned down when proposing a public installation in Canada, but there always seem to be hoops to jump through. 

    During the installation of the project this week, we had to use a boom crane on a public street to lift a crushed car over parked cars and place it in its location on a set of stairs. This process took about two hours during rush hour traffic. Besides average commuters wandering by, there were city officials walking by, parking attendants watching, and twice the police drove by, but no one stopped to question what was happening. No one asked us for permits or seemed upset that two ton mass of steel levitating above the street. I am not sure if this because no one cared, or if they saw the exhibition signage and assumed we had permission, but in similar circumstances in Canada there would have been as much time spent explain the project as installing it.

    Again, these observations are based on my own experience, and might not be reflective of larger truths. However, the one thing that is not different between working in public art in Canada versus Europe is the audience reception. The positive conversations and enthusiastic conversation with viewers always vastly outnumbers the disparaging remarks, and this is true for either continent. 

  • LivingArts: The Art of Storytelling

    June 29, 2017 by Josh Taylor

    I love a good story. I mean, who doesn't? A good story can make you laugh or make you cry. It can make your blood boil with anger or your heart flutter with sentiment. Hell, a really good one will make you do both. When it comes to a great story, it's not only what is told, but rather how it is told. What words are chosen, the tone and the structure. A good story tells you something. A great storyteller makes you feel something. 

    That's why when I was approached by my friend Lisa Pijuan-Nomura about joining her "rag tag" team of storytellers, The Hamilton 7, I was unsure - the type of unsure where I've already said no in my head. She assured me I'd be fine, reminding me I tell stories through dance all the time. She was right, in that respect. I've made countless pieces collaboratively and individually that not only have a theme but also a clear narrative. I've been doing that for years, so, yeah, in theory, I'm a storyteller. But that's after I've found a song that already has a vibe with melodies to interpret and lyrics to literally translate into movement. Really, the song infers the narrative, I'm just elaborating on it. Here, we're talking about a completely different medium. The very idea of getting up on stage to use my own words to tell a story filled me with a nervousness I hadn't felt since entering my first real dance battle, maybe 14 years ago. And there it was. That's how I knew I had to do it.

    The first Hamilton 7 brainstorming meeting I went to, I listened as these masters in storytelling created photographs with their words and painted canvases with their syllables. It was like hearing a film come to life.  It was inspiring - inspiring enough to will me on to the stage. Building that tale, step by step on paper was more similar to choreographing, lyric by lyric, than I had ever imagined. I felt as if stepping out of the medium, deepened my artistry of creating a narrative. 

    At the shows, I love seeing how with each storyteller, the audience is moved from one end of the spectrum to the other. It makes me think of all the different ways artists unconventionally tell stories. Paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, songs, poetry, theatre, dance...The emotional power that they hold and express is incredible. The arts, like great stories, connect because they make us feel something, not just because they're beautiful, but rather, they connect us with our imaginations and our own stories -sometimes ones we didn't know we had. It's why we go to movies, listen to music, visit art galleries, read novels and watch dance shows. From the beginning of time, every culture has shared stories as a way of preserving traditions, teaching lessons and, I'm sure, just having a good laugh among friends. Stories. Art. It's in us to share. In whatever way(s) we can. What's yours?

    Check out the Hamilton 7 at the Fringe Festival this summer! https://www.facebook.com/thehamilton7/

  • LivingArts: The Practice Diet

    June 7, 2017 by Jennifer Spleit...

    Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of music study is the discipline needed for daily practice. It’s hard to commit that time every day, especially when progress can sometimes feel slow. No one wants to keep reliving the same practice session every day, just as we don’t want to eat the same dish for every meal. My trick to keep practicing interesting is to vary my approach and focus. Just as a healthy diet includes all the food groups, so should practicing include attention to all of the many facets of music: from tone and intonation to rhythm and tempo, to style and sentiment.

    Music is primarily sound, so make sure you sound good, no matter what you’re playing! Start each session with a solid warm-up, playing slowly enough to ensure that you’re producing a resonant and beautiful tone from your instrument.

    Intonation is a battle you’re always fighting on fretless stringed instruments, wind instruments and vocals. Slow your repertoire down so you can really listen to each note individually and experience the joy of good tuning.

    Rhythm is what gives music its groove, and what has intrinsically tied music to dance in all cultures world-wide for thousands of years. Take time to mathematically understand the counting in your part – but focus on the timing of how your part matches the beat of the piece. Clap the rhythm, speak the rhythm, dance to the rhythm; feel the heart-beat of the music coming through the melody.

    Tempo… what to say. Speed comes to all things in due time. When you’re comfortable with your notes and rhythm and tuning, it won’t feel so hard to do it all just a little bit faster. Don’t rush it! Put on a metronome and try a passage at an easy, comfortable speed. Try a notch faster. Tomorrow you’ll add another few clicks.

    Stylistic choices in your playing can be influenced by the composer, the music genre, the ensemble or the event at which you’ll be performing. Context is everything! Do your research so you can bring the most appropriate touch to each song.

    And lastly - but not least! - don’t forget to express yourself. Music is an emotional journey for the performer as much as for the audience and we can perform only that which we have practiced. Throw yourself into every phrase, breathe deep. So much of what we do as musicians can be thought of as a science… but ultimately, music is art. Once you’ve done the work… set the music free.

  • LivingArts: Asking and Answering Difficult Questions

    May 31, 2017 by Noelle Allen

    Lately there’s been a lot of talk about cultural appropriation in the arts in Canada. There’s been a lot of questions about who has the right to write or paint or depict in some way another culture, particularly the Indigenous cultures that have undergone systematic erasure in Canadian society. While much of this discussion has to take place at the artist level, during creation, it doesn’t go away at the administrative level.

    Arts administrators need to be aware of these issues. We need to pay attention to the discussions raging around us, even if they make us distinctly uncomfortable. We need to ask ourselves, and our artists, tough questions. Have we done our homework? If someone is presenting art that draws heavily on Indigenous cultures, are they doing it respectfully? Do they have a good reason to do this? Who have they studied with, what communities have helped them and do they recognize that help?

    Let me tell you a story. A literary publisher I know was thinking of reprinting some early twentieth century stories that dealt with Indigenous themes. It was a piece of history that had been lost, and they felt the writing was pretty good. But, of course, it needed to be put in context. So they went asking among literary scholars for someone to write an introduction. Everyone politely declined. Finally the publisher asked why, and discovered that the text was now considered completely wrong, had the thinnest understanding of First Nations culture and was close to being racist. With this information, the publisher decided against reprinting it. They did their homework.

    When the Toronto gallery chose to not show the work of a young artist who painted in the Woodlands style, I believe they made the right choice, but they made it belatedly. They had not done their homework, they had not put this young artist into context and as a result, the community educated them the hard way.  

    As arts administrators we are always working to put our artists in front of the public. Some of these artists are controversial, and that’s fine. Controversy can be a good thing, but we should always know what controversy we’re courting. If we can’t defend our choices to the public, if we hadn’t even realized we were making a statement with the art we’re programming, we’ve done things poorly. Everyone should know what to say if the reporters come calling.

  • LivingArts: Minutiae of Mastery

    May 25, 2017 by Aimee Burnett

    The virtuosity of a Colin Stetson performance is airborne. It leaves in its wake a room electrified and muggy. As though through the course of the act he has filtered all the available air through his lungs then saxophone, converting it to Olympian opus. Sonic and visceral in equal measure, we breathe in Colin Stetson. We breathe out Colin Stetson. Oh, momentary demagogue of undeniable respiratory authority. The Great Hall and all its contents become Stetson’s tuning fork over the course of the hour during which his music carries unspoken inevitabilities that feel like a coming war or shift in season. Extra-linguistic truths.

    Stetson is a master. His work speaks clearly to deep knowledge of an inert tool in relation to a living one: body to saxophone (for example). We can see not just the farthest reaches of such a partnership, but also the equally definitive limitations and demands. The work bears out a perfection not only of the actions proper, but of the sinews between.

    I see this in his performance because trying toward it is familiar to me, this minutiae of mastery.

    There is a shift that occurs once you have spent dedicated and prolonged time with a craft: once you understand the full spectrum of The Basics. To borrow from a flat earth paradigm, you sail towards the sunset and over the edge of the world (here meaning the documented step-by-steps of any given field), and what awaits you is not the thing you thought might feel like vast and comfortable competency. You face, in fact, a self directed future that is a panoply of deep dives made available by every single step of your process: many possible lifetimes of micro-perfecting and iterations.

    You no longer simply make a cut. You instead see planes of choice and gradations of skill exercised in each act of cut-making.

    You begin to read objects differently, infer meaning and discern significant variation and even personality from near-invisible subtleties previously unnoted.

    You maybe even dream in whatever skill-language you practice. <hah hah>

    Life lived in these specificities can conjure a shell of jargon and unintelligibility if words are all we have to show for it. But depths reveal themselves in many forms. Performances of others hard-won, perhaps life long attenuation and specificity are unfailingly unique and life-giving. This is an aperture through which to understand the heights of possibility embedded within a life-as-human. Still, you’re never not sharing intimacies with the wholly unromantic yet essential drudgery long-term creators all know lives, mafia-like, in the lower registers.

    The grandest things, we learn, are born from infinities of painstakingly small and plain ones.

     

  • LivingArts: Outplaying the Sample

    May 17, 2017 by Kirk Starkey

    In Aaron Gervais’ notorious blog post “No seriously, there is no such thing as Arts Entrepreneurship”, he takes a definitive stand on the dangers of confusing art with art-based commodities. Never having been an artist who avoids the dangers of commercial work, I’ve spent the last few years balancing the needs of my clients and my personal artistic practice, with varying degrees of success.

    A common lament among musicians is how the world of synthesized orchestral instruments and sample libraries has destroyed a once significant revenue stream. Large sections of strings and brass players can now be replaced by convincing sample libraries produced by Native Instruments, Vienna Symphonic, Spitfire and others. While some larger budget session work still exists, there is no question that new sample driven technology has eliminated a significant amount work for string players. While change is difficult to accept, we are already past the point of looking back; sample libraries are a de facto standard for large ensemble scoring work. Some would point the finger at the American Federation of Musicians for fee structures that no longer reflect current working realities. Others would blame producers and even the public at large for a lack of discernment and demand for real performances. The reality is the technology has gotten really good and it provides a euphonic and consistent option for composers. Technology and automation eliminating jobs is hardly a new phenomenon; as it turns out, musicians are also not immune. Before the advent of radio, film and television this work never existed in the first place; and that which technology has given, technology has also taken away.

    One thing programmers haven’t really perfected is how make an amazing solo performance. In solo performances, there are many human characteristics that are difficult or next to impossible to program: inflection of phrase, articulations and matching the vibrato to the specific intensity of the line. Replacing MIDI instruments with real strings is a job I do frequently; I’m working to surpass and outplay the samples with technical excellence and emotive power. I am part of a growing sector of independent musicians who record themselves and deliver audio for broadcast. With budgets seeming to be continually tighter, reduction of overhead by eliminating the large studio and having the players engineer their own sessions is a new norm. The speed and agility of small operation entrepreneurs are advantageous when dealing with recalls, revisions and quick turnarounds. In the digital world of Logic, Pro Tools and Sibelius, musicians and composers are assimilating roles once filled by copyists, librarians and engineers. The acquisition of ancillary skillsets is a significant unintended consequence for artists who choose to do business in the world of digital commodities.

    It’s a balancing act to keep grounded in a long-range vision for my writing and playing. Over time I have come to feel part of my voice is embedded in the DNA of the recordings I create, irrespective of client or context.  It has, in a small but tangible way, become a part of my artistic practice.

     

     

  • LivingArts: Why So Serious?

    May 10, 2017 by Laura Ellis

    As someone who has been a stereotypical “struggling artist” within the theatre industry, often resulting in a love/hate relationship, I’ve decided to share my experience and write one of the most honest blogs I’ve ever written. Eeeep. Scary. But here goes.

    As I approach my 30th birthday (considered OLD for women in the world of theatre and film, sigh) I am forced to look at my career thus far: a task which often leaves me stressed, anxiety driven, with a side of barfy feelings. I often struggle with how to properly measure accomplishments in my career (listening to the RENT song “Seasons of Love” on repeat didn’t help AT ALL). I know that I have experienced various achievements but have also faced MANY failures along the way.

    I begin to obsess. I start thinking about EVERYTHING. Adding it all up. Okay, well… I’ve invested countless hours and money. That’s got to count for something (I think?). Gone to theatre school, taken workshops, auditioned and auditioned and auditioned, volunteered my time for my arts community, networked at events, developed initiatives, assisted in theatre education, created my own work, even took on writing a BLOG about theatre for crying out loud! That means I did it! Right?! RIGHT?! If I’m successful, I should be supporting myself with my art!

    So, why am I still slinging coffees at a cafe?

    Enter depression. Exit self-confidence stage left. Cue self loathing.

    I begin to shut down and have that horrible argument that I frequently have with other Laura. The one where I remind myself about how many cool, creative things I’ve done. How I’ve worked so hard, worked with really talented people, and have some value as an artist. Then other Laura (EVIL Laura) comes back and tells me I’m a fraud. How I’m getting too old and if I was suppose to be successful in any kind of artistic field, that it would have happened by now (there’s that word again… successful…). She tells me that everything I do is crap and it’s time to think about upping my latte art skills if I want to keep up my creativity.

    I hit a wall. I don’t know what else to do, so I once again reach for a creative self-help book for inspiration. It’s called “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of “Eat, Pray, Love”) and it’s changed my approach to creativity.

    To summarize, here is what I quickly realized:  

    I am taking myself and my art way too seriously. I REPEAT. I AM TAKING MYSELF AND MY ART WAY TOO SERIOUSLY.  

    Of course we can be working at coffee shops, bars, clothing stores, movie theatres, and the like and still be artists! DUH, LAURA. We need to support our art, not have our art support us all of the time. When we become reliant on our art to ALWAYS be successful (especially financially) we lose our ability to take exciting risks. We are left with no chance to play. It can put a pressure on; a pressure which can quickly take us from feeling that creating art is a magnificent privilege to it feeling like a crushing chore. When we keep track of these superficial things, always weighing, always tallying, we can start to lose sight of why we are creating art at all. We become OBSESSED with defining success by money, quantity of projects, rewards and distinctions, or career status.

    Often, we can become addicted to being the woe-is-me artist. So, in order to get ourselves out, it’s time to start identifying where we currently (not permanently) fall. We may at times find ourselves in one or more of the following categories:

    The Entitled Artist - Feeling that the world owes them something. They believe they’ve worked hard enough and it’s THEIR time to come out on top. They deserve it above all else. A false sense of superiority may also begin to creep in.

    The Jealous Artist - Also known as the “I could do that” syndrome. Constantly judging others and sometimes even badmouthing your peers. There is a sense of “someone else got mine.” There tends to be an uneasy (yet constant) sense of competition.

    The Misunderstood Artist  - Perhaps they didn’t get the response they were hoping for or received a bad review. Now they believe their work is beyond the comprehension of the average human being, and that others couldn’t POSSIBLY understand what they feel (others do) or experience what they’ve gone through (others have).

    The Burdened Artist -  Frequently referred to as the “I can only create work when I’m in pain” artist. Enjoys needless suffering. Likes to talk about the constant struggle with little reward.  They often toil alone for long periods of time only to emerge from isolation to complain about their doomed artistic destiny.

    So how do we get out of these toxic negative stereotypes? Well, there isn’t really one straightforward answer. But I’ll give you a jumping off point. Keep creating. Choose projects you love and are passionate about even if you can’t understand why. Have faith in the creative process. Don’t lose trust in it even when you don’t understand (or necessarily like) the outcome. And lastly, don’t give up the minute things stop becoming easy or rewarding.

    Let’s agree to stop taking ourselves and our work so seriously. Let’s make a pact to stop glorifying stress. And let’s avoid become so far gone that we reach the stage of depressed isolation where we contemplate whether or not we need both of our ears (thank you, Van Gogh…).

    Gilbert asks artists to ponder this question: “What do you love doing so much that the words success and failure eventually become irrelevant?”

    Do what you love. Your art is sacred, sure. But it’s also….not. Should it be hard sometimes? Yes. Should it be painful and depressing? No.

    Because after all, if you aren’t having fun… you’re doing it wrong.

     

  • LivingArts: Cleaning Up

    May 5, 2017 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

    I’m staring at the mess in the studio, a studio I’ve barely used in the last year on account of recent full time work at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. There’s a pile of unsorted crap on the floor, abandoned by me after I threw my back out building the shelving unit that was to support my unsorted crap.  There’s a work table, cluttered with unsorted tools, liberally peppered with the ash black debris that had fallen when the roof was repaired. There’s a stack of bins and boxes that haven’t been unpacked since we had to pack down the studio a year ago in order to rent the space to a horror film company—literally a devil’s bargain.   

    There are the sorts of things you only would find in an artist’s studio: a hat box full of acorns, a 50lb cube of solidified sugar, bucket of river stones, boxing speed bag, pulley-run dentist drill. More than any thing else there is wood. Oak barrel staves, horse stable hemlock, chestnut from the family piano, science cupboard doors, church pews, the list goes on. Wood enough for a decade of work.   Don’t tell me this studio doesn’t tell stories. It tells too many stories. It tells so many stories at once that I have to cup my ears and eyes to prevent being driven mad by them.

    Not that I’m a masochist, but staring at an unbearable mess represents such a distilled moment of anxiety that it can almost be savoured like a cognac. It is very similar to a feeling I have when I do my taxes, when long periods of effort and struggle are reduced to a single pile of crumpled unmanaged vestiges; to sort through them will be a slow confirmation of how fleeting and/or meaningless and/or profitless my efforts have been.  A messy studio and taxes are as pure and clear as my existential crisis ever gets.

    The beginning phase of cleaning a studio is the worst. It involves picking up one thing and moving it to another corner and then feeling exhausted. This is usually followed by reconsidering that decision and moving the thing back to where it was. It is the hallucinatory and maddeningly slow means of finding a starting point.   

    The beginning phase of cleaning a studio is also the time where my mind plays a kind of game with itself. For the purposes of this column let me call the game “All paths lead to Hell." It goes a little something like this:  

    "I should try to find a way to get some of my work in a public collection. No, I need gallery representation. No, I need my work placed in reputable private collections. Art is governed by the rich. I haven’t made new work in ages. My old work is unsuitable. Capitalism is wrecking everything. I will never be organized enough to have a proper practice. I wonder what it’s like to join a cult. None of my ideas are good. I will die owning nothing but regrets. I should start jogging. What does arthritis feel like?..."

    And so on.

    Thank god I am alone during this first phase of cleaning.

    After about 3-6 hours (or days) of this kind of wallowing and frittering, I’ll notice that a little chunk of floor space has opened up.  It makes me exhale in a way that I haven’t been doing. And then another space opens up. And then I amass a truck’s worth of useless crap and take it to the dump, and it ends up making me physically lighter.

    And the next day I come in, the job of organizing is already in process, and is clearly laid out. I enter into the second, most blissful part of cleaning. It doesn’t even feel like I’m thinking at all inasmuch as I am just emitting a smooth mechanical hum.

    Only when the vision and shape of an ordered functional studio space can be discerned, does my mind start playing another game, one which I’ll call “All paths lead to God."

    It’s not entirely different than the first game:

    "Art is governed by the Rich. I want to fuse all this wood into a big cube and then illegally put it in the lobby of a bank. Capitalism is killing everything. I should start jogging. I could secretly raise goats here. I don’t need success. I just need to work. My art practice could just be about cleaning. I love this studio. I think I might be getting a respiratory disease."

    And so on.

     

  • LivingArts: Pump Up the Volume

    April 27, 2017 by Vanessa Crosbie...

    “Once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it's far removed from your situation.” - Chinua Achebe

    I consider myself a critical thinker, and I’m pretty outspoken about my views on social justice, civil rights, and equity issues. Depending on the day, I might be described as ‘very opinionated.’ I’ve also been told I have a ‘bleeding heart’ – a phrase somehow meant as an insult, though I’ve never understood why having empathy for others would be seen this way. Needless to say, I don’t think having strong opinions is a bad thing – I’m open-minded and receptive to other ideas, and like most people, as time passes and new information comes in, my views evolve.

    In my work as a media artist, personal politics are a large motivating factor for the art I create. Hot Air, an installation I’m mounting in September, focuses on sexism, misogyny, and gendered oppression. This work uses ‘found’ audio from popular culture and news sources to highlight how politicians, athletes, and other media personalities talk about women in North American society. It’s probably fairly obvious that my feminist perspective is informing this project.

    As an Arts-Educator, overtly sharing my personal political viewpoints is not really appropriate. I meet hundreds of new students a year, and though I don’t usually express political opinions, they do get a glimpse of the world through my lens while I’m visiting. Though it’s subtle, students might understand my feelings about social issues through the activities that I bring into the classroom. And, when it comes to community art initiatives, personal ideologies have definitely been behind my attempt to create projects that bring media and visual art experiences to children, youth, and adults who are marginalized – people born in Canada or elsewhere, from different cultures, races, genders, religions, orientations, or those with low socio-economic status, or mental health issues. It’s a conscious effort and a constant goal to share creative space and time with others who might benefit from arts programs but don’t have regular access.

    One of those strong opinions I mentioned above is that humans should help one another and actively make space for others. I believe we should find ways to unify and bring people together, rather than engendering division. I’m very privileged in my life, and feel a responsibility to create opportunities for folks who aren’t – especially those facing multiple layers of discrimination and massive structural inequalities. Specialized arts programming isn’t going to solve these problems, but those of us who are part of this country’s dominant cultural narrative need to listen to these voices, hear their points of view, and recognize that the ideas and experiences of others are just as important as our own – and at times they’re even more important.

    Engaging with people, learning about them, and offering tools that encourage self-expression is a pretty great way to spend a day. I don’t want to speak for anyone else; I aim to give people the means to tell their own stories on their own terms. Let’s find ways to build platforms, supply megaphones, and create opportunities for people to amplify their own voices, and then, let’s stop for a moment and really listen. I’m curious about what they have to say – and in my opinion, you should be too.

     

  • LivingArts: The Show Must Go On

    April 19, 2017 by Crystal Jonasso...

    Like many parents with a love for the arts, I recently found myself watching 'Julie's Greenroom' and thinking back to when I first discovered theatre. If you haven't seen it just imagine Sesame Street in a theatre,  puppets and all. In the first episode the fabulous host Julie Andrews says that famous line, 'the show must go on!' when the characters find themselves faced with adversity (no spoilers). The characters in the scene are hearing the phrase for the first time and Andrews explains its meaning for them. It left me thinking about all the times I had experienced that almost irrational determination to continue despite adversity in the magical world of the theatre, and it left me feeling amazed.  

    In my experience everyone involved in the theatre has an amazing story of a show 'going on' and those outside the theatre are often shocked to hear what can go wrong without the audience's awareness. At first I thought the best way to explore this topic would be to collect stories of crazy happenings and share them. I reached out to theatrical friends and wasn't disappointed. Some are what you'd probably expect: a costume fail, a missing prop, a dropped line or ten, a missed cue, a sick actor, etc. Those can be serious challanges but then there were the bigger problems that can sometimes happen: the 'cast flu' where perhaps half the actors are sick, an accidental fire on stage, theatres leaking in the rain, loss of power mid performance, audience medical emergency, actor injury mid performance, etc. I thought about collecting the most dramatic (pun intended) of these stories and recounting them with names changed to express what the simple phrase 'the show must go on' means to many passionate artists. However, as I read through these accounts of disaster and persistence I worried that retelling them would simply make what we do seem disorganized, dangerous and perhaps even a little mad. In total honesty it can be all of those things but that was not the feeling that reflecting on theatre's best known phrase illicited in me. 

    The feeling that I had and wanted to share about this cliched yet beautiful phrase was about hope, sacrifice and love, not chaos. About that deep belief that a story is worth telling. About a commitment made to your fellow artists and to your audience. So I'll tell you a different story.  

    'The Show Must Go On,' not simply because this struggle must be overcome but because 'The Show', every show, is important.

    The show must go on because someone in the audience needs to laugh tonight.

    The show must go on because someone in the audience needs to cry tonight. 

    The show must go on because someone in the audience needs to escape for even just a short time tonight. 

    The real magic of theatre is not that the lights, set, sound and performances can take you to another time and place but rather that in that other place there is truth that someone may need to hear.

    I have seen actors miss family weddings, perform the night of a family death and overcome many other personal struggles. I have seen and heard harrowing stories of all the ways a complicated recipe for an immersive story can go wrong and yet be held together through sheer force of will and duct tape. Why do these theatre artists do it? Do they perhaps need the escape? Certainly. But do they also believe, deep down, that art is powerful and valuable enough to commit to? Without question. We can all embrace a determination to tell our stories; you never know who might need to hear them.

  • LivingArts: Telling Our Stories; Or, An Introduction of Sorts

    April 12, 2017 by Jesse Dorey

    If we write what we know, then Hamilton informs everything that I have ever created and will ever create. It may not always feature prominently in my work, but the nuances of the city — making fun of the city in one breath and defending it to the death (especially against Torontonians) in the next; the absurdity of finally getting your table at Mezcal after waiting for over two and a half hours and trying to decide whether you’re still hungry or not; the frustration of having to explain to people that, yes, it’s called a mountain and, yes, I’m fully aware that it’s not actually a mountain — inform everything that I do.

    You see, I’m a Hamiltonian through and through. I grew up on the Mountain, but the blue collar work that defined this city for generations runs in my veins. I’m the son of a former Stelco worker of 30 years who grew up just off of Burlington Street, went to Scott Park Secondary School, and played in the area that became the stereotypical image of the city to those outside of Hamilton. (You know exactly which image I’m talking about.)

    Much of the Hamilton my father knew, however, is gone. Stelco is still technically here, but it’s not the same. The lot where Scott Park once stood sits vacant, waiting for a new school (or, knowing Hamilton, another Shopper’s) to eventually be built in its place. Most of the houses on his old street, including the house he grew up in, were bought by developers and flipped for profits. For all intents and purposes, the Hamilton he knew is gone.

    His memories of that Hamilton still remain, though. My dad proudly talks about his time at Scott Park as if it were still standing across from Ivor Wynne today. Very occasionally, we’ll drive by his childhood home and he’ll tell stories about my late grandmother and the neighbours, some living, some dead, that he still remembers by name and all of the trouble he and his brothers got into while living there.

    My Hamilton, however, is one of change and transformation. I never dreamed of working in a steel factory. Instead, I studied English Literature at McMaster (and quickly realized their plan to own every square foot in Hamilton). I frequent the coffee-houses and art joints downtown, but I couldn’t tell you my neighbours’ names. I do still refer to Stelco as Stelco, but I think that’s due, in large part, to the fact that I haven’t been able to keep up with its name changes over the years. The list goes on and on, but I think you get the point.

    Through all of the differences, though, there is one thing that remained the same. In Hamilton, it’s not our steel or our art that defines us; it’s the stories that we’ve created together. We’re a city of storytellers. So, when I say that Hamilton runs in my veins, I’m not talking about Stelco (aside from the pollution), or Scott Park, or McMaster, but rather the stories that we tell each other to create a personal, mental portrait of Hamilton as home.

    All of this is to say that my life as a writer in Ontario’s biggest little town is anything but ordinary. From the death of the Steel City to its resurrection via the arts, I like to think that the transformative energy of Hamilton - of Supercrawl, and gritLIT, and coffee-houses doubling as art galleries (looking at you, Mulberry) - is what inspires me to write and encourages me to keep writing. The city’s stories are my own stories, and as long as they’re still being told, I’ll be here to write them down.

     

  • LivingArts: Real vs. Representation

    April 5, 2017 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

    As an artist who uses found objects I find myself pondering the idea of using or creating a representation of something or of just working with the actual thing. I usually opt for using the actual thing, but having to contextualize that choice has led me to think a lot about more traditional art-making, and about materials.  

    As I wrote in a previous entry, many of my touring conversations in the gallery lately focus on the choices that artists make, and what impact those choices had on their work, whether through the stylistic or technical results or the ideological impact. Students are often surprised to think about art in that way – that everything was done on purpose rather than divinely falling into place.  

    Material means something – or more specifically the choice of material means something, and therefore an artist’s decision to ‘re-produce’ or ‘re-present’ something that already exists is important. (I read an article a little while ago that inserted the hyphens in these words, forcing me to really think about what the words mean.)

    While in school, a fellow student made small multi-layered collages of ripped magazine images... and then he meticulously scaled them up into large paintings – reproducing the exact same image, just bigger and in a different material. The question is, why? What does a large painting offer that the small collage doesn’t? Is it scale? Is it the demonstration of technical skill – the composition and visual language was all set out in the collage? Or something about the transmutation of ordinary materials into the formal realm of paint and canvas?  

    In another example, there is an artist who makes casts of leaves, birds nests and other natural objects in bronze. In this case, the choice of materials resonates for me more metaphorically but I’m not certain that there is as much difference as I perceive.

    Finally we come to those artists at the other end of the spectrum – our Duchamps and Hirsts who throw the idea of the preciousness of art materials back at us by taking an ordinary object and leaving it just as it is, but with a whole lot of concept attached. This is a choice that carries a big message with it.

    In my own work, I often think about the stories that objects carry with them – each object is haunted by a past life or purpose and these implied histories render ordinary objects that much more powerful. Call it a memento, a totem or just a keepsake - if I create a new copy this haunting would be lost and the reproduction would be silent. Materials mean something.

  • LivingArts: Balance

    March 31, 2017 by Josh Taylor

    Balance is a word that is constantly floating around my mind. It is a goal that I, and I'm sure many other dancers, instructors, and choreographers are always trying to properly achieve. Now, I don't mean equilibrium, strong core and back muscles balance. Yes, that is always important but no. I mean balance in teaching, in choreography and in life. Now, I could easily focus on finding balance in teaching but that's not where my head's at today, so were gonna take a crack at the other two.

    Okay, so it is officially dance competition season. You can usually tell it's that time of year when every time you drive by the Hamilton Convention Center you see team jackets covering sparkly costumes, and kids with heaps of show make-up and giant eyelashes. I'm not judging.

    Anyway, it's near this time when us choreographers are polishing routines, deciding what to change, what to add on and what to cut. I recently looked at one of my Urban Dance pieces that has a strong theme about environmental responsibility. After watching the piece at our dress rehearsal day, I wondered if I should cut the ending, which wraps it up with a question, meant as a call to action for the viewer. Now here is the question of balance. Creatively, I like what the piece says and the questions it poses. However, the ending, though important to the theme, is anti-climactic. The dance doesn't end with a bang, but rather a whisper.

    From a competitive point of view, the piece should end with a bang. Right? That will give the team a better chance of winning. Artistically, however, it doesn't complete the narrative. I want my students to do well but I want to be true to my strange preachy artistic vision. What do you do? Go for the win or go for the message? When it comes to choreography, these kinds of questions plague me. In Latin and Ballroom dance routines, audiences tend to favour the lifts and tricks, not musicality and intricate footwork. The former may not be as creatively challenging and satisfying as the latter, but it is more likely to get you booked again. What do you do? In these cases I tend try to find a spot in the middle, eventually compromising on some part of the original vision. 

    For a dance-artist, simply falling in the middle is not so easy. I read an article the other day about how we can really only focus on three things in life at a time from work, sleep, family, fitness, or friends. My thought was: "Damn! Three is a lot!" I'm sure for many artists that rings true, as we are our own mangers, promoters, grant writers, and so much more. We diversify what we do so much in our practices, sometimes work can take the time that should be dedicated to at least three separate things. What's tough, for me anyway, is that those other four things are crucial to my work. Sleep goes without saying. No sleep means no productivity and no energy for, well, anything. Fitness goes with sleep. As a dancer, it is an absolute necessity to stay as healthy as possible. Yes, the act of dancing regularly helps with staying in shape but the amount of stress it puts on the body requires activities and practices like physiotherapy, yoga, monitored diets and other things. As for family and friends, these are the things that affect me more than anything else. Interaction and experiences with the people I love fuel my creativity and artistry in dance. So, when I let those parts of my life drop off due to work, the work itself eventually suffers. More friends, more family, less work, little sleep and little fitness. More work, more family, less friends, little sleep and little fitness. See where I'm going with this? 

    So what is the answer? Where do you find the balance? Where is the middle? I'm really not sure. What I can say is that after a weekend where our students performed on Friday, my fiancée and I had our Stag & Doe Saturday, and a studio dress rehearsal on Sunday, I'm feeling a little tired. And I don't think I could do a push-up or warrior pose right now to save my life. 

  • LivingArts: Community Consultation

    March 22, 2017 by Brandon Vickerd

    In the last few months I have been fortunate enough to have been awarded two public commissions in Ottawa and Calgary. Despite the obvious geographic and cultural differences between the two projects, they are both being undertaken in a very similar manner – they both involve community consultation.

    Normally when competing for a public art commission, the shortlisted artists are asked to propose an idea for the final artwork, that includes detailed descriptions, material lists, budgets, etc., all of which aid the jury in deciding which artist will be awarded the commission. With my current projects, a proposal for a finished project was not a prerequisite for being successful in the competition – instead the expectation is that the artist will conduct several months of community outreach in the neighbourhood where the finished project will be located, and through this research will develop a project that is rooted in the social fabric of the site.

    On one hand, this is great for the artist, as it presents the opportunity to explore a location, both in terms of geography and social use of the space, before designing a final piece. On the other hand, it adds a tremendous amount of pressure, as you become the face of the project. Through community outreach you get to meet and develop relationships with people who will be seeing your sculptures on a daily basis – on their commute to work, during shopping trips and maybe even from their windows. In this way collaborative community based approaches to public art tend to be challenging experiences that demand flexibility and an open minded approach on the part of the artist. The creative process is exposed to the public and is reliant on the participation of many diverse groups and stakeholders. I find this approach simultaneously challenging and rewarding because it (hopefully) results in a work of art that has social significance for the community and a sense of communal ownership will emerge through the process. It requires the artist to not only connect with the public, but also to think of the citizens as co-creators of the final work – the difficulty arises in how you engage the public in order to solicit participation.

    Upon beginning these projects, I admit I saw myself as an anthropologist immersing myself in a culture that was new to me, and I assumed that I could utilize the same tools anthropologists use. However, it became quickly apparent that I know very little about anthropology, except from the cursory information I gathered binge watching episodes of Bones on Netflix (I am not even sure Dr. Temperance Brennan is a good model to follow, what with all the murder and gore). What I am an expert in is art, and what it can do for a community when it is executed properly. It can become a shared experience, a landmark that defines the spirit of place, and a signal that a location is public space open to all. As the projects have progressed, there are a few things I have learned about approaching community consultation:

    1. Staged ‘meet the artist’ events hardly ever draw a crowd; you have a much better chance of connecting with people when you go to them (think libraries, schools, community events).

    2. Slick websites explaining the project are great, but only if people visit them.

    3. Most communities seem to have gate keepers; these are influential people who can open doors for you if you win them over.

    4. Trust - no one is going to honestly engage with you if they do not trust you.

    5. When people say “I am not arty” the conversation should not end. It is the artist’s role to talk to them about what role art can play in the community.

    6. Be prepared to talk about budgets.

    7. Some people are going to slam your project no matter what, but mostly people are interested and open if you try to connect.

    8. Seniors and children are the most ready to share their opinions and talk about their towns.

    9. When in doubt, go to the local Legion. You can have a beer while consulting with the locals.

    You can find more information about my project in Ottawa at : www.imaginedmonuments.com

    Samples of community feedback:

    image 1 image 2

  • LivingArts: Money

    March 15, 2017 by Noelle Allen

    Today let’s talk about money. Money is the difficult part of the arts. Society seems to think we’re supposed to be doing this for the love of it, but in the end, love doesn’t pay the rent. As a result all arts organizations, and artists, end up walking that delicate line between creating art for art’s sake and not worrying about the dictates of the market, and trying to find a way to write that cheque to the landlord. I’m crafting this blog post after finishing a couple of back-to-back grant applications and just before I’m about to dive into writing catalogue copy for our fall books. A good part of my job is selling art so that my writers don’t have to do so much selling.

    I won’t go into the intricacies of how I explain to arts councils why local literature is a good thing, or how I try to put together compelling catalogue copy for a debut poetry collection; that’s not really the focus of this post. The idea is that a key part of an arts organization like a publishing house is to mitigate the financial risk of creating art. We can’t take it all away, as much as we’d love to, but we’d like to do what we can to make sure the rent gets paid, all the bills associated with creating a book, or play, or album get dealt with and hopefully the artist takes something home at the end of the day.

    I estimate it costs me at least $7,500 to bring out a book of poetry, over double that for a long novel, and I know I’ll never make all that back in sales. These costs include paying the author, editor, designer, printer, distribution company, sales reps, any marketing bills and the overhead of running the office. So I apply for a suite of grants to keep things running, from the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and the Ontario Media Development Corporation. Of course, I try to sell the books. I work hard to get them in the bookstores, which means writing up that catalogue copy, talking to sales reps, talking to bookstores, putting together spreadsheets of data to send to Amazon and Chapters/Indigo and the library wholesalers. But the market is fickle, as we all know. You can rarely count on sales. That’s why we assume the risk for our authors.

    We don’t like to talk about money in the arts, because the numbers can be grim, but looking at it honestly helps to make it clear how artists and the organizations who work together with them support each other. 

  • LivingArts: The Art In All Of Us

    March 8, 2017 by Jennifer Spleit...

    I’ve seen a huge surge lately in adults seeking new arts experiences. Not just as spectators (although I’m also thrilled to see the professional arts scene hitting its stride in Hamilton!), but rather hands-on experiences for amateurs.

    On Facebook, I’ve seen the evidence of countless friends trying their hand at a poetry reading, participating in a Paint Night or spending an evening decorating their own pottery. With a new baby in the house, I’ve been the benefactor of many beautiful home-made crafts from crocheted blankets and knit clothing to engraved wooden chests. Professionally, I’ve seen more and more adult learners joining the ranks at my strings school, taking on the challenge of learning to play a musical instrument. I think this is such a great trend on both a personal and a community level!

    That so many people, young and old, are seeking the opportunity to express themselves creatively and undertaking new ventures bodes well for the growth of our city. It’s refreshing to see the arts being used as a social outlet for friends to meet up and share in an experience, or as a chance meet new people. As a small business operator, it’s heartening to see local artists connecting with their clientele on such a direct level, and it’s certain to boost appreciation for their professional art (anyone else end up with a dilapidated bowl that looks like it’s melting?). What a great impression it gives to the next generation about life-long learning: that it’s never too late to start a new activity and that it’s okay to pursue a creative passion simply because you love it and not because you have any real aspirations of being the next Lindsey Stirling or Yo-Yo Ma.

    Art is meant to bridge a connection between the artist and the audience... how neat that they can be one and the same. 

  • LivingArts: Business, But Also Not

    March 1, 2017 by Aimee Burnett

    Every thing that is trying to stay alive has critical stock in activities of gathering or creating the things they need to live/thrive. Making objects is part of life’s own history of leveraging environments to create the things needed for advancement. History is thick with craft. In efforts to evolve past DIY-ing as a consumer society (in essence to free our time from the hold of providing for our own basic needs in the west) we exported both our manufacturing and this history elsewhere.

    Whenever the consumer and consumable fissure, new manufacturing businesses rise to fill the market-niche gap. This phenomenon was clear during the recent* media surge of Maker coverage, a boon for small crafts businesses. But if the measure of a modern ‘successful business’ is defined by large and infinite increases in profit over time, I might boldly add that most small maker businesses aren’t on the shortlist. In the modern marketplace craftspeople face a customer base who doesn’t have to wait for their products, experiences general detachment from the production of their goods created by anonymous makers, and expects a price tag in line with those of chain stores: prices obtained through exploitation of global markets.

    Often a craft-based business is supported by its founder(s) holding of another job, the profits of which are redirected to the business. No differently from other creative endeavors, you simultaneously incarnate both sugar daddy and trophy wife (Julieta Aranda, Anton Vidokle, Brian Kuan Wood, Introduction, Are You Working Too Much?). Founders continue operating small craft-based businesses, but the lack of market reliance on local making situates them in what almost feels like an economic novelty bracket, meaning that in order to be motivated to fight not shutter, business returns must also be extra-economic. These are both economically rooted businesses, and not.

    I am deep enough within this wormhole to have grafted one unprofitable creative endeavour onto the precarious structure of the newly profitable one that came before, and to realize that the extra-economic returns of creative production and business are primarily social and skill based. Making, and making others aware of your making, gives you endless small talk fodder but also connects you with other people who are trying to make interesting things happen. It brings projects to you and shows others a clear way in which they can invite you to participate in their own. It is empowering to provide for yourself from within the context of a genuine economic alternative, flexible enough to take your life into account. Notwithstanding that, I am always hyper-aware that nourishing returns must be checked against the essential reality of making a living.

    To centralize these ‘peripheral’ economies, they must be recognized as connected to the health of other livelihoods, and to the enlivening of maker and customer, communities, cities, and to the stories we have to tell about the geographically grounded and interconnected daily lives we lead. If we hope for interesting and attractive cities to materialize, buying from local makers who enrich our cities in ways both fiscal and extra-fiscally, and paying them a fair price for their product, is one important initiative to undertake.

    * (maybe not so recent as to still be trendy, but recent enough to still be popular)

  • LivingArts: Welcome to the Junction

    February 22, 2017 by Laura Ellis

    Hamilton’s arts scene is booming and our theatre industry is making some big waves. Not only are our homegrown Hamiltonian artists creating more than ever, but new artists from Toronto and other surrounding areas are coming here to be a part of the happenin’ arts scene (as the cool kids call it). With this, however, comes a greater demand for professional training in our own city, and for functional space to be made more available at a reasonable cost so that we may collaborate with other artists. Gone should be the days of always having to travel to Toronto for expensive classes and spaces to create with other young professionals.

    As the stand-alone professional theatre in Hamilton, Theatre Aquarius recognizes this need and has taken steps with initiatives like the TA2 Studio Series, Playwrights Unit, and Theatre Aquarius GYM program. Their newest endeavour? The Junction. And Luke Brown (Artistic Associate at Theatre Aquarius) is at the helm. He states, “The aim of the program is to serve people who perform the work that they create, people doing collective creations, movement pieces, monologues etc. A traditional development model isn’t set up to serve their needs.”  

    The Junction is designed for performers who create work that traditional development methods may not serve, such as storytelling, movement pieces, collective creations, etc. Meeting once a month, the goal of the Junction is to provide a creative environment for artists to showcase their work and receive constructive feedback in a supportive environment in order to to help move them closer to production. When asked about why this program was created, Brown explained “There was a vacuum for this type of creator. Aquarius wanted to step up and offer a place where they can come and develop these pieces. Every member of the group has a different reason for partaking. For some it’s about deadlines, others about having a quiet place to work, some it’s feedback, others about the community aspect. At the end of the day a support network can be the difference between thinking about a project and actually doing a project.”

    Thus, the Junction was born. A general call was put out to artists from Hamilton and surrounding areas and applicants were required to submit a letter of intent, professional resume and bio, and a sample of their work that reflects their particular process or style. Creators from all forms were encouraged to apply. Luke recalls, “We had a great response, far more applicants than we expected. Anna Chatterton (professional playwright and theatre creator) and I sat down, went through the applicants and determined who would best be served by this program.” Nine lucky artists were selected to participate in the launch of the Junction.

    So, what were their reasons for applying and partaking exactly? To get a better perspective on the nuts and bolts of the Junction, I talked to some of the other participants.

    “I'm always interested in creating new plays, in new ways, with new people.  This [the Junction] felt like an opportunity to do that. It’s provided me with time to write, which is nice,” said Ryan Sero. “I've also enjoyed being able to share bits, pieces, whatever I want to without any pressure. It's just presented, people talk about it a bit, and it's done, and that's nice. I'd like to steal everybody else's best writing habits, techniques, and tricks. I think the ability to chat to other writers, to learn about their preferred creation method, is great, so I'd like to take away some of that, too.”

    Esther Huh has similar thoughts. “I'm not good at setting aside time to write, and this has given me dedicated and supported time. Honestly, I heard about the other creators involved, and I wanted to observe their processes more closely.”

    For some, it’s even about the sense of community and camaraderie. Rex Jackson explains, “I don’t have a lot of experience in the theatre community yet, so I was really excited to meet other writers and learn from them. I kind of aimed to go in as a sponge, absorb everything, because you never know what might spark something later on. I find that being around other creators and hearing their pieces and their processes really helps to push my own creative process. There’s something inspiring about being around other writers and watching everyone’s projects evolve.”

    To sum it all up, Luke Brown describes the Junction’s goal to “bring people together and encourage them to recognize the value of what they have to say and how they want to say it.”

    With Aquarius’ help, the arts scene and the Junction have a bright future. The next steps? “To keep working. Figure out how to best help the creators we’re currently working with. Everyone’s needs are different, and not everyone, particularly in the early days of a program like this, know what it is they need to do their best work. We’re all working together to figure that out.”

    Want to catch a sneak peak of some of the work in the early stages of development? There will be a public show on Wednesday February 22nd at 7:30pm in the Studio at Theatre Aquarius. Admission is free, and people will see various members of the group sharing excerpts from what they’re working. It’ll be a wide range of things as everyone is at different stages in their process, the audience will see everything from bits that are almost finished to things that are in their infancy. For the creators this is about sharing their work, hearing it aloud.

    And we all know you can’t do that without an audience.

     

     

  • LivingArts: Dialing Back the Vibrato

    February 15, 2017 by Kirk Starkey

    Vibrato is an inescapable aspect of classical string training that can be challenging to remove from the technique. It’s a musical aroma that is so commonplace that many players cease to be able to smell it. It smells like classical.

    Vibrato is the oscillation of the finger on the string that embellishes the sound, and has it roots in the imitation of the human voice. Retaining a tight and focused vibrato is a challenging fine motor task. It requires a high level of physical fitness, discipline and daily maintenance. When one is involved at that level, it becomes increasingly difficult to turn off.

    True expressive control of the vibrato involves being able maintain it when it is technically difficult to do so, and to turn it off when it is not required. Recently I was trying to develop something out of the box for Twin Within’s Faraway Car Ride. This is a very non-traditional vibrato, undulating from note to note, and employing several different vibrato techniques. The whistle tones recorded on the flute by Sara Traficante are an extended technique more associated with contemporary electro-acoustic music.

    My benchmark for hyper-modern orchestral performance and production is Peter Gabriel’s album Scratch My Back. Modernity is not the first thing that one normally ​associates with the orchestra.​ While crossing over orchestral instruments into popular music is not a new concept, it affords interesting possibilities as seen in the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra’s Indie Series. This series is reminiscent of the CBC show “Fuse” pairing local bands with musicians from the HPO. I had the good fortune to produce a live off the floor recording for Twin Within and the HPO last year. The band and arranger Christien Ledroit made a bold choice to replace the band entirely with an octet of HPO strings, wind and orchestral percussion. Musically I found this to be a compelling choice, allowing the sound of the HPO to speak for itself and not force it into the context of a traditional rhythm section.

    While the challenges of reconciling different artistic practices can be significant, the musical possibilities of the Indie Series are exciting. I look forward to seeing how other local acts frame the orchestral collaboration and take the material to unexpected places.

    I’ll still be here working on my vibrato.

     

  • LivingArts: Diligence

    February 9, 2017 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

    Back when I was a young buck, trying to figure out this whole ‘life of an artist’ thing, I came across a magazine article on Leo Tolstoy. In it there was this factoid about how he structured his day-to-day life by dividing his working day into even quarters:  six hours for sleeping, six hours for writing, six hours for chores and physical labour, and six hours for family.   This factoid has always stayed with me. From my panicky, distracted point of view it represents an unattainable diligence; comparing my regime to Tolstoy’s has therefore always turned into an act of self-loathing (for example, Tor’s current day: 7 hours sleep, 9 hours day job, 2 hours cooking family meals while drinking, 4 hours Facebook trolling American politics, 2 hours putting off making art).

    I’ve had two wildly different encounters with diligence this past month that have affected me. First, I had the privilege to see the graphic novelist and illustrator Seth as part of a film screening and artist talk arranged by the Art Gallery of Hamilton and Epic Booksellers. I have been aware of Seth for years, have read enough of his work to understand his artistic mission, and have seen enough photos of him to understand that he might be a ‘character’. Indeed, I can now say after having seen him, that Seth so satisfyingly fulfills my expectation of what a cartoonist should look and sound like, that I almost still can’t believe he is real. It’s much easier to think of him as a existing in a film noir starring Steve Buscemi.

    But the thing that affected me most about Seth was not his round glasses, fedora, and perfectly appointed wardrobe; it was more the stories he told about just how deliberately he set about crafting this persona. Seth described an artistic practice that seemed utterly and rigorously thought out. He worked according to a repetitive schedule. He spent rafts of time alone. He devoted a portion of his working day to projects solely intended for his own private edification, never to be monetized or made public. He and his spouse paid careful attention to the furnishing of their house, building a repertoire of clothes for both their public and private lives, crafting a post-war aesthetic perfectly consistent with the artist’s illustrative work.

    I was quite humbled by this degree of dedication. The life and persona he inhabits is a fabrication, but one that he has made real, simply by devoting himself to it as completely as he can, for as long as he can. It strikes me that many art pursuits set out to convert a fanciful idea into something of material weight and consequence; Seth perhaps has just pushed his own pursuit to its most immersive limit, perhaps to greater ensure its transition into the real.

    The other experience I had, quite different from Seth, was at a launch for the children’s book I am Not a Number with Ojibway/Anishinaabe author Jenny Dupuis, coordinated by the Aboriginal Health Center, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, and other local indigenous health and education groups. Ms. Dupuis was virtually the polar opposite of Seth in many ways. She was a reluctant speaker, and she admitted she was also a reluctant children’s author. The story of her grandmother’s experience in a residential school, as Dupuis explained to her audience, was one that needed to be told, a necessary part of the long process of reconciliation and healing.  

    In order to take on such a project properly, however it needed to be scrupulously honest. Dupuis described the steps she needed to take to ensure her book took no fictional liberties in the telling. She explained how she almost abandoned the project when she couldn’t confirm her grandmother’s residential school number, knowing that to fabricate a number just for the sake of the story was a betrayal of the truth. She showed the wealth of photographic evidence she compiled so that the book’s illustrator would not commit any unnecessary falsehoods in the illustration.  

    This entrenched sense of honesty was thrilling to witness. And days later I kept comparing Dupuis with Seth, seeing less and less difference and more similarity. It seemed that Seth’s world of fiction and artifice and Dupuis’ documentary realism were both governed by a deep commitment to truth, a devotion to a deeper goal.

    And in between these two experiences I spent far too much time on Facebook trolling the first two weeks of Trump’s presidency—an abject lesson in deceit, inconsistency, and recklessness spurning out endless hours of vapid responses, easy comedy, and hysteria. It has made me believe again in the value of artists and the slow, quiet things they bring into the world, and what an antidote to the poison of our time is a diligent, authentic work regime.

     

  • LivingArts: Choose Your Own Adventure

    February 7, 2017 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

    I spend a lot of time talking about art with people who feel they ‘don’t know anything about art.’ I really enjoy this, as it is an opportunity to change their assumptions, and hopefully build their confidence. My answer is that knowing about the history of art or about technical details is not a requirement to understanding and enjoying art. The facts are only one part of the story.

    This is most true when the work they find is a bit more challenging, especially with things like abstraction. Abstract art challenges the notion that ‘good art’ is hard to make (which it often is, though in many different ways), and that it requires a great deal of skill (which it does, though skill can be defined through a range of lenses), and that effort and skill can only be demonstrated in an artist’s ability to reproduce reality. Some viewers are not confident in their own interpretations or questions, so this is where they get stuck.

    \\Aghserver\resource\MARKETING\WEBSITE DEV\_IMAGES\new blvd images-2016\03-blvd.jpg

    One of my favourite tour stops right now is a salon-style installation that mixes historical works with a few surprises. It is a great opportunity for a bit of scaffolding, and for encouraging some thinking. We start on another wall with a few really lovely 19th century landscapes by Maurice Cullen. Then we shift to Tom Thomson, Lawren Harris, T.R. MacDonald – everyone is still with me, as we talk about the loosening up of brushwork, more expressive use of colour, more emphasis on the paint and act of painting. Then, inevitably someone asks about ‘that little blue square.’ This is where the conversation gets good.

    Instead of a conversation about who made it and how, one approach that I’ve been using lately is to look for decisions the artist made in order to create the work, and there are always a lot. The basics of scale, material, subject are a starting point – all the things that are ‘in’ the artwork. Then there are all the things that the artist chose not to do; what s/he left out, choose not to respond to. I’ve found that as we start to think about art as a conscious series of choices a lot more questions arise, but also a lot of revelations. This is where some of the connections are made.  

    So, the little blue square. This is a work by Claude Tousignant, a Canadian artist born in 1932. The piece is called Monochrome bleu transparante from 1995, and as you see in the image, it is a small blue square of colour – acrylic on cardboard to be precise – 6 by 6 inches, modestly framed.

    Why is it this small? Sometimes this is less significant if the artist is working on a comfortably familiar 24 by 30 inch canvas, but this one is tiny, and that must mean something…

    Why blue? We know that this is part of a series of squares of various colours, but why those choices?  Why not put multiple squares on a larger single canvas?

    Why work so hard to ensure no brush strokes, or visible ‘hand of the artist’? Why did the artist choose abstraction? Once you get started the questions are endless. In this kind of exercise, it is more about looking and questioning and interpreting than in getting all the correct answers. It is about making personal connections. The facts can come later.

    The next time you look at an artwork, start looking for the choices and see what you learn.

     

    Image credit: Mike Lalich
    Collection Classics installation shot, Art Gallery of Hamilton

     

  • LivingArts: Unforgettable Lyric

    January 24, 2017 by Crystal Jonasso...

    When I drive down King street and I admire our ever changing downtown core, there is one facade that has left me curious for quite some time: The Lyric Theatre at 434 King St W.


    The Lyric was a versatile multidisciplinary performance space with great local history, captained by the highly qualified and quietly charismatic owner/operator/educator/artist Patrick Brennan. It was a well-loved space by both local and visiting artists. I must admit I'm biased, as I had the opportunity to work both on and off stage at the Lyric and loved the space.

    However, it became obvious that the beautiful old building was going to need some serious TLC and on July 19, 2013 the Lyric closed her doors for repairs.  Originally intended to be a short closure of weeks or months, she has now been hibernating for more than 3 years. 

    Nonetheless I can't forget the Lyric.  Every time I pass by I wonder “what is happening in there?”  I think about the Tivoli Theatre and the Century Theatre and I cross my fingers and I make a little wish: “please let those boarded up windows be a chrysalis not a coffin”.

    Well, spring is coming and the Lyric is about to wake from her long hibernation. I had the opportunity to touch base with Brennan and he had exactly the news I was wishing for. Apparently lots of changes have taken place behind those boards and even more exciting changes are yet to come.

    Brennan tells me that after The Lyric closed her doors and the extent of needed repairs was determined, there was pressure from the city to either repair or demolish. Luckily, disaster was averted and Brennan was able to find a funder for $500,000 worth of repairs and improvements.  So far, The Lyric has received no public funding. 

    I must admit by this point in our conversation I got pretty excited—Brennan had even more good news. Changes a patron or artist can expect to find in this restored space include: a new roof over the whole building, masonry repairs, interior gutted and repaired throughout, a new second floor studio space, redesigned bar/lobby space, a 3500 square foot dance floor, and new lighting and sound systems. If that extensive list isn't enough to get you excited, the icing on the cake is that the beautiful marquee will be restored to look like the 1920's original from the theatre's days as a cinema. Brennan expects all work to be complete late spring 2017. 

    The theatre will still have the flexibility of seating and performance area that allows it to be a black box one night and a stand-up venue the next. Brennan defines it as an “interdisciplinary experimental space with projection and new lighting and sound”. I could feel his continued passion for the space as he further characterized it. “Imagine dancing to your favourite band one week, then seeing a physical theatre production the following week, then signing up for a training workshop with a leading international company in the winter. Oh, and maybe you would join that really big yoga class, too.”

    I just might do all those things. A new roof, a new dance floor, but the same passion for the arts and education that I remember.  That is a theatre wish come true.

     

  • LivingArts: Conscious Collectiveness

    January 18, 2017 by Vanessa Crosbie...

    If you’ve ever written a personal bio or artist statement, you know how difficult it can be to include all the most important things about yourself, your art practice, interests, philosophy, the inspirations you draw from, and key themes in your work, while adhering to an arbitrary word limit. Now imagine writing a statement that combines all those things for several people at once, and you’ll have an idea of one of the first potential major challenges of creating an art collective.

    For those unfamiliar, an art collective is a group of artists working together towards mutually beneficial goals, which might include sharing resources (materials, equipment, space), or may be based on sharing similar ideologies, political views, or complementary aesthetics. Members share equal ownership and risk, and any benefits that arise from well-received work.

    In late 2015, following in the path of many Hamilton artists before us, two other media artists and I formed a collective that we lovingly refer to as DAV(e) – pronounced just like the name. We’d previously worked together in different capacities and were friends, but the main motivating factors for us were digging each other’s creativity, sharing similar views and work ethic, being annoyed and frustrated by the same things, and most importantly, the substantial levels of respect and trust we share.

    After some healthy back and forth, we wrote an artist statement that includes the following sentence: “We’re interested in film and video, site-specific installation, storytelling, visual art, soundscapes, photography, interactivity, sculpture, collage, diverse representation, community engagement, sharing our angst, chipping away at the patriarchy, supporting women in general, and amplifying other female voices in the arts.” Which is to say that between us we have lots of interests and multiple disciplines, and we’re open to creating work together in many different ways.

    We completed two funded projects together last year – the first was a visual art workshop and exhibition resulting in a short documentary. The workshop involved women who are survivors of domestic or sexual violence, engaging them in art-making activities that provided an opportunity for reflection on their past, present and future. The second project was a collaborative video installation with sculptural elements focused around our personal female experiences. We’re pretty happy with our first year, and beginning to get the hang of this feminist art collective business. We’re not the Guerrilla Girls yet, but these provocative and iconic pioneers have certainly helped pave the way for us.

    We’re strong-willed and don’t always agree on everything, but ultimately, we’re good at listening, and collaborating, and compromising – and talking things out over beers. We’re also good at recognizing that other people’s ideas can add to, and improve – not cancel out – our own. The benefits of doing work that we’re all interested in, while encouraging and elevating each other, definitely outweighs the challenges.

    There are several other local artist groups working as collectives or maintaining collaborative or co-op art spaces in the city – check out the diverse and interesting work coming from The Assembly, CASINO, (F)NOR, HAVN, Shake-n-Make, and TH&B.

     

  • LivingArts: Getting to Know Hamilton Through Literature

    January 16, 2017 by Jessica Rose

    Cootes Paradise is known to many as the Royal Botanical Garden’s largest and most diverse sanctuary. It’s a critical spawning area for fish. It’s favoured by migratory waterfowl. However, until I read The Fishers of Paradise, the Hamilton Literary Award-winning novel by Rachael Preston, I knew nothing of the historic boat community that flourished along the shores of Cootes Paradise in the first half of the 20th century.

    Literature allows us to explore every corner of the Earth. It brings readers into the centre of complex mythical worlds and can launch us into space. Yet, at the same time, it can introduce us and reintroduce us to our own surroundings. Local literature can force us to think about the spaces and places we inhabit, allowing us to explore the city we are most familiar with through a different set of eyes. 

    With lush green space, an industrial North end, tight-knit neighbourhoods, and a storied past of mobsters and musicians, it’s no surprise that Hamilton inspires writers (and filmmakers and musicians and visual artists …), whether they’re writing a collection of poetry, a work of nonfiction, or a novel. The Fishers of Paradise itself was inspired by a walk along a path the writer took.

    Writing workshops often tell us: “Write what you know,” which has been called “the most misunderstood piece of good advice, ever.” However, there’s also something to be said about reading what you don’t know. We each have views of Hamilton shaped by our own experiences, privilege, the things we do, the places we work, and the people we know. The books I’ve read about Hamilton have helped shape the way I view the ambitious city as it grows.

    There is no shortage of books (poetry, fiction, non-fiction, YA) set against the backdrop of Hamilton, from a collection of poetry set on an HSR bus to a H. P. Lovecraft-esque modern mystery set in and around Ivor Wynne Stadium. Through non-fiction I’ve learned about Hamilton’s punk scene, the Inuit population of the Sanitorium, workers who organized, and the Italian community of our North End. (Maybe one day I’ll put together the essential “Read Hamilton” booklist).

    As I write this blog post, I think of Project Bookmark Canada, and their tagline: “Where we stand, there is a story.” Local literature has the ability to preserve our stories, bringing to life eras and ways of living that no longer exist. They’re a chance to see your city differently — through the eyes of characters — real or fictional — with lived experiences unique from our own.

     

     

  • LivingArts: Love and Happiness... and Dance

    December 21, 2016 by Josh Taylor

    Love and Happiness by Al Green is one of the greatest love songs ever. Yes, it totally is. Hear me out.

    First off, let me state my favourite Al Green song is Let’s Stay Together, which is considered among the top 20 love songs of all time. I will also add that Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough is my sing-at-the-top-of-my-lungs-in-two-different-voices JAM! However, those love songs, like many others on said lists, portray the everything-is-wonderful love or the Boyz II Men, classic Country heartache type love. Whereas Love and Happiness is pretty much every love story in ONE song: positive but serious, covering the full scope and experience of love. In both its sound and lyrics, the song evokes the beautiful highs, the all so common lows, and the struggle to find balance in relationships. There’s this heaviness that the bass and the drums lend to the track while the addition of the horns inject it with energy and positivity, especially toward the end, as they increase in intensity and frequency. Then, there is the organ that gives it this subtle, uplifting, gospel-esque feeling through its five-minute duration.

    For me, Love & Happiness seems kind of like my relationship with Dance. Ohh, yes. Dance, you bewitching entity you!

    As I’m sure many dancers and artists out there can attest, the process of creating just one (dance) piece is like the entirety of emotions in this song. In the first verse, Al sings softly: “Something’s going wrong/Someone’s on the phone/3 o’clock in the morning’/Yeah/Talkin’ bout how she can make it right.” I can’t tell you how many times this year alone I’ve accidently stayed up past 3am because something wasn’t clicking and I’ve decided to change the cut of a song. This, of course, results in changing a whole section of choreography, formations, transitions, etc. It is at about this time that I rethink this whole thing because it is much too late and I should stop now, only to have Dance say to me; “Its cool, we GOT this Josh. Staying up will be completely worth it, I promise.” A day or two later when I’m dancing this new section or teaching it out to my students, I couldn’t be happier with the result. Maybe a little tired, but happier.                                                                                                                                                     

    I find with dance, I have to trust it and my relationship with it. Trust the process of creating, training and teaching. Remind myself every now and again to trust my gut. What did I want to say through the piece in the first place? If I’ve got to tweak, scrap and shuffle things around sometimes to get back there, that’s okay. A lot of the time, its better for it.  

    “Love is/wait a minute/Love is/Walkin' together/Talkin' together…Say it together.” That’s when we work best, Dance and me. There are the days or moments where I find myself feeling a little defeated because I’m not getting the result I want right now. It doesn’t look the way I want it to look right now. But, love, the kind of love these songs are always singing on about, flows from that initial feeling, look or kiss.

    In dance, that piece comes from that initial idea, song or bassline. Not overthinking it but being present in it. It’s not about being perfect, at least not right away, but being true to it and to yourself first. That is when it clicks. That is when the piece connects with the performer and becomes real for the audience. You are asked to present it again or expand upon it. That is when it gives back. That is where you can find the balance. “You be good to me/I’ll be good to you/We’ll be together/Yeah/We’ll see each other/Walk away with victory/Yeahh/Heyyy, oh baaaby/Love and Happiness!”

    So, as we say bye to a very full 2016, let me share with you, what I will keep in mind for the year ahead from the soulful teachings of the Reverend Al Green: This love for (insert art discipline here) is made up of the guitar, the bass, the drums, the horns and that lovely, sometimes haunting, organ. It is trust, it is sacrifice, it is giving, it is receiving and it is learning. It is ALL of that and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Well, maybe with a bit more sleep.

    Now you go and listen to Love and Happiness and tell me that isn’t one heck of a love song. 

  • LivingArts: The Audience

    December 14, 2016 by Brandon Vickerd

    A few years ago I had the opportunity to install a work titled “he was turned to steel” in front of the Grimsby Public Art Gallery. The work consisted of a ten foot tall, monumental rendering of the Marvel Comics character the Invincible Iron Man. The work received both criticism and praise from art professionals and art lovers, but the most fulfilling experience of the exhibition was when I returned to dismantle and remove the work. Approaching the site from the parking lot, I saw two ten years old circling the sculpture on their BMX bikes belting out the Black Sabbath tune  “I am Ironman” at the top of their lungs. I sat and watched them do this until they stopped.

    Having worked as a professional artist for over a decade and a half, I am no stranger to criticism or praise. In the earliest days of art school, emerging artists are subjected to the crucible of criticism and hostility known as ‘the crit.’ The crit is a forum where all must offer their latest creation, a work that is fresh and tender, to the cruel evaluation and verbal inquisition of their peers and instructors. After six years of this near-weekly onslaught of opinions, praise, and occasional barbs, artists tend to develop a calloused surface. Artists love when our work is talked about, written about, and discussed, but we tend to approach criticism and praise with reserve and detachment – an approach that is a product of the early days of art school critiques.

    When working in the public realm an artist is subject to much wider criticism than in a gallery based practice. When showing in galleries it is mainly art professionals and art lovers who will experience the work, and choose to provide feedback or commentary. When working in the public realm, the audience expands to include the wider public and artists need to develop an ability to speak to non-art professionals about their work, its value, why they made it, and the ideas that drive it.

    Of course there will always be trolls who slam the work (online and in person) because they would rather see their money going towards hockey rinks or health care, but for the most part the general public has a desire to engage the work. Working in the public, I have experienced a weird phenomenon where the critique coming from non-art professionals has a way of bypassing the usual wall that I erect to deflect criticism. The questions and comments have an earnestness that cut right to the point. When a random senior citizen on the street asks, “Why did you make this?” it is a humbling experience. No amount of evasive kung-fu art speak will allow you to sidestep the question; an honest and direct response is required.

    In my last blog post I wrote about a set of bronze sculptures that I installed in Thunder Bay last August. Commissioned by the City of Thunder Bay and titled WildLife, the sculptures consist of two bronze figures appearing to be citizens leisurely going about their day. However, upon inspection the figures reveal themselves to be composed of squirrels, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, owls, and other animals working together to appear human. The work elicited a lot of support and positive response from the community, as well as some criticism, mostly manifesting in the comment sections of online news pieces about the project.

    One of the most fulfilling moments came when a random Thunder Bay resident forwarded me images of a number of individuals dressed as my sculpture for Halloween, one of which won first place in a local costume competition. I am taking their costume choice as a compliment; more importantly it demonstrates something more important than approval of the work. By dressing as my sculpture it signals that the work has a cultural significance in the city, that it is recognizable, and like them or hate them they are part of the cultural fabric of the city. Personally I think this is the best one can hope for when making public art.

     

  • LivingArts: Tool Stewardship

    December 7, 2016 by Aimee Burnett

    The fine Japanese saw cuts on the pull stroke, impelled by the light touch of a learned hand. This skill and exacting is possessed, too, by the saw’s makers. Generations of the finest Japanese toolmakers have buried their steel in the earth, imbuing each subsequent generation with the materials, and methods, to craft what are among the best tools in the world. 

    The summer I first started shoemaking, I met a hand-plane maker named Konrad Sauer via Linked-In, and visited him in his Kitchener workshop in real life. It remains one of the most impressive I’ve seen. It marked the first time I had seen tools regarded as some of the best in the world, many passed on to him. He may possess some of the last of their kind; as these Japanese toolmakers run out of the steel passed down from their forefathers, they often cease toolmaking. Konrad’s collection is resultantly priceless.

    My studio visit with Konrad was the opener of dialogues I have maintained and entered into as a craftsperson, around what I’ve come to call ‘tool stewardship.’

    To learn a craft seriously, one typically trains under the guidance of a master, in their workshop. Once they have left, they amass tools to become autonomous and build their own shop. ‘Most shoemakers starting out, now spend a lot of time scouring the world, and Ebay for old tools. One, because new ones are often not available, and two, because the new tools you can find are often inferior.’ (Carre Ducker Blog) This time intensive searching process repeats any time you need to replace, or increase your tool inventory.

    In shoemaking it’s almost ubiquitously old tools over new. There are other crafts where it is less so. In a more popular field like woodworking, where there’s a larger consumer market, more modern innovation takes place in making quality tools. The difference for fields like this lies in tools outside of the general pro-sumer category, in tools made by toolmakers who hone a craft. This runs counter to industries where the mandate is to keep prices low and profits high, an equation that inevitably looses something in the balance, and encourages disposability or updating. Outside of this marketplace, fewer people are spending more money on rarer, higher quality tools, which will be passed down from one craftsperson to the next in most scenarios. Conceiving of tool gathering in this way situates you within the long arc of the craft, looking backward to look forward. These tools that we are, poetically, borrowing from our grandchildren, bear the imprints of their old masters hands on them (Marcel Mrsan, Shoes & Craft).

    My tools now become heavier. The pragmatic articles used to perform my everyday work, that over time even shape to my own particular hand, are on a longer journey. They are on their way to another maker, and vital to the continuation of my craft. The idea of tool stewardship is important, because each tool represents a new potentiality. Those entrusted to my maintenance for now seem to more accurately belong to a collective whose potential I enrich through my care of them.

  • LivingArts: Speaking Up and Finding Your Musical Voice (Figuratively and Literally)

    November 30, 2016 by Jennifer Spleit...

    I was recently admitted to the hospital, and as someone who is usually independent and healthy, I found it a real challenge to put my care in others' hands. As I was transferred between wards, seeing a dozen different nurses and doctors, I realized I needed to express myself clearly to each medical professional and not leave my feelings and symptoms to guesswork. When I realized how much I needed to self-advocate, my results were much better.

    Music lessons are much the same thing - if you don’t speak up, you simply won’t see the results you are hoping for. A good teacher, like a doctor, will ask questions. They want to get to know who you are in your regular life outside the room, in addition to your musical goals. Getting a feel for your personality and motivations will help them gear your lesson path and musical growth. Keeping that in mind, here are some important tips for the music student at any age and level:

    1. Be honest about your practicing, and your continued practicing expectations. Teachers know not everyone expects to be a concert violinist (and that some do!) and they will plan your lessons and homework assignments accordingly.

    2. Ask your own questions. Don't understand something? Ask for another explanation! Having trouble performing a specific skill? Ask for an idea for a new practice drill. Until you feel confident that you understand an exercise, ask your instructor not to move on until you get the hang of it.

    3. Share your motivations. Is there a favourite song you wish to learn? A talent show or competition you wish to participate in? Dreaming of playing at an upcoming family wedding? Preparation is the key to success, and your teacher can help you get to where you want to be... but only if you tell them!

    4. Let them know the positives. Did that last exercise really help you make sense of a difficult passage? Did you enjoy learning your last song? Was your last performance a confidence booster? Sharing this will help your teacher know you and how to individually tailor your program.

    Be proactive and you’ll see the results you’re hoping for, and have much more fun along the way. Happy practicing!

  • LivingArts: Live From Ottawa

    November 23, 2016 by Noelle Allen

    It’s 9:00 on a Monday night, I’m in a hotel room in Ottawa and I’m writing a blog post about arts administration. I’m in Ottawa to advocate for publishing. About a dozen publishers are going to traipse around Parliament Hill in the next few days, meeting with various Members of Parliament to talk about the importance of publishing, of having Canada produce its own literature, and celebrate its own authors.

    I see this as advocating for my authors. I do this a lot. One of the things an arts administrator does is work to make things happen for the artists in their organization. They write the grants to find the funds to pay for the musicians, the stage design, the advances, the book printing. They chat up reporters, talk to booksellers, realize they’re boring their neighbours when they go on and on about this fabulous show, song, book. They try and make the space for the artist’s work to happen, and then they try and spread the word about the work.

    I recently had an author say that I’ve always been there for her writing. It’s a wonderful thing to have someone say that you’ve given them what they need to keep writing. I believe this is the point of working with a publisher, and likely a label or a theatre company and not going it alone. To have someone who is there for your art in tangible and intangible ways, to have someone helping to find the breathing room in our rather competitive society to allow an artist to create.

    We often focus on the nuts and bolts of getting art into the world when we talk about arts administration, and we should because it’s much more difficult than most people realize. But we should also remember that it’s lonely being an artist, and that artists need to be vulnerable to create something that touches other people. The publisher’s job is to give their authors a place to be messy on the page, to take risks and find the story, while the publisher gathers the resources necessary to make the story into a physical book and put it into readers’ hands. To make the story public. Call it publishing or championing. It’s all advocacy at its heart, saying this art is important and we should pay attention to it.

    So this week I, along with several other publishers, are going from meeting to meeting in Ottawa saying these books and stories are important. Let’s keep making it possible to share them.  

     

  • Hamilton: The Sleepy Suburban Community That Gave Us Teenage Head

    November 15, 2016 by Steve McKay

    Teenage Head is to blue-collar rockers as Westdale Secondary School is to a Dickensian workhouse.

    While you scratch your head trying to understand the meaning of that LSAT skill-testing question, I will launch into what is going to be my final contribution to the LivingArts blogscape…

    I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those grouchy types who comes off as a super positive person. It’s a happy accident and has allowed me to avoid becoming known socially as a “grump,” but occasionally the grouchiness is unleashed by a rusty nail or something harder.

    The other night I attended a Chamber of Commerce Ambitious City event with a focus on Hamilton as a Music City. The city is midway through enacting a music strategy proposed by a designated team of industry insiders and those who attended this event were in for an update on their progress. More importantly, we were there to hear about the $$$ meaning for the Chamber’s member businesses.

    It was a rollercoaster thrill ride!

    Tom and Thompson Wilson started out with a few tunes to get us in the mood and then Graham Henderson from Music Canada told us that Hamilton is basically half-way to achieving Music City status. When Graham was finished, we heard a discussion from a panel of active members of Hamilton’s music industry and the event ended quite suddenly with the announcement of Leonard Cohen’s death.

    Super sad thrill ride!

    To process all of the information/implications, my pal James and I took in a couple pints at the Brain. When we got there, I came to a realization:

    I don’t want to live in a Music City built on the cornerstone of our musical legacy as proto-punk and roots rockers. I want to live in a Music City where every citizen has a profound appreciation of the importance of music and wants to be surrounded by it.

    If that seems like a major leap in narrative, please let me explain:

    The history of Hamilton music as tradition tells is that Hamilton is a blue-collar town and we make blue-collar music. We punch above our weight (which is in line with our Ambitious City identity) and produce world-class talent like the Band, Daniel Lanois and Teenage Head. That was essentially the story that we heard at the Chamber’s event.

    That is the traditional legacy story, and the storytellers would have us infer that there is something about Hamilton’s tough steel-town edge that lead to such an amazing crop of talent.

    I take exception to this legacy story. I’ve always had a hard time accepting it, perhaps because I’m not a part of that legacy, being an upper-middle class son of two teachers. Perhaps it’s because that story excludes the kind of music that I make and want to make, which is essentially art music.

    Also, I’ve never seen any real connection between the steel town and the people who have risen in the musical ranks here. Most of the celebrated artists from Hamilton came from affluent neighbourhoods and families.

    For starters – Teenage Head went to Westdale in the 1970s. My Dad taught at Westdale in the 70s and from everything he has told me, it was a pretty great middle-class school with pretty great kids and families.

    Just like the Ramones came from the upper-middle class neighbourhood of Forest Hills, Teenage Head’s relation to the city of Hamilton is likely less rooted in the hard-nosed steel town reputation than it was a great storyline for music journalists outside of Hamilton.

    Dan Lanois is amazing. What he has done and who he has worked with is world class and he is something that we should absolutely be proud of and point to as a role model for Hamilton music. But he is from Ancaster...

    The Band did play here, sure. Conway Twitty wrote a song here, okay. Why did they do that? Is there any explanation other than they knew a guy from Hamilton who offered them a gig? Was there something about the hardworking blue-collar crowd that really LOVED the brand of rock’n’roll that Ronnie Hawkins brought up from Arkansas? As far as I understand, they had a whole circuit in Southern Ontario of clubs to play at and Hamilton was just one of the stops.

    So as we brand our city as a Music City, shouldn’t we figure out why Hamilton has punched above its weight all these years?

    Is it because of our great music fans? I don’t think so. Maybe it was, but it looks like that crowd is dying off, being replaced by a surging urban population from Toronto whose tastes will have been forged outside of our city.

    If anything, the history of Hamilton’s music scene is a wholesome suburban culture, where kids were able to experiment in the safety of cozy finished basements and garages.

    What’s more, thanks to some pretty excellent music education in the 70s, 80s and 90s, a large number of our greatest artistic contributions have come out of strong suburban schools, like Westdale, Westmount, Ancaster High or Parkside in Dundas.

    Almost every single contact I have in Hamilton’s music scene is through my friends from Westdale. Everyone I knew was in a band or wanted to be in a band. I say a ‘band,' but more accurately there were tons of friends who were heavy into DJ culture or MC and hip-hop culture in school as well.

    There was a great jazz culture in Hamilton when I was school-aged too, most strongly associated with Russ Weil’s program for the Hamilton All-star Jazz Band for secondary students. SOOO many great Hamilton musicians came through that program (Dan Snaith, Diana Panton, Jessy Lanza, Jeremy Fisher and soon to be legendary pianist David Braid, among many others).

    ‘School’ is where Hamilton’s greatest musical contributions have come from. I bet if you ask any major Hamilton artist when they decided that they wanted to do music as a living, it was when they were in school.

    That sounds ridiculous to say, because of course they got into music when they were young. That’s how everybody gets into music, but when we are talking about Hamilton as a ‘Music City’, we need to acknowledge one of the main reasons why we are punching above our weight (if that’s true).

    Hamilton’s success in music is that we have been great incubators of talent. 

    I should say, we WERE great incubators of talent. 

    Investment in music education has dropped off fairly dramatically in the last fifteen years. Where it was once a matter of policy to hire a full-time permanent music teacher, we have decided that it is optional (read: a bonus).

    Without a professionally trained music teacher, our kids are not going to learn to sing and play Orff instruments, then recorder, then ukulele, then trombone, then guitar (the average trajectory of a kid born in the 80s).

    They might grow up thinking that music is best enjoyed as a passive, background experience.

    Certainly without their own performance experiences, once a staple of music education, they will not learn to appreciate the skills of an amazing performer.

    Wealthy schools may be able to offset the loss of a music teacher, but some schools don’t have the means and not all parents are in a financial position to pay for music lessons.

    Groups like An Instrument for Every Child have stepped in to make up for the shortfall, which is fantastic. They are providing an essential service that was once provided by public education.

    So maybe we should teach kids how music works so that they can build a lifelong appreciation of music and support this Music City initiative?

    Maybe we should foster a culture of musical appreciation at the elementary level so that our venues are at capacity every Friday and Saturday night?

    Maybe it’s important to acknowledge WHY Hamilton has produced such excellent musical talent to date. Maybe it’s our sleepy suburban culture that led to our triumphs, not our former blue-collar identity.

    Just a few thoughts.

    As we move forward with this Music City business, I would like to see the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board step up to the plate and build music into their identity. I would like to see Home and School Boards making it clear to their Principals that music education is a top priority and then I would like to see Principals across the city uniting to offer a uniform music educational experience for each and every student.

    There are billions of studies demonstrating that it’s REALLY GOOD for the kids - it’s not hard to justify. Put that together with the fact that our city is branding itself thusly, and we are talking about a HUGE step for Hamilton.

    In closing, I wanted to say a big THANK YOU to Stephanie Vegh and Lesley Loksi Chan for their work with LivingArts! This is my last post for the blog, as I feel it’s important to step back and let somebody else relate their experiences here in Hamilton’s music community. Thanks for reading!

  • LivingArts: From Page to Stage

    November 9, 2016 by Laura Ellis

    Alright, so you’ve finished your performing arts education and are hungry to learn more. Or maybe you haven’t gone to school and want to jump into the theatre industry with the most knowledgeable and professional approach possible. Or perhaps you are already a successful artist (in all senses of the word but quite possibly still broke) and just want to absorb all the information about theatre you can fit into your brain.  So…now what?

    READ.  (That’s it?  That’s your “solution”, Laura? Seriously?) YES, seriously.

    It may sound simple, but as a fellow artist who is constantly seeking to educate myself in all areas of theatre and also very aware of my bank account balance, it’s one of the best approaches I’ve ever taken. It’s the one I always go back to. READ. Read plays. Read theatre history books. Read study guides and handbooks. Read books about ALL areas of theatre.  Read literally, anything you can get your hands on (or ears on if you are into audiobooks).

    If it feels overwhelming or time consuming, don’t panic. That’s where I come in. I’ve created a list of some of the best theatre books I’ve read, that I believe will help deepen one’s knowledge about theatre and the industry:

    1. AUDITION (Michael Shurtleff):

    Michael Shurtleff spent many years as a top casting director and is pretty much legen— (wait for it) dary. In fact, his courses on acting have launched HUNDREDS of successful careers. This book is his legacy to his craft and is quite literally an actor’s "How To" bible. Through his “12 Guideposts”, he defines the skills and tasks necessary to train actors in a way that will help them transition successfully from an educational institution into the professional world. He gives the reader clear, active objectives to reach for and articulates what constitutes good, effective acting. It’s an INVALUABLE resource and one which I often keep readily on hand.

    2. THE MOVING BODY - Teaching Creative Theatre (Jacques Lecoq, Jean-Gabriel Carasso, Jean Claude Lallias):

    Jacques Lecoq was one of the great names of contemporary theatre. He created one of the most original methods of performance. This book includes his unique philosophy of performance, improvisation, mask work, movement, gesture, clowning and more. It is a practical guide to working with body sensation, movement, emotionality, and communication in the theatre. The chapters walk you through several helpful exercises which give you a strong foundation in movement theatre (which, at the moment is rapidly overtaking the mainstream). As far as books on theatrical movement go, I have yet to find one that tops this.

    3. THE DIRECTOR’S CRAFT - A Handbook for the Theatre (Katie Mitchell):

    This book was written by one of the most adventurous and respected directors working today; Katie Mitchell. She shares and explains the tools she uses to approach her work with actors, production teams, and the text. It’s probably one of the few directing books that clearly breaks down the roles and responsibilities of the directing profession. It offers practical advice on the process, gives food-for-thought, and provides assistance with many common challenges that directors face. If you are looking to become a serious director or need to find a structure to teach directing, this book is a staple. From the books I’ve read so far, it really is the best one out there for prospective directors and truly deserves a place on the shelf.

    4. THE BLUNT PLAYWRIGHT (Clem Martini):

    Clem Martini is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and novelist and just as the title suggests, this is his very blunt and straightforward guide to playwriting. He provides a practical approach to recognizing and utilizing the fundamental elements of the play all while using his trademark wry humour that makes his writing so entertaining. The book examines dramatic structure, discusses the creative process, explores the nature of characters, and provides a number of writing examples and exercises that are useful for generating text. It is a fun, quick read, but also something which you can refer to again and again during the writing process. I doubt there is any book out there that would give someone interested in writing a play all the basics in one simple, easy to read, informative, well laid out book, but gosh does this come close.

    5. TECHNICAL THEATER FOR NONTECHNICAL PEOPLE (Drew Campbell)

    This is the most down-to-earth, straightforward book that truly succeeds in helping actors, dancers, playwrights, and directors understand every aspect of a backstage environment. It touches on everything from scenery and props, to lighting and sound, to costumes and stage management. All sides of production are clearly explained (jargon-free!) in straightforward terms and it even includes definitions in an attached glossary. Not only does it discuss traditional and modern elements of technical theatre, it helps bridge the communication gap. Artists will have a concrete tool in communicating with technicians, and technicians will be able to better explain their art to the less technically minded. It is perfect for the backstage beginner as it covers all the essentials in a very comprehensive way.

    So, there you have it; now you have some great books to put on your shelf, solid skills to add to your repertoire, and you didn’t even have to take out another loan.

     

  • LivingArts: CrushTime

    November 9, 2016 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

    I’m a week over deadline on this blog entry. Stephanie Vegh is likely pissed at me, but is probably too polite to let me have it. It doesn’t prevent an imaginary version of Stephanie Vegh in my head looking at me and telling me I am a disappointment. Every night this week, after poorly serving all of my other languishing obligations, be they creative, professional, familial, or otherwise, I sit at the computer hoping to chip away at this blog. More often than not, nothing happens. The pressure of the deadline, combined with my mental fatigue, combined with mounting feelings of embarrassment makes it impossible to extract the good idea from my head and lay it out on the page. It’s maddening.

    I mention all of this because the topic I want to write about is exactly what I’m going through: the frequency by which work conditions for artists become stressed, pressured, sloppy, and toxic to one’s self esteem. I’ve written in the past how deadlines and stress can often lead to career changing moments of inspiration, and God-given moments of grace and flow.  If this balance is off however, those same pressures just grind you into a pulp.

    I think this past week has been that kind of nightmare for lots of Hamiltonians in the creative arts. There was a deadline for the Canada Council’s New Chapter Program that offers one-time funding for projects to help celebrate our nation’s upcoming Sesquicentennial.  There was a deadline for the City Enrichment Fund, which has done a good job in encouraging new artists and organizations to enter the municipal funding stream.  I know a few people who were trying to submit to both.

    Awesome, right?  Money for projects, and an invitation for artists to think and dream big about who they are and what they can do. So why was it a nightmare?  Why did so many artists stave off that dreaming until the final four days before deadline?  Why did a portion of the arts community seem to drown in suffering?

    I talked to a few of my artist friends this past week.  Many complained that carving out a space in a working schedule already thick with multiple jobs and daily hustling put them in the same bleary-eyed late-night working haze that I’ve been in this week. Some told me horror stories about taking what they knew was a worthy creative project and then twisting it and contorting it in order to adhere to the terms of the grant, ending up with something so unrecognizable they worried they no longer had any attachment to it. Some were overcome by the futility of trying to communicate an idea to a finicky online grant portal governed by tight word limits and budget templates that seemed borrowed from an armament procurement competition. Some merely hated the gamble of investing work hours in an activity that inevitably behaved like a lottery.

    Regardless of whether they submitted a grant or not, many of my friends had a week of furious work, followed by some kind of psychological crash. They submitted a grant only to feel compromised and bureaucratically assaulted. They wrote part of a grant but abandoned it because they couldn’t wrangle all the details and then succumbed to a wave of regret. They failed to pursue a grant and now feel like they have missed an opportunity that was sure to catapult them.

    One of the realizations that I’ve had this year is that we now live in a city where opportunities are abundant, but many of us are still wired in our heads to think that opportunities are rare. Therefore we have a knee jerk reactions to bite at every opportunity that comes our way, to feel bad at every opportunity that we don’t bite at, and to frequently get put into overload and fatigue on account of our constant biting.  

    I know that I have taken on five too many endeavors right now, and that the sensible thing to do would be to cut them out and give the right amount of space to just a select few. I know that I should not get swept up in the possibility of new ventures when they come along. But I usually always do.

    Another metaphor that occurs to me is this. My creative life is like a marathon, one I know will take a lifetime to run. But instead of trying to pace myself over the long distance, instead I run as fast as I possibly can until I collapse. Then I sob on the ground in a crumpled heap for a few minutes, before picking myself up and running as fast as I possibly can again.  

     

  • LivingArts: Good Tidings

    October 25, 2016 by Crystal Jonasso...

    Recently I had a friend and theatre colaborator contact me with a problem: a project whose performance space backed out needed a new home in three weeks' time. With some idea of the performance's style and production needs we started brainstorming spaces. We quickly came up with a dozen options and, in the past, I would have expected two or maybe even three spaces would be available and the main problem would be choosing the best one. However, with the arts sector booming, all the venues on our list were booked. Given recent cultural shifts in our city this isn't shocking but it does raise some questions. 

    The climate of theatre has changed in Hamilton and there are two responses to this as an artist: either it's the biggest opportunity imaginable or it's terrifyingly intimidating.  If all twelve venues on our list were booked, that means that on one weekend in our city there are at least a dozen different shows patrons can choose from. This means that if you are making theatre here it not only needs to be 'good,' it needs to be 'better.' Perhaps some multipurpose venues were featuring live music and it's possible some venues had private events; nonetheless, it's a dramatic change from even just five years ago, no pun intended.

    More art is happening and that's good, isn't it? This boom is developing and attracting a larger audience and 'a rising tide lifts all boats', right? Although the imagery of that aphorism is encouraging it's not the tide in demand,  it's the fish. 

    Don't get me wrong; competition is vitally important for the development of individual artists and the entire artistic community. However, for many years Hamilton has been an incubator for artists: a safe warm place to develop some skills before moving on to a more competitive environment.  We have been fortunate to have wonderful organizations like the Hamilton Fringe Festival,  the Staircase Theatre and several longstanding community theatres that give new artists amazing opportunity to participate and develop and, most importantly, to fail and learn from that failed experience. Failure too is essential for development. Once these artists became more confident the majority of them moved on to more competitive environments: most notably, Toronto.  Now, artists don't seem to be leaving as often and in a turnaround many are arriving from these more competitive environments seeking space and opportunity.

    Here's the intimidating part: how can we still offer a safe warm place for new and inexperienced artists while simultaneously creating opportunities for more experienced artists seeking space for their developed work and skills? How can we ensure that resources do not become scarce? In evolutionary theory its called 'competitive displacement' when a more dominant species forces another to occupy a sub-optimal habitat. Will that happen here in our community, with our young artists?

    I certainly don't have the answer but I've been watching intently as this city starts to really 'rejuvenate' itself, like we had been told for more than a decade that it would, and here's what I've seen: people are passionate about this city. Hamilton t-shirts and bags with witty puns and references to our gritty roots are everywhere. The expierenced artists that come here are here to do something different, not to rehash what they've done elsewhere. The young local artist voice is strong, political and motivated. Everywhere I look when I walk down streets like James Street North, or Ottawa Street North, I see businesses that are embracing the creative surge. Perhaps more important than answering the question of how to continue to incubate new artists is to keep asking the question as part of our ongoing discussion.

    Remember how this rant started? An artist needed help and people responded. I look at the new #HamOnt and I don't see people looking back with longing. People are choosing to be excited, not intimidated, and really are we surprised?  After all, Hamilton is a city with steel in its veins.

     

  • LivingArts: The Creative Process - Found in Translation

    October 19, 2016 by Vanessa Crosbie...

    Over the summer I got the happy news that I’d received a grant through the City Enrichment Fund’s inaugural ‘Creation & Presentation Grants to Artists’ – a program supporting Hamilton artists in developing new artistic work and/or presenting it publicly. I’m pleased to be using the grant to create a short film and installation exploring the creative process.

    As a filmmaker/media artist, I’m already familiar with the steps taken with time-based media to complete a film or video. For this project, I’m interested in how artists working in other disciplines take their art from concept to completion – in this case, a painting, song, photograph, dance, and screen print. To that end, I’m filming various artists as they create something from nothing – starting with a literal blank page (or undeveloped film, silence, a still body) and filming with them until they have a completed work.

    I’ve enjoyed deep conversations with the people involved, about art making and creativity, their path to the arts, inspiration, and the challenges of working as a professional artist. I’ve found diverse and talented creators who are contemplative critical thinkers, in various stages of their careers, dedicated to expressing themselves through art. Our discussions have been enlightening, filled with unexpected commonalities – who knew how many artists keep a notebook, sketchbook, list, file, or computer folder filled with ideas and inspiration to call on later? Apparently there are lots of us jotting notes, or saving quotes, doodles, lyrics, images, videos, or snippets of songs to refer to again in the future.

    With my brilliant cinematographer in tow (also an accomplished artist), half the filming is complete. By the end we’ll have recorded six artists from across the city, Stoney Creek to Dundas, engaging in their artistic practice. We’ll have filmed in three home studios, a conservation area in Ancaster, at The Cotton Factory on Sherman Avenue, and downtown on James St. North at Centre[3].

    So far we’ve observed the creation of an ink/mixed media piece by a visual artist who’s also an award-winning architect; we’ve hiked with a photographer through a backdrop of colourful autumn leaves to a cascading waterfall; and we’ve witnessed a rap artist drop beats, add instrumentation, and write and record complicated rhymes, before mixing everything into a finished song that reflects his own unique brand of experimental hip-hop. Next, we’re exploring screen-printing with a young artist still in university, and filming dancers performing amongst the high ceilings, wood beams and large windows of a historic textile mill.

    The artists have been generous with their time and creativity – satiating my curiosity, providing inspiration and motivation, and allowing me to indulge in my own creative process as I build the project, translating all the elements into the final film and installation. I’m very appreciative for the opportunity the City Enrichment Fund has given me to delve into others’ creativity close-up, and the catalyst it’s provided to engage in meaningful artistic conversations. I’m humbled by the work of the talented people I’ve met, and pleased that I can shine a light on some of the amazing artists this city has to offer while also making my own work. Thank you to the Arts Advisory Commission and all the organizations and individuals who helped convince City Council to increase their support and funding for the arts and artists of Hamilton. I feel enriched!

     

     

  • LivingArts: LivingArts Symposium - One Year Later

    October 12, 2016 by Jessica Rose

    Just under a year ago — on October 23, 2015 — the Hamilton Arts Council presented the LivingArts Hamilton Symposium, an opportunity for creators and administrators to come together to share commonalities and work toward a vibrant future for the arts in Hamilton. I was thrilled to present and moderate a panel called “Navigating the Literary Landscape in a Time of Change,” featuring three people I greatly admire, Noelle Allen, Gary Barwin, and Dana Hansen.

    “Among other interesting topics, we discussed coverage of the literary arts in Hamilton,” recalls Hansen. “The city is home to many remarkable, accomplished, diverse writers, poets, playwrights, and critics, and at a time when we should be promoting and celebrating so much talent and great writing from and about Hamilton, it seemed to those of us on that panel that outlets for doing so were increasingly hard to find.”

    Hansen has turned this frustration into a new project called The Hamilton Review of Books, an independent online literary journal, which launched just last week. The Hamilton Review of Books’ first issue includes “critical reviews of recent and forthcoming fiction and nonfiction titles from large and small presses, from writers in Hamilton and beyond, written not only by our savvy editors, but also by some outstanding contributors,” including Quill and Quire’s Steven Beattie, Journey Prize-winning writer and former National Post books columnist Naben Ruthnum, Hamilton poet Autumn Getty, and music journalist Geoff Pevere.

    The Hamilton Review of Books really owes its creation to the Hamilton Arts Council’s 2015 LivingArts Symposium,” says Hansen, who adds the discussion stuck with her, “and I went about rallying some help to develop an online literary journal based in Hamilton — one that would include substantive critical reviews of books authored by Hamiltonians as well as authors from across Canada, and long-form personal essays on literary subjects.”

    Full disclosure: Dana asked me to act as one of The Hamilton Review of Books’ editors, which I happily accepted. LivingArts Symposium panelists Gary and Noelle have also taken an active role: Gary’s visual art is featured in the debut issue, and Noelle acts as an advisor.

    As it remains difficult for artists, festival organizers, and not-for-profit arts organizations (among others) to secure coverage in local mainstream publications, many of us are taking it upon ourselves, creating opportunities that didn’t exist in Hamilton’s recent past.

    “I’m hoping to see the HRB become a fixture in CanLit, strongly focused on representing Hamilton’s unique literary scene,” says Hansen, looking toward a brighter future of arts coverage in this city

     

  • LivingArts: Not Just a Pretty Picture

    October 6, 2016 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

     

    I have always felt pretty comfortable with art for its own sake. I am fascinated by process, materials and symbols in art, and can get pretty wrapped up in the aesthetic experience and “object-ness” of a work of art. But in my recent work I have spent a lot of time on the other side of that sentiment – art that is powerful for its ability to connect us to larger issues in a way that traditional history or education cannot.

    I am currently working on educational programming for an exhibition that stems from a very dark history – the Holocaust. I have been surprised and inspired to see how much of an impact this work has had on my own understanding of events. Having studied world history in school, I know the basics and have always understood the horrors of this history somewhat abstractly – from a safe and comfortable distance. This work makes it personal.  It has transformed my understanding in a way that traditional forms of teaching never did.  

    One thing that I am still considering – how to reconcile this dark history with the stunningly beautiful images presented in this exhibition. This is not the Holocaust imagery of emaciated survivors or the camps. Yuri Dojc shows us personal artefacts left behind, of the passage of time and memories lost. The books and other objects in the exhibition are weathered and decaying. They are beautiful. But at the same time each one represents a life cut short.

    The first comparison that came to mind was Edward Burtynsky’s work – stunning images that reveal the industrial ravaging of the landscape. Beautiful but terrible. I have heard this dichotomy criticized – that it is hard to understand the environmental message that these works could communicate when we are so distracted by their aesthetic appeal. By extension, to teach us about something grave, the art must be hard to look at.

    In my current project, I am thinking about the same thing. Does the creation of beautiful images detract from an important teaching moment? I haven’t found a completely satisfying answer but my feeling is no. One of the most effective things about these images is that they do attract us. They draw us in and make us want to know more. They make us connect in a way that an uncomfortable image would not. And it is with that connection that we can begin to really consider the bigger picture. That is where the understanding begins.

    It is not always a comfortable, but art is powerful. Visceral. Personal.

     

  • LivingArts: Stoking the Fire

    September 21, 2016 by Josh Taylor

    Lifelong learning… we all know it's important, especially in your field. As artists though, it can prove tough to find the time and resources to take courses or workshops while trying to be your own promoter, accountant, motivator, scheduler, etc. We know it is vital to our professional and artistic development but as many of us are self-employed or contracting, instructing or mentoring, spending the money and time on yourself can seem foolhardy. In spending that time and money, you are potentially ‘losing’ valuable working hours, or sometimes more importantly, time off for yourself.

    I mean, there’s a good chance that the courses or workshops can get you more work. Right? It’s not guaranteed but it’s possible. Suddenly you find yourself looking at it as a numbers game, questioning what you can get out of it on paper. For myself, as a dancer, choreographer, and director of a dance studio, I’ve played this numbers game far too many times.

    With my schedule, like many dancers, I work afternoons to evenings, Monday through Friday plus the primetime Saturday mornings. So it’s funny: as dancers, we want to take dance classes but they are happening at the same time we teach, leaving the only real option to us being weekend workshops. Which are great, but being sandwiched between your own classes on Saturdays and Mondays, sometimes it feels like the information comes in one foot and out the other.

    So I made a plan. Immersive dance experiences. Surround myself with nothing but learning the art I love. Take a trip during an off time with no teaching or even creating. Just learning.

    First, I tried it out on a small scale last summer; one week in New York focusing on Salsa, learning from some of the best dancers and choreographers in the world. It was amazing! I came back with a deeper understanding of the style, the culture and what it means to me artistically. I left wanting more… at least one week more.

    Cost wise, and time wise though, that would be tough. So, I applied for a grant through the Ontario Arts Council for the following summer to attend Urban Dance Camp in Germany for three weeks. Yeah. Three weeks. I ended up receiving the grant and a week or so into the camp, as my body ached and my mind overflowed with information, I thought: Maybe three weeks was a little much

    But I take that back. I take it back because I learned so much more than what I was expecting. I learned how to be a better dancer, a better teacher and a better student. I learned how to fail spectacularly and how to bounce back from it. I gained friends and colleagues from all around the world, learning that what’s ‘on paper’ pales in comparison to the intangibles. W.B. Yeats said “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." For me it rings true, as I am as eager to share my knowledge now as I am to gain more of it.

     

  • LivingArts: The Selfie and Sculpture

    September 14, 2016 by Brandon Vickerd

    Being of a certain age I can remember a time before the internet, before Instagram, before Facebook, before cellphones and selfies. It is easy to forget how this technology and its ubiquitous nature has changed almost every aspect of how we communicate and behave. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, I had an experience while installing public art recently that has caused me to reflect on this shift and how it affects the realm of public art.

    Recently I was installing a new public art work in Thunder Bay; the work consisted of two life-size bronze figures that weighed in excess of 300 lbs each. The sculptures were commissioned to be installed about a block apart from each other on a busy downtown street filled with yoga studios, cafes and bakeries - arguably one of the most pedestrian friendly locations in the city. The two sculptures were being installed directly on traffic calming bump-outs that were extensions of the sidewalk. I subcontracted the physical installation to a very competent crew and was working on site with them for two days.

    When we reached the point of lifting the heavy bronze works into place and securing them to the concrete footing with epoxy, an interesting thing occurred. It became difficult to accomplish the work because we were constantly being interrupted by people entering the jobsite in order to take selfies.

    To be clear, I do not mean people were simply snapping pictures with their phones of us working, or of the freshly uncrated sculptures. I mean a number of people, independent of each other, attempted to pose beside the bronze sculptures and take a picture of themselves while we were in the process of moving the artwork. This required these individuals to physically cross the bright orange and yellow construction barricades, step into an active construction site with power tools, hoists and hydraulics in use, traverse obvious hazards to their own safety, and to then physically insert themselves between the installation crew and the sculptures.

    The installation of public sculpture is a stressful situation. As an artist you are often working with a crew and trying to maintain constant communication and provide direction. Prior to the physical work an installation plan must be approved by engineers, the municipality, the artist and others, all in the hopes of a smooth and safe process. Of course what is on paper does not always equate with reality; a hidden gas line where your footing needs to go, a sidewalk sloping at the wrong angle, a hydraulic saw that decides to get jammed in the concrete, are some of the numerous unplanned occurrences that force you to solve problems on site. When the artist is onsite, they are also required to be a bit of a spokesman responding to random questions, liaising with local officials (municipal workers, police, BIA), and occasionally having a surly teenager ask questions that make you question your belief in the arts. The installation of public art also represents the culmination of years of work; the artist has guided the project from the proposal stage, through approval and fabrication, and the installation process is akin to watching your child move out to college. Add to this stress that the artist is often paying the install crew by the hour, and any delay can cause immense stress.

    So after I had to ask the third individual to step back over the safety barricade for their own protection, and was rebuffed with “I just want a quick pic for fb,” I was a bit flummoxed. On one hand, it is great that someone likes the works so much that they just have to snap a selfie; on the other hand the minute they pass the construction barricade, their compromised safety becomes my problem. When they eagerly put their arm over the shoulder of the sculpture as it was precariously braced a few feet off the ground, waiting for the final lowering into position, I could see the headlines – “Man crushed by bronze sculpture.” I want to encourage everyone to enjoy public art, but not at the cost of personal safety. At first I made a point of explaining that the sculptures would be permanent and unveiled the next day; however, this had little effect on the behaviour of the selfie snapping public.

    I think next time I am going to make signs that warn of Electro Magnetic Pulses harmful to iPhones being generated by the diamond saw. Perhaps the threat of damaging their phones will give people pause when crossing into the job site. 

  • LivingArts: Re-Imagining Postdigital Artisans

    September 7, 2016 by Aimee Burnett

    Across the cafe in which I am sitting, my eye snags on the title of an ironically situated 'laptop stand’ (read: a book underneath a laptop). I add Frame’s cultural pulse-point coffee table book, Postdigital Artisans, authored by Jonathan Openshaw, to the ‘Google-searches-for-later’ list in my notebook.

    As a female shoemaker this side of the millennium, the title was my analogue equivalent of targeted clickbait. Irresistible. I imagined a critical, insightful engagement with contemporary makers, a population returning to and amending pre-industrial methods of making. I was excited to read a nuanced investigation into communities, motivations, and that which humans with bodies seek right now, as they find themselves implicit in a circumstance where making standards have frayed, and international trade deals and digital technologies have changed the landscape of every community and economy. The whys, and hows, and inspiring paths of other makers, making their way in the cultural upstream that I was certain this book contained, left me coveting my own copy.

    I didn’t ask the stranger using Postdigital Artisans to move his MacBook aside so I could flip through the book underneath. I did go to a nearby bookstore to leaf through a copy. A cursory engagement left me disappointed. It offered a fairly simplistic compendium of physical objects created using digital technologies, presented at the pace and depth of a online media feed.

    To me, the book presented an opportunity to talk about a lot of the things that are important in my practice, and in those of other artisans I know. In my fantasy edition, featuring the same on-point title, Postdigital Artisans situates itself as an opportunity to talk about the resurgence of traditional making coupled with the tools of a new age.

    And then goes further.

    It speaks about the relevancy and radicalism of making in our modern situation and its complexity, and socio-cultural implications. Imagined PD-A elucidates the ways contemporary makers engage in direct relationships with those they make for, and with. It offers an account of their social and economic participation in the communities they are a part of, both locally and through (often digital) networks with other artisans, and observes their models of production. Such models as are often localized and take into consideration sustainability, quality, and longevity. This insightful volume dialogues with these individuals who engage a physicality often neglected in (and often cultivated in reaction to) the modern workplace and whose skill sets are broad and traversing.  

    As one among the postdigital legions, and the making community in addition, this engaged and critical way of providing for oneself and creating, is the intersectional point from which I would like to start speaking about my practice. Fine craft and making, postdigitally, are economically countercultural. They invert the cultural operative to consume endlessly and empower individuals to provide for themselves through cultivating skills of the past married with technological tools of the now.

     

  • LivingArts: Back to School

    August 31, 2016 by Jennifer Spleit...

    Back-to-school means a new start for after-school activities, too, and there are a plethora of options. From school tutoring to sports teams and music lessons, parents are inundated with choices... and so are the children. Many will sign up for a new program this year and while some may happily participate all season, others will have a change of heart mid-term. Maybe they’ll feel too worn out by the end of the school day, or maybe they’ll be too involved with their toys and video games to wish to leave the house every Tuesday. Perhaps their team won’t win many games or they’ll be disappointed not to be on the starting lineup or playing their favourite position. Maybe it’s just more difficult than they realized to learn to play a musical instrument.  In any case, this is where the parent’s role in the activity becomes much more important than the instructor’s.

    As music teachers, we do our best to inspire the young minds in our classes. We cheer them on, we teach them new skills, we show them what they can attain with practice and hard work, and we stress the importance of commitment and co-operation. But parents have the hardest job: they have to ensure their children physically follow through with that dedication – kids can’t drive themselves to rehearsal, after all!  When members are allowed to miss rehearsal and concerts, everyone is let down. The teacher’s lesson plan has to be altered to accommodate the absence, the children who are in attendance will have to repeat the lesson the following week so their peers can catch up, and the absent child is taught that they are not an integral part of the ensemble or team – that their presence doesn’t matter.  On concert days, the musicians who are present are confused when their partners are not there to perform with them and celebrate their achievements together. Group morale lapses and the whole learning environment becomes less fun and less successful when the musicians can’t rely on one another to be there – as team-mates and as friends. Children should learn that every member of the ensemble plays a vital role and that they are valued, whether they are the highest performing player or not. They should learn that once you make the choice to join an ensemble, that group depends on you, and you are responsible for following through on that commitment.

    Your child may not wish to practice daily at home or head to every rehearsal enthusiastically, but that doesn’t mean they’re not benefiting from the program, enjoying themselves in class once they get there (they usually are!), and building self-esteem every time they conquer a new skill. At the end of the season is the time to sit down with your child and ask them about re-registering for the following year.  Remind them (and yourself!) that it won’t always be easy but if they enjoyed the activity and gained from it, then the reward is worth the challenges.

  • LivingArts: How the Sausage is Made

    August 24, 2016 by Noelle Allen

    In a lively Facebook discussion the other day, a fellow literary organizer made the immortal statement: “People don’t want to know how the sausage is made.” Sure, we were talking about book distribution, a particularly arcane subject, but I think this applies to how arts happen in general. We don’t want to know how the book got on the shelf, we just want the book to be there when we want to buy it. Beautiful paintings appear in galleries naturally, and of course the musician we want to hear is going to come to our city.

    We want our interactions with art to be seamless. While thinking about the hours of rehearsal it takes to put on a play, or the hours an author must have spent perfecting their lines of poetry, seems to enhance our appreciation of their work, no one wants to talk about logistics. Why does it take away from our experience with art to think that someone is trying to get the books not only printed, but put on the shelves in stores; to produce the songs and get the musician gigs to tour that new release? Is it strange to think that someone is negotiating contracts, organizing financing, finding filming locations, promoting the work on Twitter and Facebook, holding events, talking to the media? And that someone else is coordinating all this so it comes together neatly?

    If we want art to get in front of an audience, some version of these tasks has to happen in all the disciplines. If there isn’t someone to negotiate, produce, market and promote for them, the artist has to do it all themselves. They can of course, and some do it brilliantly. But it’s an awful lot of work, and it takes up time that many artists would rather spend making their art.

    I run a small publishing company. Wolsak and Wynn publishes about a dozen books a year, a mix of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. People often wonder what a publisher does. When they come to the office, they sometimes peer into the back looking for a printing press. It’s not quite that straightforward. We take our authors’ manuscripts, edit them, lay them out, print them, market them, distribute them and promote them. We try and sell rights to our books internationally and we talk to local film producers. We pitch our authors to literary festivals and try to arrange readings. We send their books in for awards. We set up launches. We give away books in contests. We do everything we can, given our size and resources, to make people aware of our books.

    This is administration in an arts setting. We tend to think of administration as something that involves moving papers around, but it’s about managing an organization – whether it’s a small arts company or an international conglomerate – to reach a goal and to fulfill a mission. Our goal is to get people to read our authors’ books. Other companies make sausages. I’m not sure I want to know how they make their sausages, but I bet it’s not as easy as it looks.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • LivingArts: Nowhere Is The Dreamer Or the Misfit So Alone

    August 17, 2016 by Steve McKay

    Sprawling on the fringes of the city
    In geometric order
    An insulated border
    In-between the bright lights
    And the far, unlit unknown

     - from Subdivisions by N. Peart

     

    As you drive past the Hwy 6 exit on your way into Hamilton via the 403, you’ll see a sign telling you that there are 520,000 people who live in Hamilton (including Dundas, Ancaster, Glanbrook, Stoney Creek, Flamborough and all other nooks and/or crannies surrounding the Head of the Lake.)

    520,000 people.  That’s a lot of people. When Supercrawl happens, we end up seeing a tenth of those people crawling on top of each other on James Street (unless it’s raining). The Ti-Cats ram 24,000 people into Tim Horton’s Field, just 4.6% of the city’s population.  Half of those people race to Cannon Street after each game to try to catch the first wave of cabs (2.3%).

    If you add the population of Burlington, Aldershot, Waterdown, Brantford, Beamsville, Caledonia and so on, we are closing in on over 800,000 people in the area within 30 minutes of downtown Hamilton, traffic permitting.

    As an artist, if you could get even just 1% of those people to come to a show, you could sell out the Great Hall at Hamilton Place four nights in a row. If 5% of that 800,000 were to buy one of your records, you’d be certified GOLD.

    I often daydream about these numbers and think, ‘why do we tour this dangerous country when we have so many people surrounding us?’

    It’s a good question. Why do I have to drive to Saskatoon to play to 100 people and make barely enough cash to cover gas, risk my life scanning the highway for moose and deer and then drive 14 hours to the next gig? Why don’t we just play in Stoney Creek, then Binbrook, then Beamsville, then St. Catharines, then finish it off with a beautiful late-autumn Riesling at Niagara-On-The-Lake?

    Well, for starters, you need to have some sense that people are going to come out to your show, before you blindly book in Beamsville. What’s more, there are costs associated with hosting, booking and promoting a concert and most people aren’t really interested in getting into that business. You usually put in a lot of effort and get nothing in return (aside from recognition from the artist that you’re doing a good thing). 

    There are occasionally some young and eager promoters who want to bring their favourite artists to their small town, but as soon as those kids grow up and can leave their parents’ house, they gravitate to the middle. They find their way downtown, nestled in the smoggy comfort of tall buildings, public transit and venue density. 

    I’ve been the beneficiary of a number of young, eager promoters who brought me to their small town to perform. Some of those shows have been amazing, but no pay. 

    They tend to be rather exclusive house shows with 15 to 20 friends who do their best to chip in, so maybe $50 - $100. After gas, you’re looking at around $15 each for a quartet. 

    I’ve noticed, too, that local pubs do not like to host original music, either. Yes, you can head down to the Coach and Lantern and catch a set by Judy Marsales; or head on over to the Whistling Walrus to take in a set of Doobie Brothers covers. Of course you can go to the Powerhouse in Stoney Creek and take in the Mcflys (which I just may do, given the name).

    Those venues are the musical hubs for Ancaster, Hamilton Mountain and Stoney Creek and none of them host original music. They might host a Blues artist on exception, because Blues lovers and fans of the Mcflys have a greater crossover than, say, the Constantines.

    If you want original music, you’ve got to go downtown. Even if you Google “live music Stoney Creek” or “live music Ancaster," the first few results are venues located downtown.

    Last time I checked, people who live in Ancaster don’t really like driving downtown to catch a show at This Ain’t Hollywood. Same is true for Hamilton Mountain and Stoney Creek. It’s like forcing your audience to commute to your show.

    If you are Kanye, the audience will come to you wherever you are, but if you are playing to small venues, you need to come to them. There isn’t anywhere to play, so you don’t bother. 

    Meanwhile, we are sitting on 800,000 people who probably like music and may even REALLY like what you’re doing. If you could just connect with a small portion of these people, you might be able to skip that drive from Wawa to Thunder Bay and stay local. You might build a solid base and push the limits out to London, Guelph, or even Buffalo.

    There are over 12 million people in Southern Ontario. Imagine the possibilities….

  • LivingArts: Technically Speaking

    August 10, 2016 by Laura Ellis

    Many of us know how insanely competitive the performing arts sector is, or let’s face it, any arts industry. But how do we cope? What do we do to stay afloat? How do we survive these gruelling circumstances?

    We need to adapt. Well, a lot of us do. We need to become multi-faceted: honing our skills not only in performance, but learning new ones in producing, costuming, lighting and set design, and anything that keeps us relevant and sharp. We must continue finding ways to make ourselves as desirable, useful, and effective as possible in order to keep creating work or just to stay active within the industry.  So the question is, if you are an actor or director, why would you want to learn all that nerdy technical background stuff? What on earth could that do to REALLY help you?

    Well, I spoke with local actor/director/producer (see what I mean?) Lauren Repei of Same Boat Theatre Company, whose father Bruce (a professional set designer and head scenic artist for over 30 years) is offering a workshop this month on set design for artists. In fact, it’s geared towards those who have little to no experience with design.  A common trend happening in the performing arts industry is people taking on multiple roles within a production to keep costs down, using less man power and gaining more hands-on experience, giving them more creative control over their show.  Often directors and theatre creators end up putting together their own set design without much knowledge or guidance. So where do they go to learn this if they don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on workshops, hiring a professional, or commuting to Toronto?  That’s where Bruce comes in.

    The trick is that much of the research or specific ways in which we approach acting or directing can be applied to set design; the search for a metaphor, the motivation of a character, can all help inform a set. Some artists may not realize that an effective set can be simple to do, even without a lot of resources, and it can really help elevate the production values.  

    While speaking with Lauren, she described why she wanted to assist her father in creating a workshop that is available to local artists at a very affordable cost. “I found that often the productions I have been involved with have not had the budget to work with professional designers (set, lighting, costume, etc.) and often lacked the resources. As a result, we would try to fill in the gaps ourselves, often blindly. But I know from my experience with my dad, that there are ways that we, as directors and creators, can get better at creating simple yet effective and creative set designs.”

    When asked to construct a workshop for theatrical set design, Bruce (who has worked for such professional companies as the Stratford Festival, the Canadian Opera Company, and the National Ballet Company of Canada) jumped at the chance to share his passion, talent, and wealth of knowledge in the industry with other artists. And thus, the workshop was born. 

    So…what is it exactly? Lauren explains, “It's about looking at an approach. To know which questions to ask about a piece of theatre: the setting, characters, theme, etc. that will help pinpoint ideas about set. In the workshop, Bruce will go through his process, touching on what he looks for specifically within the script to inform his ideas and designs, what kind of research he does, how to make decisions about style, and ultimately, what kind of questions directors can ask themselves when considering a set design.”

    So, at the end of it all, artists start asking the really important questions that matter. They think of what to take into consideration when thinking in terms of design, and find simple ways to attach an effective set. They begin to determine what is necessary and what you can do without when it comes to a set design. 

    It's just another way for theatre creators to tell a story in the best way possible.  And really…isn’t that what we all are striving to do?

    An Approach to Theatrical Set Design
    When: August 13th, 2016 from 10am- 3pm (with a break for lunch)
    Where: The Studios at Hotel Hamilton  (195 James St. North, Suite 317)
    Cost: $45 (tax receipt included)
    Contact: lrenrepei@gmail.com
    For more information visit: http://brucerepeidesign.com

     

  • LivingArts: Why do we do it?

    July 6, 2016 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

    Suzy Lake spoke at the AGH last month.  It was an excellent talk, with a look at an amazing five decades of work by an artist who continues to push her medium, her ideas and herself to remain current throughout.  She was misunderstood at the beginning.  She had to push for her place in the gallery world: as a woman artist, as a photographer using herself as the subject of her images, and she continues to push her own ideas, the technology and the art form.  The talk ended with a simple statement, and one that we have all heard from artists at all stages of their practice, but one that really hit a note for me: “I do it because I have to.”

    In conversation later with a colleague, this came up again and as artists we can agree that this is a driver for so many creative people.  He shared something he had read once (and I paraphrase here, without knowing the original source), that being an artist can be a kind of deficit rather than a gift, because artists who are really driven by their art walk around feeling like there is a hole that can only be filled by making art.  Again, something that rings so true, especially in my own recent experience – that hole is looming in a life that is so full of family and work (and sleep?) that I have found little time to be creative and I am feeling it.

    I do it because I have to.  

    When we learn about art and artists, especially contemporary artists, we can focus too much on concept, materials, technique – these are easy access points, and a good bridge between a skeptical audience and the object in front of them – but they often miss something more significant, and that is the motivation behind it all: the passion, the drive behind the finished pieces.  I’ll admit that it is possible that not all successful artists have it.  There are those who are caught up with playing with the market, with their own fame and bravado that they may have forgotten, but think about the others…  those who scavenge their own lives and the spaces around them for ideas or materials, those whose dedication to their craft and vision leads them down unorthodox paths and those who toil away in solitude just because they love what they do.

     

  • LivingArts: Struggling North

    August 3, 2016 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

     

    My opinion of Lawren Harris has never been particularly mature. I see him as the most precious of the Group of Seven, the John Lennon of the group, the one you are never allowed to make fun of, the visionary. I also foolishly yet indelibly equate Harris with the overly protective and humourless docents I remember decades ago at the McMichael.  They didn’t want you to talk in anything other than a whisper in front of his work.  If you couldn’t stand quietly in front of Mount Lefroy and let its genius penetrate you, then you were clearly maladjusted and should move on.  I therefore nurture a strange urge to see Harris’ genius disproven; I want evidence that he merely wanted to turn mountains into triangles and nothing more. I know, immature.

    I expected my prejudices would prevent me from enjoying The Idea of North at the AGO, that I would stare blankly at Harris’ cold canvases and still feel nothing, that I would cringe within the same hushed tones of genius that would undoubtedly imbue the space.  But I had some hope.  Andrew Hunter and Steve Martin curated the exhibition. Hunter, the AGO’s Curator of Canadian Art, had done a spectacular job recently reframing Alex Colville, another artist with whom I struggle irrationally.  He showed Colville in a way that eloquently argued for the cinematic qualities of his painting and thus brought them to life in a totally new way. I have also worked with Hunter before, and have come to truly appreciate the sociable way he seems to be able to ask difficult, essential questions through the vehicle of a public exhibition.

    And Steve Martin sang a duet with Bernadette Peters in the 1979 film, The Jerk. It remains one of the most perfect things I have ever witnessed, and has allowed me to forgive Martin his many subsequent cinematic transgressions. In some ways I believe in him the same way I believe in Hunter, a man with a gift for friendly disruptions.

    Hunter’s treatment of Colville seemed perfectly synergized, using Wes Anderson, Stanley Kubrick and a number of contemporary media works that speak in a similar aesthetic language to the artist. The Idea of North in contrast, is full of abrupt and strange juxtapositions.  

    My first reaction passing through the space was one of real bewilderment. The large photo installations of Anique Jordan, the kitschy sculpture of a Chinese cat, an odd animation by Tin Can Forest that looked faintly like an episode of Adventure Time, the massive vinyl transfer of illustrator Nina Bunjevac—even though their presence was ultimately justified, aesthetically it was impossible to connect it to any of Harris tightly composed, subtly crafted paintings.  To turn a corner and see an enormous video projection of Steve Martin’s head was simply jarring. Steve Martin’s head immediately puts me into a specific frame of cultural reference, one wholly removed from Canadian art.

    The inner core of the AGO’s exhibition (displayed recently in Boston and Los Angeles), focused on the best and most serene of northern landscapes. It was framed by a more complicated narrative set within Toronto: specifically, a story is built around Harris’ relationship to a racially mixed working class neighbourhood called the Ward.  Harris painted this neighbourhood, along with other industrial settings, and there seems to be a strong case that his obsession with monoliths begins with structures like the Eaton Manufacturing building before it ever moved up to the mountains. Harris’ desire to remove or reduce humans from his vistas is evident in these earlier works as well.   

    Near the end of the exhibition, Hunter shows us one of Harris later abstractions, Poise Compostion #4 (1936), which bears an uncanny resemblance to Toronto City Hall, the monumental bit of architecture that just so happened to be placed plop in the middle of what used to be the Ward. It’s a disturbingly circular moment; City Hall is the architectural embodiment of a Harris iceberg: white, solitary, surrounded by flat barren space. It also represents another moment where people were removed from a scene in order to streamline how it appears.

    This is when Anique Jordan’s photographic works become suddenly transcendent. In Mas at 94 Chestnut and 94 Chestnut at the Crossroads for example, the artist reacts to the eviscerated history of the British Methodist Episcopal Church, a Ward church that played a key role in the nurturing of Toronto’s Afro-Caribbean community.  Jordan presents two images, both of which illustrate a yearning; she knows about the church and its importance, she desires a means to gain access and entry to it, but there are no paintings or photographs or historic record that speak of it.  Jordan’s work is a fitting rebuke to Harris’ “idea“ of North.   

    This was when I realized that I don’t mind harsh juxtapositions. I liked the fact that Harris can be presented as a great painter, but that in no way qualifies him as unassailable, and the legacy of his work raises a host of difficult questions.  

    Summer blockbusters should all be this pushy.

    The Idea of North, curated by Steve Martin and Andrew Hunter, is on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario until September 18, 2016.

  • LivingArts: Volunteer Value

    July 27, 2016 by Crystal Jonasso...

    In the wake of a fabulous volunteer driven festival like the Hamilton Fringe Festival,  I am reminded of the immense value that volunteers have to the arts in our community and also the incalculable impact that volunteerism has had on my own life. Truly the greatest adventures I've had in my life can all be traced back to work done for love, not money. There is a danger in our capitalist society to look at unpaid activities as worthless, or, at best, as resume padding. I hope that by sharing some of my adventures in volunteering I can inspire you to invest an hour or two of your time into your community and into starting your own adventures. 

    When you hear the word 'adventure' I know that you may be expecting stories about traveling to exotic places, but my adventures have all been much closer to home: here in Hamilton and surrounding communities. These adventures started in high school when my father suggested that I join him in spending one hour a week at a local museum. The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum is one of the best aviation museums in the country; history buffs travel from all over the world to visit it. The museum famously houses a one of a kind collection of flight worthy restored aircraft including the undisputed crown jewel of the museum, the Avro Lancaster.  The restoration of these aircraft is a painstaking and much beloved art.

    On my first day as a volunteer there I remember thinking that there would be nothing for me to do since I had no applicable skills. Boy was I wrong! I spent one hour each week for the next four years painting, cleaning, riveting, and getting to know the veterans whose volunteer hours are the backbone of the museum. Meeting those men and women and hearing their stories had a profound effect on me.  Two weeks after my 18th birthday my father and I were able to fly in the Lancaster in our capacity as volunteers, accompanying her to an Air Show in London, Ontario.  Forty-five minutes each way in a flying piece of history; it was quite the adventure, one that I know both my father and I cherish. 

    In my twenties I happened to visit another local gem: Westfield Heritage Village. This large pioneer village is made up of historical buildings that have been broken down, transported, and rebuilt as well as some recreated buildings arranged into a small town. There's a school house, a shoemaker, a woodworking shop, a printing press, a church, a weaver, several homes and, most excitingly, a blacksmith shop. During my visit I found myself mesmerized watching the blacksmith work. I signed up to volunteer that same day. Every other Saturday for two years I had a chance to learn the trade of blacksmithing 1890s style. The hand pumped bellows I used was more than 200 years old and still worked just fine. Every weekend, even in December, a village of volunteers arrives hours before any guests to get in costume and start the fires that warm each building. People who are passionate about local history are incredibly valuable to that local community. They advocate for the preservation of local buildings and bring history to life through reenactments. They preserve and revive skills that might otherwise be totally lost. I learned how to literally strike while the iron is hot and gained much more insight about how luxurious our modern lives really are. Stepping through the gate and into history was always magical.

    Last, but certainly not least, I was able to discover my passion for theatre through volunteer work. This great adventure which led me to be involved in more productions than I can remember, began at the thriving arts incubator, the Staircase Theatre. However, at the time that I first encountered it you might not recognize it. Would you believe that the fabulous cafe that now sports a menu of tasty gourmet treats and craft beer was originally a small fridge with some cans of soda and a tackle box cash register? Through the years that I was lucky enough to attend workshops and volunteer nights it has grown into an essential part of our arts community. Now with three performance spaces and activities as diverse as karate and karaoke it is a hub of creative energy. Not only did the opportunity to participate in such a wonderful organization ignite my passion for theatre but, many years later, it was on that stage that I would meet my husband. 

    My contributions to these organizations were tiny, especially when weighed against the rewards I reaped. And yet with the contributions of countless individuals we have these amazing community building organizations. You can visit any one of these fabulous organizations for your own adventure and perhaps even offer an hour or two of your time to start your own adventure.

  • LivingArts: Writing Your Own Script

    July 20, 2016 by Vanessa Crosbie...

    It was often suggested to me that after finishing university, the next logical step was finding a full-time job with a good salary and benefits. With this expectation in mind, and student loan repayments looming, I set out on my search, though my main qualification was years spent working part-time in a record store.

    That was 2001, and I’ve had a lot of different jobs since then. And actually, I’ve had a lot of different jobs this year. And not one of them has ever fit the Monday to Friday, 9-5 model, though our society revolves around it, and many prefer the reliability and repetition it affords. This schedule isn’t feasible for all businesses, industries, or people however, and many in our population work part-time, shifts, or like me, are self-employed independent contractors doing freelance work for various employers.

    Turns out those who gave me post-university advice had little experience with careers in the creative arts, where ‘regular jobs’ exist but are not necessarily the norm. Leaving school with a Fine Arts degree (Film & Video/English), I began working with a brilliant editor on a TV reality show about a traveling circus and its performers. I learned a ton about storytelling and technique from the wonderful Michèle Hozer during these few months, for which I owe an eternal debt of gratitude. More than editing lessons though, I gained a profound understanding of juggling – and not just from the circus’s clown act. Besides winning an Emmy and multiple Geminis, Michèle is a woman, wife, mom, and business owner actively making the life she wants for herself. This was a huge inspiration to me at the time, and remains so today.

    Fast forward a few years, a number of television series later, and I found myself working on a very silly show, editing in an office with lots of drama. The content was not inspiring, and the atmosphere so uncomfortable, that I couldn’t figure out how to get it together and was ultimately fired from my position. Looking back, I think of this as a major turning point – I’d met a lot of great people through television work, but the shows were not creatively fulfilling for me and I decided I wanted more.

    Today I’m a great juggler, keeping many balls in the air. I love the unpredictability and non-traditional schedule - each day is different, sometimes working on several things to satisfy deadlines. I still edit for smaller clients – but now mostly from home. I’m a filmmaker and artist working on my own projects, as well as teaching visual and media arts for some great organizations. I just finished three months filling in as Arts Administrator at the Factory Media Centre. And I’m regularly paid for writing work, and for print design. Perhaps it’s actually becoming more of a balancing act.

    Making a living from these small contracts is sometimes stressful, but my work has meaning, and gives me a lot of personal satisfaction. And, I can often arrange my schedule around my son’s school trips or dentist appointments, which is very refreshing. Though I found myself in the wrong story for a while, I eventually decided to write a new chapter – and I’ve never regretted it for a second.

     

     

  • LivingArts: Seeing Ourselves

    July 8, 2016 by Jessica Rose

    “We are in a blessed moment of history,” said Joseph Boyden last month while hosting Celebrating Canada’s Indigenous Writers at the Toronto Reference Library. “Our royalty is still with us,” he said, motioning toward the other two writers on the stage — Thomas King and Lee Maracle. King and Maracle were the guests of honour at this evening of celebration which was part of the 7th annual Indigenous Writers Gathering.

    Boyden, King, and Maracle shared many anecdotes about their experiences as writers, especially as Indigenous writers, but there’s one anecdote that stands out to me above the others. Thomas King, who told the crowd of 500 that he tends to be a “painfully private person,” was often quiet, shifting the focus to the other writers in the room; however, when he spoke, he spoke with great power.

    King told the audience about House Made of Dawn, a 1968 novel by Native American author N. Scott Momaday, which won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. King spoke not of the book’s content, but of the impact of seeing an Indigenous writer receive international acclaim. King spoke of the “little wee bookshelf” he filled with writing by other Indigenous authors to support their work.

    “I had to build a bigger bookcase [as most Indigenous authors published books],” he said. “Then I had a room.” Eventually, he couldn’t keep up. King is encouraged by today’s climate, and he’s excited about the voices to come. “Get ready,” he said. “I won’t be around to see it, but I can imagine it in my head.”

    As a child, I took seeing myself reflected in the books I read for granted. I still do, but I’m far more conscious of it when I choose books to read.

    The book I’m reading now — Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts by Esta Spalding — is for young adults, and, as Spalding shares in her author’s note, was written from a desire to write a book that reflects experiences not often seen in children’s books.

    “… It was strange to realize — as I became a more mature reader — that there were very few books that looked or felt like my world,” Spalding writes. “They all seemed to take place in cities or suburbs and to involve families much more traditional than my own."

    I recently interviewed Jael Richardson, author of the new picture book The Stone Thrower, for an upcoming issue of Hamilton Magazine, and she spoke to the importance of diverse picture books. Richardson recently launched the Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD), which has a mission of creating a vibrant community of readers and writers by celebrating diverse authors and literature. (The inaugural festival took place in Brampton’s downtown core in May).

    I won’t spoil my Hamilton Magazine piece, but I’ll leave you with a quote from Richardson that didn’t make the cut: “It means so much for a kid to see an author from their community, writing about how much they like themselves and how proud they are of their heritage. It’s a small way to counter all the negative things a kid will hear about themselves growing up if they don’t fit into the very narrow boxes that are used to define them when they are far too young to take that on.”

     

  • LivingArts: Cover Talk with Tyler Kyte from Dwayne Gretzky

    March 21, 2016 by Steve McKay

    In the 70s, professional musicians played clubs every night, throwing down all of the hits of the day.  Then DJs came in with their economic efficiency and wiped the musicians out.  There was still good money in the music industry for original artists, so the cover band was demoted to a second rate part-time job and artists chased the dream of writing the next big hit.  

    Original music doesn't pay much anymore, so we’re starting to see cover bands come back in a big way.  It’s fun, the audience already knows your material and there is pretty good money to be made. 

    The other day, I ended up opening for a SUPER cover band, Dwayne Gretzky, at the Horseshoe Tavern.  They played four Fridays in February as an annual residency and each night was sold out at around 9pm, with a 2-hour wait in line outside (in the cold).

    I’ve tried my hand at cover nights as a fun one-off, but these guys are making a real go of it – with over 400 songs in their rep and counting.  It’s quite a phenomenon, so for this month’s post I thought we could all benefit from a little insight into the Dwayne machine. 

    One of DG’s three front-people, Tyler Kyte, recently moved to Hamilton after years in Toronto.  I hurled some questions at Tyler about his experiences in the cover world and he hurled some answers back.  Enjoy!

    SM: Who are you and where did you come from?

    TK: My name is Tyler Kyte, I’m from Lindsay, Ontario.

    SM: What led you to become a musician?    

    TK: My father is a musician so we grew up around instruments and rehearsals.  All my friends were into music as well so we started a rock band in high school. When I saw The Hip ring in the year 2000 at the ACC I decided that I wanted to do music for a living.

    SM: When I first met you, you were Tyler from Sweet Thing.  Sweet Thing did the major label thing, toured Canada to support a record and then broke up not too long after that.  It was a great record and you had label support, so what happened?  

    TK: Good question. I ask myself that a lot. Short answer is “we broke up."

    Because Sweet Thing was a collective, it didn’t belong to any one person. It didn’t have one artist, who at the end of the day was responsible for the music and image. This made it easy for people to not feel responsible. Once the thread started to unravel there was nothing that could really stop it.

    I thought Sweet Thing was going to be my life. I had accepted that this was my role and my best chance at making a living playing music. We had a great team, lots of talent and ambition.  But it can be hard sharing dreams and careers with five people.  I tell myself that it was for the best, it was never meant to be. 

    SM: When you and Nick were talking about starting this whole cover thing with Dwayne Gretzky, what was the first conversation like?  Just daydreaming?  Were you guys actually talking about doing this as a mainstay in your artistic life, or was it just a relief from other artistic pursuits?  

    TK:  Initially it was just relief from other artistic pursuits. As the drummer for Sweet Thing, it was my opportunity to sing and play guitar. We were surrounded by a bunch of musicians who were in the same boat and all of us lived in the same apartment building, which had a jam space in the basement. It was called The Bunker. This became our hang zone and our chance to play with nothing at stake, just for fun. We didn’t even think we’d ever play shows. We were just jamming at our get togethers and during the intermission of hockey games.  

    We got lucky with our first few shows. People actually came out and had a good time. Thats when I approached the Dakota about doing a residency in the summer of 2011.

    We were probably two years into playing with DG before Nick and I realized it was something we could do full time. 

    SM: Anyone who has seen Dwayne Gretzky know that it's not just a cover band.  There is an artful performance of these tunes.  After five years of doing covers, how do you keep yourself engaged?  What kind of artistic goals do you have with Dwayne? 

    TK: A huge part of staying engaged is song choice. We’re constantly learning new songs and challenging ourselves. The first themed night we did was covering Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours front to back. That was a real eye opener for us and has encouraged us to expand our repertoire and take chances.  

    The band also has an amazing time just hanging out. We all love each other so we look forward to shows and rehearsals. Its easy to stay excited about a project when you have such a good time with the people who are involved. Everyone pulls their weight and it makes for a great work environment. 

    Also, Bobby Kimberley (Young Lions Music Club), our manager, has always helped us book interesting shows. He’s got good instincts when it comes to running events.  That takes a lot of pressure off of the band so we can just focus on the performance.

    As far as goals are concerned.. I wanna maintain the presence we have in the Toronto music scene. Continue to do the Horseshoe residency in February, 90’s night at the Phoenix in April, some kind of boat show debauchery in the fall and a big NYE show.

    We would also love to break into some other markets. If we could have three or four big shows in NYC every year that would be amazing.  I also think it would be super fun to do a tour with this band at some point. 

    SM: Orchestras are basically cover bands.  They take other people's works and reproduce them for a local audience - if the performance flops, the audience stops coming.  If the music is too obscure, the audience stops coming.  I gather it's basically the same with Dwayne Gretzky.  You guys tend to swing for homeruns on every tune in the set.  Have you had any major flops?  What does it take for a song to make it into a Dwayne set?

    TK: We have had some flops. I remember we learned Bed Of Roses for a big Valentine's Day show at the Horseshoe. It did not go over well. It didn’t connect with the audience or the band. Although I love that song.

    The songs that work best for the band are the songs that we really love.  If we have a connection with the song then it makes it fun to learn and fun to perform.  

    SM:  Dwayne just played four sold out shows at the Horseshoe in February and I saw a young woman ask Nick Rose if he would autograph her person.  I'd say that you guys are doing REALLY well.  Still - is there a part of you that wishes you were playing your own songs?   Do you still keep the original music dream alive?  

    TK: Of course I would love to be playing my own music. 

    If I could recreate the vibe at a DG show at one of my own shows, I would be in heaven. There’s a big part of me that wishes I was Bryan Adams.  I go through phases where I’m really focused on writing original music and I will always have a dream of playing the ACC. That will never go away.  

    But I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of DG. We get to do what we love for a living. 

     

  • LivingArts: Process and Product

    March 21, 2016 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

    As an artist and as an art educator, there are always questions about process and product.  Which is more important?  Where is each more appropriate – in a classroom, in an exhibition, in the studio?

    In a classroom, we often prioritize process – the creative process, the critical analysis process, even the technical process of actually making a thing.  We encourage our students to be bold and brave, to take risks and the final product is only one part of an evaluation.  We want to develop skills, to encourage confidence and creativity.

    In an exhibition it is all about the product.  People go to see and perhaps purchase the things that artists have made.  They don’t see the hours of labour, the tears, the victories, the self-doubt that go into the work.  They don’t see the years of training and experience.  What they do see is the end of the line – the results of all of that work and angst in its best form.

    Though some may challenge me on this, as a ‘maker-of-things’ I feel like the product is kind of the point.  What is the process without some goal and result?  Classroom activities are graded, parents of kids at camp want something to hang on the fridge, and exhibitions bring work to the eyes and minds of the public.

    I’ve realized is that there is a lot of overlap, and these ideas have been on my mind this month as I work with artists planning children’s programming:  we want the young artists to learn new things – to take risks, learn to use new materials and respond to things they have seen. But at the end of the day, we also have to set a goal and purpose for our lessons – the finished artwork can be the start of the lesson plan.  Setting goals means having an end in mind.

    In an exhibition, one of the easiest entry points into difficult contemporary art is to talk about how it was made.  It is the process that provides us with the context for understanding the product.  Once a reluctant viewer has found some terms in which to understand some part of the work, they become more receptive to the rest.

    In my own studio practice, seeing the ideas in my head come together in a finished artwork affirms and solidifies the illusive feelings of structure, balance and symbolism that are hard to really understand until they have all been finished.  I have found it impossible to separate the two ideas of process and end product in my work, outside of my sketchbook, and I wonder if I have put limitations on my work – growth and change are something I am trying to find, but it is hard to get past the end.

  • LivingArts: Closing

    March 18, 2016 by Crystal Jonasso...

    It happens in the life of every theatre project: eventually there is a closing night.  It is a night of mixed emotions: exhaustion,  accomplishment, and sadness, to name a few. As this is my last post for LivingArts I can't help but think about the ends of other creative projects and their significance. The conclusion that I have come to is that the reason closing nights are so emotional for those involved is tightly linked to the thing that makes theatre great. That magic that makes it my favourite art form: theatre is live. 

    At times it even feels like it's not just live but alive. Every single performance of every single production I have been involved with has been different. This difference could be enumerated in countless small changes in lines, timing, emotional emphasis, etc, but is best described as the 'energy' of a performance.  Some performances have a somber-feeling energy that wasn't there the night before and some are suddenly hilarious.  The key to this is the one ever-changing variable: the audience. Actors on stage can hear you laugh, cry, gasp, hold your breath, or shuffle uncomfortably in your seat. We are listening. Theatre cannot be without an audience and in that way every viewer participates in the creation of the work. The audience is essential and unique. In that way not only closing night but every night is the last one of its kind. 

    Closing night however is the last time that these specific magicians collaborate to make this particular magic. One last time to bring all the myriad components together to create the unique live performance that only this production in this space with these artists  at this time can create. For that reason it holds a special place in my heart.  

    In closing, there is a living art form happening in your city; it is unique and growing rapidly.  What is happening in the theatre community in Hamilton  could only happen here and now.  It's magic that can only happen if you show up to see it.  Don't miss it.

  • LivingArts: Understanding the Committee Process

    March 18, 2016 by Brandon Vickerd

    In my role as an artist and educator, I am often asked questions by students and other artists about the public art process. Non-artists and artists can both find public art to be mystifying, and so I would like to share my experience with the commissioning process.  In recent years I have been shortlisted for a number of public art projects, and I have also served as a representative on juries deciding on public art commissions. It is interesting to sit on both sides of this process, as I have had the opportunity to observe each side of the decision making process.

    One thing I have learned is that there is no dominant structure for the jury process – some juries are run by municipal employees, such as the process in the City of Hamilton. Here we have a Program Manager of Public Art and Projects who is responsible for overseeing the public art master plan and public art selection processes. The program manager is charged with ensuring community consultation and fairness in the decision making process that usually begins with an open call for qualifications or proposals from artists. The benefit of this system is that it allows for a centralized vision of public art in the city, and direct accountability for the decisions that are made.

    Another interesting model that I have experienced in other cities is the jury system that is run by public art consultants. Public art consultants are individuals or companies that work with private developers or communities to develop public art projects and select the artist to receive the commission. In many cities across Canada there are variations on the ‘percent for art’ program in which developers are required or encouraged by zoning and building codes to set aside a percentage of the overall building budget for public art projects. Sometimes these funds are managed by arm’s length municipal organizations, but more often public art consultants are contracted to facilitate the commissioning of public art that fulfills the requirement of municipal bylaws. The consultant is instrumental in developing the scope of the project and guiding the commissioning body in assembling a selection jury; the consultant also often acts as a liaison between the artist and the commissioning developer during the fabrication and installation of the public art.

    One interesting difference that I have observed between these two different models is that municipally controlled selection processes often begin with a call to artist. This is usually in the form of a Request for Proposals (RFP) or a Request for Qualifications (RFQ), where the scope of the project is outlined (budget, timeline, themes) and any qualified artist is eligible to submit a proposal for consideration. Public art consultants follow this model as well; however, I have also observed a number of cases where the art consultant, in conversation with the commissioner, develops a short list of potential artists without putting forward a public call. Being professionals in the field, the consultant is aware of artists who are capable of meeting the requirements of a public art process. Once this shortlist is assembled the process often goes to committee for further development.

    In my experience, I would not say one process is more successful than the other. However, I do believe it provides an interesting contrast, especially when considering the motivation of funders for public art. Within the model of the municipal run system, it is public funds going towards enhancing our cities through public art, whereas with public art funded by a private developer, it is a commercial entity that is contributing to the vitality of our city scape. It is interesting that the models can operate so differently yet both tend to lead to the same outcome.

  • LivingArts: A World in Our Mind

    March 15, 2016 by Jessica Rose

    “He liked the mere act of reading, the magic of turning scratches on a page into works inside his head.” — John Green

    One of the goals of the Hamilton Arts Council’s Living Arts initiative is to create “a vibrant and critical dialogue around events and issues of contemporary art practices in Hamilton.” When I began writing this blog, I expected to turn inward, better understanding my own practices and processes as a writer, editor, and arts organizer. This, of course, happened, but what I didn’t expect was how quickly I found myself interested and immersed in the practises and processes of artists in other disciplines who were also sharing their stories. Their insight was invaluable in helping me recognize the similar challenges we all face working in the arts in Hamilton.

    Participating in the Living Arts project also helped me recognize the many ways in which the arts intersect. In the past months, I’ve found myself more acutely aware of the the many ways the literary arts influence and inspire those in other disciplines. (Just take a look at the last two Living Arts posts by Tor and Steve. Both reference literary works).

    Sure, prior to participating in the Living Arts blog, I could name dozens of songs inspired by literature (One of my favourite albums is Neutral Milk Hotel’s On an Aeroplane Over the Sea, which borrows heavily from the journals of Anne Frank), and for years I’ve been a fan of spoken word, watching how artists bring together words and performance. But for example, besides an affinity for graphic novels, I’d rarely considered how literature and the visual arts work together.

    In the past few months, I’ve seen this convergence first-hand in a number of exhibits at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. In late 2015, I attended a talk with artists Hadley+Maxwell, in conversation with writers Jennifer Fisher and Jim Drobnick, who spoke about their incredible work, When That was This, which was created using cinefoil, steel, magnets, 6-channel sound, and LED light-programming. I was moved by the way they used the written word in a hugely innovative way: “The soundtrack features vocal recordings by writer Lisa Robertson, who reads a passage from Gertrude Stein's Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and actor Kai Meyer, who reads a passage from Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. The sound is composed of extended processing and editing techniques to create various acoustic atmospheres and disembodied voices that, combined with the programmed LED lighting, illuminate the curiosity and anxiety common to the shifting social, political and perceptual sense of humanity of the time.”

    So stunning! Just last week, I was back at the AGH for Fearful Symmetry: The Art of John Scott, which includes 28 works on paper as well as Trans AM Apocalypse No. 3, (1998-2000), "an actual car, which the artist painted matte, incising on the surface words from the Book of Revelation that refer to the apocalypse."

    Reading inspires us to create a world in our mind, so it’s no surprise that artists use their craft to bring the world of books to life. Linguists and philosophers have debated the limitations of language for centuries, and I’m the first to admit there are some experiences, emotions, thoughts that words just can’t capture, and it’s music, painting, and other forms of expression that can fill in these gaps.

    The whole thing reminds me of a favourite quote by French poet, novelist, and dramatist Victor Hugo:

    “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that cannot remain silent.”

     

     

  • LivingArts: Muse

    March 14, 2016 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

    My friend and visual artist Nancy Benoy recently gave me a copy of the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love). She insisted I read it.  I accepted the book from her because it was easier than trying to explain the fraught, complicated way that I choose books to read:  how I spend more time thinking about what to read than I do actually reading, how my disappointment and anger can simmer for years if I read a book I don’t like, etc.  I accepted this book, but secretly dreaded what would likely follow: I would not read the book but would say that I had; I would read only enough of the book to enable me to bullshit an opinion about it; I would read the book and hate it and then have to conceal my hatred every time I bumped into Nancy.  It seemed inevitable the book would turn me into a hideous liar.

    Some little voice in my ear kept urging me to read it though.  And surprise, surprise, when I finally cracked the spine, Big Magic turned out to be just as revelatory as Nancy Benoy had promised.  Essentially it is an essay on creativity, and I think Elizabeth Gilbert does quite a lovely job at removing the pretentions that surround artistic inspiration while simultaneously arguing the importance of it.  She asserts that creativity, the act of making or expressing things is basically a dialogue between humans and a sympathetic, responsive universe. It is as innate and restorative an action as breathing, but should also be considered just as commonplace.

    What I liked most about Big Magic is that it has a very compelling breakdown of the notion of the artistic muse. In Gilbert’s universe, ideas are these butterfly-like things that float about and sometimes land fleetingly on people’s heads.  It is up to those people to seize those ideas and make something of them, or else risk the chance that they may flit away to find a more willing vessel.   Artists are not geniuses in this world view; they are simply those in the habit of capturing and physicalizing ideas as they float through the ether.   This may all seem like a goofily mystical idea, but I have to admit, it feels far more true to my own creative experience than any other description I’ve encountered.

    Gilbert’s depiction also helps me frame a fundamental riddle within my own creative practice, one that has forever plagued me. You see, the thing that I’ve never been able to understand about myself is that the art I am most attracted to tends to be dark, risk-taking, and melancholic.  In contrast, the ideas that I am most successful at bringing into being tend to be goofy, light-hearted, and only gently subversive in nature.   So why is it that the art that I am good at making is not the kind of art that I most revere?

    Put another way, I love the guttural earthy voice of Tom Waits, but I sing best as a clean country tenor; my voice is not suited to sing the music that I love best.  Years ago, I was gripped by an urge to yodel.  I practiced obsessively in my car until I became relatively good at it. But I don’t like yodel music—to me it can be so joyous and without tension it frequently sounds like superficial nonsense. So why was I compelled to learn how to do it? And why is it, if I don’t like yodel music, that I enjoy yodelling so much?

    If I extrapolate on Gilbert’s thesis, maybe the reason is that my physiology is such that I am receptive only to certain kinds of inspiration and not others.  Just as my throat and chest and nasal cavities give me a voice that suits only particular kinds of singing, maybe my head is of such a shape or smell that only certain kinds of butterfly-like ideas like to land on it.   It’s kind of a frustrating notion, and if I think about it, I have spent a fair bit of time in my life pining for inspirations that were as dark and raw and powerful as the art I adore.   But I also think that it’s a pretty cool challenge to have to reconcile yourself to that kind of situation.   After all, if I have a little bit of detachment or even contempt for the ideas that inspire me, then I have a better chance of not being precious or coddling with them while I’m whipping them into some kind of shape.

    Conversely, if inspiration came in a familiar shape, it wouldn’t be all that inspiring. I never really listened to yodel music until I had a compulsion to learn how to do it.  I still can’t say that I like the genre, but I nonetheless have constructed a fairly nuanced way to understand, evaluate, and appreciate it.  I can listen to vintage Slim Whitman and find real beauty inside.  In other words, the inspiration forced me somewhere that I would never otherwise take myself.   

    I mean really, what more do you want from inspiration than that?

  • LivingArts: Step Aside, Raffi

    February 19, 2016 by Steve McKay

    Remember how Roald Dahl writes really creepy, dark children’s stories that are actually terrifying?  Remember how Shel Silverstein writes really creepy, dark children’s poems about being eaten by monsters that are also terrifying?  Remember how Clive Staples Lewis wrote a very heavy-handed Christian allegory about juvenile monarchs?

    Yeah, I think those stories messed me up.

    I’ve got a toddler at home, so I have been revisiting all of this stuff.  I don’t know about everyone else, but I find myself researching the publication history and the authors to see where it all came from.  Some of these characters are so omnipresent that I can’t imagine just one person making them up.  A few rabbit-chasing hours later and I know the entire history of the Thomas the Tank Engine empire.

    One repeating theme that comes across in my ‘research’ is the Parent/Grandparent making up stories on the spot as a way to entertain the Son/Daughter/Grandchild.  

    It makes sense - a lot of these stories are nonsense and little kids aren’t exactly worried about narrative.  If you hit them with a few familiar items like a train or a teddy bear, they are sitting on the edge of their seat.  

    My kids are getting the same treatment from Dad, except I make up songs - not stories.  Each of the kids figure prominently in the songs and typically their friends are included, too (and by ‘friends’ I am obviously referring to the stuffed animals that they drag around with them).

    Ever since my son was born, I’ve been churning out hit after hit, including classics like: 'Hiccups are never fun,' 'My Little Baby Wants To Go To Sleep,' 'In the Middle of the Crib' and more.  My wife makes up songs all the time, too, and all of them stand up to traditional classics like 'Baby Beluga.'

    It’s getting to the point where I could honestly see myself dropping a kids record.  I think about Rev. Awdry making up train stories for his kid and the dollar signs flash in my eyes.  Who knows?  Maybe I could be the next Wiggles or something. 

    Regardless of the outcome of this child rock-star fantasy that plays through my head, something really magical is happening as a result of our household song-smithing: my 2-year old son is making up his own songs!  

    Is there anything as beautiful as your tiny kid’s tiny voice singing their own made up songs in their crib at dawn?  

    [Next month: Steve debuts his kids album on Noisey Junior]

  • LivingArts: The Loose Angry Hand

    February 19, 2016 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

    There’s a weird thing about being a parent where everything your kids do hits you like it’s some kind of life altering parable.  The minuscule details of how they pick their noses and forget to tie their shoes can make your eyes well up with meaningfulness. It’s the kind of myopia that feels simultaneously a blessing and a mental health disorder.

    That being said, here is a parable about my kids.

    My two sons, one aged seven, the other eleven, are in the dining room drawing.   The elder one is crunched over an 11 x 14 piece of fresh Bristol drawing paper, erasing virtually every line that he draws, cussing under his breath.  He is drawing a monster, trying to improve upon an original design, and is whipping himself up into a froth because he is not ‘getting it right’.

    The younger is on the floor drawing on a torn piece of a flattened discarded box.  He has a packet of scented markers that smell like artificial fruits. He is drawing minions and stormtroopers, singing to himself in that slow whispery way that kids sometimes do in horror films.  The figures he is drawing are standing face forward, shoulder to shoulder as if standing in a police line-up.

    The eleven year old already self-identifies as an artist.  ‘Art’ is something he does, and is good at.   The eight year old rejects the term ‘artist’ wholeheartedly.  If you ask him if he is making a work of art, he very assuredly replies: “Dad, it’s not art. It’s just a picture”.

    At this point in the parable, it might be tempting to think that the younger son has a much better approach than the older.  Because he is not self-conscious of his work, he is a more perfect vessel for his muse.  Indeed, his lines are sloppy, energized, confident, and authentic. His inspiration is pop-culture, but he has juxtaposed his elements in a way that is eccentric and compelling.   The older son has more facility, but is succumbing to his own internalized pressure.  His picture screams of personal hesitation and doubt.

    Days later I’m cleaning house and there are drawings everywhere, mostly on the floor or in our recycle bin.   As is my practice, I try to pick up these drawings and sift through them, ruthlessly ignoring most of it, saving maybe one piece for a file upstairs.  I keep my youngest son’s police line-up sketch.   But I also notice a small square of paper on which is a worm-like creature with sharpened teeth drawn by my older boy.  It is an exquisite thing, innocent and threatening and vulnerable all at once.  In the end, both of my kids have a method that yields occasional success.

    Okay. Now I will stop talking about my kids.

    So for the last two months I’ve been working a new job at the Art Gallery of Hamilton.  It’s pretty great because it gives me an opportunity to build a relationship with the art that channels through its spaces, a relationship that is much deeper than I could have as a visitor.

    This season there are two major exhibitions opening on the first floor: Fearful Symmetry: The Art of John Scott, and 1920 Modernism in Montreal: The Beaver Hall Group. The John Scott exhibition, although anchored by an ominously hand etched black Trans-Am, is really an exhibition of mixed media drawings on paper.  Scott is the epitome of the loose angry hand; the works in this show are presented on large, torn, dirty scraps of paper,and  some of them appear to have been painted in minutes.  Others were never meant as artworks at all. Real Life Size (c.1984) for example is a massive paper banner that Scott produced for a nuclear arms protest decades ago; it was literally rescued from the trash.  Indeed the work is powerful precisely because it is not trying to function in the precious and commodified ways that ‘art’ often does.  It is scrappy and immediate; it is unconcerned about its longevity.  Somehow that makes it even more worth saving.

    The paintings of the Beaver Hall Group will articulate a vastly different approach.  This exhibition will feature infinitely more exquisite and laboured works produced by artists who were consciously pushing the aesthetics of urban portraiture.  The work is equally provocative, but in an infinitely quieter, more meticulous way than Scott’s.

    I savour the occasion to appreciate both methodologies side by side.

     

     

  • LivingArts: A Diversity of Voices

    February 18, 2016 by Jessica Rose

    When I left my publishing job almost a year ago, I gained the luxury of time. I also gained the fear of losing my footing in the publishing world by no longer working in it daily. Despite staying connected as a book reviewer and freelance editor, I worried about losing ties to an industry in which I spent nearly a decade, and so, I started looking for meaningful ways to stay involved and invested.

    It was through this search that I came to (very recently) start volunteering for Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA), a “national literary organization for people who share feminist values and see the importance of strong and active female perspectives and presences within the Canadian literary landscape.” One of its goals is to “address the gender gap in Canadian review culture.”

    In June 2012, CWILA launched findings from its first CWILA Count, an annual study that documents the rates in which men and women are published in Canadian literature publications. As you can see, the first count revealed that the highest number of reviews were written by men about books written by men.

    For context, it’s important to note, the first CWILA Count was launched just a year before author and University of Toronto professor David Gilmour made international headlines after uttering the stomach-churning statement, “I’m not interested in teaching books by women,” also adding that he teaches only “real guys-guys”, “serious heterosexual guys.” The whole thing made a lot of people nauseous, but reminded us all of the gender inequity that exists within in the Canadian literary arts community.

    The good news is the 2014 CWILA Count offered more optimistic results, finding that the gender gap is shrinking in Canadian review culture, though gender discrimination does continue to exist in some publications. CWILA is also “continuing to work to improve and nuance our collection of gendered data and gender categories by working to recognize and bring into conversation the work of writers who identify outside the male/female binary.”

    This year I’m volunteering for the 2015 CWILA Count, taking part in the painstaking process of combing newspapers and literary magazines. It’s an educational process, forcing me to look at my own bookshelves to see there are diversity gaps in my own reading.

    CWILA is just one example of organizations and groups who are working to keep the publishing industry accountable. This spring, the brand-new Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) will launch in Brampton, celebrating diversity in literature by promoting authors from marginalized communities. You can also look to Twitter and other social media networks to see how change is being created on a grassroots level (Just search #WeNeedDiverseBooks as an example).

    We have a long way to go before we ensure a diversity of voices in the Canadian literary arts, but I’m hopeful that we’re starting to see a shift.

     

  • LivingArts: The Creative Process

    February 18, 2016 by Crystal Jonasso...

    Artists (and not just the jugglers) often have many balls to juggle. They have their creative work, often with more than one creative project on the go, sometimes even several creative passions each with their own related projects. Many artists have other work to produce additional income which must be balanced with these creative passions. Then, of course, many artists also have families and must fit karate and hockey into this already complicated mix. 

    I embarked on this particular adventure myself less than two weeks ago and find myself completely consumed by the new little one in my life. I came to wonder, and not for the first time,  how do they do it? With that question in mind I started up a conversation with the multitalented Lisa Pijuan-Nomura, multidisciplinary artist and Mama of Max.

    Pijuan-Nomura reminisced about her early days of parenthood and her first creative endeavor after Max's arrival.  Although she recognized that any creative work within the first year is especially challanging,  she was able to present some of her work at the One of a Kind Show just six months after Max's birth. She credits this achievement to having a very clear plan as to how she and her husband Dave would care for Max - a plan that included time each day to do her creative work. Planning is key. 

    However, if there is one thing that I have learned during my short time as a parent it is that plans are all well and good but very often must be changed, and sometimes dramatically. Pijuan-Nomura too recognized that flexibility is extremely important in both art and parenting.  That and being kind to yourself, which Lisa highlighted as the most important advice for both parents and artists.  She summarized her top three pieces of advice thusly: 

    #1 Be kind to yourself. This is different from "don't be too hard on yourself." Think about a four year old. Would you tell him that he was stupid or wrong or dumb? No, you would be gentle and kind with him.  So it's like that with babies and yourself when you are making art. Just be kind and gentle with yourself.

    #2 Have a plan of some sort.  This could be as simple as deciding that you want to have a shower today. Or it could be that I want to draw a picture. Or that you want to write a monologue. Or go for a walk with my baby.  Just one plan that makes you happy.

    #3 Be Flexible. Because you know that plan? Yes, well, for the first few months or year or two, or ever, things won't go as planned. So, be flexible about it, go back to #1 and, eventually, you will find some sort of way to do things.

    New parents get a lot of advice but this is some of the best that I have heard. There are many ways that I imagine the challenges of parenting can inspire the creative process and I look forward to exploring them.

  • LivingArts: Building Networks

    February 17, 2016 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

    I once participated in a workshop for aspiring artist-educators designed to help them plan lessons for working in schools.  Considering my own position, it seemed to be an odd workshop to participate in but my reasons for doing so were quite specific, and quite different from the other participants.  I was about to embark on a new training program for artists who wanted to be educators, and I was interested in seeing how other organizations presented similar training and also how the artist-participants engaged with the program.  I was very upfront during my registration process and with my fellow participants, and this led to some interesting exchanges.  For me it was a way of pre-evaluating my own programming, and in fact I gained some really valuable insights.  Fortunately the presenter was also really comfortable with my participation as well.  All in all, a great learning experience!

    I have been fortunate to have had a number of professional development opportunities during my time in art education, and this has led me into many new areas of interest and inspiration.  At the same time, I have spent a lot of time thinking about formal education and its role in my own development and that of my peers.  Having a theoretical framework to draw upon in our practices is very important, but lately I find that the practical side – the ‘how to do a thing’ and opportunities to see what someone else has done – is where I am most interested.

    It is an interesting conversation; when you speak to people about their backgrounds and training you learn that each arts-educator has arrived at their current practice through a different path. It is that diversity of experience that moves the field forward.  I learn new things and get new ideas from everyone I have the chance to spend time with.  And, I love it when I meet people who are fully engaged in what they do.  This is true of arts-educators, but also all of those professionals in other fields whose work occasionally intersects with ours.

    I’ve learned more about research methodology from colleagues in hospitals; I’ve become a better communicator through my work with people in rehabilitation therapies; I have learned about program design from people in the school system.  The list continues and my practice grows.

    My advice to you: make professional friends, find mentors, join peer learning groups.  Visit places that offer the kind of programming you do, or the kind you’d like to do.  Visit museums, take tours, take classes.  Look for opportunities to learn about non-art things that will add to your portfolio of skills.  You’ll be glad you did!

     

     

  • LivingArts: Reporting on Public Art

    February 12, 2016 by Brandon Vickerd

    Last summer I installed a public art project in the City of Edmonton that was commissioned by the Edmonton Arts Council as part of their Percent for Art Program. Wildlife consists of two bronze figures that appear to be citizens leisurely going about their day. Upon inspection the figures reveal themselves to be composed of squirrels, raccoons, foxes, owls, and other animals working together to appear human. The purpose of Wildlife is to challenge the perceptions of viewers by making a seemingly mundane scene extraordinary: an average-looking person morphs into a conglomeration of animals that is both shocking and intriguing, and alludes to the extraordinary possibilities beneath the mundane surface we take for granted.

    WildLife, Brandon Vickerd, 2015

    The sculpture is part of a major redevelopment in downtown Edmonton that is seeing four blocks of derelict city scape transformed into a walkable community of stores, hotels and high density housing. Due to the ongoing construction the sculptures only just recently became open to the public and they have been garnering some attention. Contacts in Edmonton have been sending me social media post about the sculptures as well as this recent CTV news spot.

    The funny thing about the news article is how CTV hints at a controversy without actually delivering any solid proof of the controversy. For instance, the CTV article is titled “Mixed reviews for new public art installations in the Quarters,” and yet everyone that is quoted in the article and interview in the video clip only says positive things about the sculpture. This leads me to conclude that either a) in typical Canadian fashion, CTV was too polite to air the comments that criticized the sculptures, or b) they mistitled the article/clip in an attempt to make it seem more ‘racy’ than the story actually is.

    Twice in the video the presenter makes a point of stating that the sculptures are paid for with taxpayer money, which may be code for “everyone should start getting angry now” - an argument that is completely without merit if one spends anytime actually considering it. If we are evaluating the sculpture simply from a financial basis I can guarantee that the cost of the commission is not even 1/10 of 1% of the overall budget for rebuilding this four block street. Furthermore, the sculptures now belong to the City of Edmonton and their value will increase each year, whereas the value of the sidewalks, light posts and other infrastructure on the street is only going to decrease in value.

    It seems like generating controversy around public art is standard practice, as it is can be seen as an easy target to generate public outrage over taxpayer money being misspent. I have no interest in recapping recent public art controversies in Canada and abroad.  I would, however, like to point out that when media outlets try to generate controversy they are actually doing the public a disservice. As demonstrated by the comments in the video, by in large the general public is actually very open minded and receptive to new ideas being expressed through public art. By trying to create controversy where there is none, there is a disservice done to the citizens of Edmonton.

     

  • LivingArts: Making a big puzzle with THE DILL

    January 25, 2016 by Steve McKay

    This month, I tapped my friend and collaborator, Dylan Hudecki, to explain a new project that he launched a few weeks ago: THE DILL – 52.

    Every Monday in 2016, The Dill releases a brand new song, with a corresponding playing card featuring original artwork.  This week marks the fourth release of the year; you can look back and check out the previous songs here.

    This week has a cool inter-Hamiltonian angle, since the song is about Dylan’s friend and local architect Dave Premi & his wife Gail O'Gorman’s house burning to the ground, and their successful rebuild.

    It’s a great song and cool story, so check that out HERE

    Thanks to Dylan for taking the time to explain this amazing project – something that isn’t different for the sake of being different.  I think Dylan may be onto something here, so please read through the interview.

    SM:  Please state your name, occupation and a chronological list of bands that you have played with.

    DH: I'm Dylan Hudecki. I'm a Montessori teacher, dad, husband and a songwriter....and I sometimes make videos, play softball, basketball, hockey, drink beers at the Brain with my friends in wonderful tropical #HamOnt. I've played music with a lot of professional and hobby bands in my day. In chronological order I've played in; Basement Boys '90, Mr. Cleavage, Moonkarma, By Divine Right, Junior Blue, Awesollator, Remains of Brian Borcherdt, Holy Fuck, Violet Archers, Cowlick, High Kites, The Dill. I think that's it, unless I've forgotten someone along the way? If I did I'm sorry if you're reading this. I played with you too. 

    SM:  As listed above, you have clearly been in a number of bands that have released many records in the standard format.  At what point did you start to think outside of the box, with regards to releasing music?  

    DH:  The current music landscape is a StRaNgE place. As much as it's up in the air, commercially, it's also a clean slate. It's the wild west again. Anything goes. Any band can make great content and push it any which way they want. Does it reach the masses? Will it ever? Is there an incredible saturation of amazing bands that are all vying for their target market population’s eyes and ears and wallets to get into their particular thing? It's very complex, and there's no sure-fire formula anything can or will work.

    I was just talking to Wayne Petti about this last night. No one's buying music anymore, and getting people to come out to shows is harder than ever. The record companies are only signing and promoting "empty net" "turn key" bands that have already established themselves, have the "machine" running and are starting to make money and has great potential to continue to in the foreseeable future, because they only want low risk bands so there's no revenue loss. So, you could look at it two ways: it's a great time to make music and be in the biz; or a terrible, exhausting, unsupportive, hard working, long driving slog, where the artist is expected to do absolutely everything, not getting too much respect in a competitive playing ground that kills careers as fast as they are born. Therefore you have to think outside the box, if you want your little 3-4 minute creations to fly off and make an impact.      

    SM:  What's the deal with the 52-song series?  That's like 5 albums worth of music, all coming out at the same time.  What was the genesis of this approach?  How did the idea evolve over time?  

    DH:  I knew I had to release my solo record one day, as I had so many songs dying to come out, most of which never really fit any of the bands I was playing in for some reason or another, but I didn't know how I was going to release it. Then a friend of mine (Cam Malcolm) bugged me about my absence and radio silence from the scene and wanted to hear stuff, and when I told him I had over 160 demos from as early as 1996, he laughed and then seriously suggested I release a Top 50. I laughed too, and then immediately said, "Well if I'm gonna release 50, what about 52 songs, one a week for a year.” And just like that it was decided, with an, "Oh great, now I have to follow through on this ambitious puzzle!" I've enjoyed following my gut instincts my whole life, with a shocking amount of times making the right decision. This here was another instance of that. So there, that was the genesis of it. 

    I love writing songs and recording music. Those are my strengths - making videos too, to a certain extent. I'm also really friendly and I LOVE collaborating. So with a 52 song and playing card project and being a dad I came to the conclusion really quick that I should probably start texting and calling and writing to my musician and artist friends to see if anyone wants to help me make a really big puzzle. 

    Turns out, more than 100 people wanted to! ONE HUNDRED musicians, artists, and mix engineers! I think this will go down in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "most contributors on a solo record ever.” A fair amount of musicians helped via their home studios, and a bunch of others dropped over to my pad for dinner or a drink and added a few colours to a couple songs in my basement studio, "Maluka Laki.” I started by narrowing down my demos to about 60 tunes that had some sort of charm to them. Then I re-recorded a bunch of them, and booked studio time and a different drummer (every session). I'd send them 5 or 6 songs (or sometimes 11! ;) and then we'd go in and lay them down. Most of the time I had already recorded the guit and vox and had the whole song flushed out at home to a drum beat.  Then, when we got to the studio, the drummer would just have to add their thang and the song would immediately sound legit. None of this canned drum sounds stuff. I'd sit in the control room with a mic and headphones and literally live conduct the drummer. It was SOOO much fun. I hired them to add THEIR thing to each song, and we would collaborate on vibes during the songs. As they were playing I'd say things like, "Nice... nice... I like that beat... stay on it for a while… ok chorus coming up.... switch to the toms," and so forth, and I'll never forget that particular intimate feeling of collaborating. It was very powerful and special. Not many people will ever get to do that... not only that, ANY of this. I'm quite humbled, happy and astonished by the whole thing. 

    SM:  The cards are super cool.  How does that work?  Who are these people?  Can I get this pack of cards now?  Are you going to have a cribbage tournament when this is done as an album release show? (YOU SHOULD). 

    DH:  When I realized that I HAD to release 52 songs, like a ton of bricks dropping on me AFTER I've just been hit by lightning, I knew I had to combine the release of the music with a deck of cards.

    52 Songs - 52 Cards - 52 Weeks.  Made too much sense. I wrote a message to a ton of artists I know and love, and drew an invite on paper and took a picture of it at a cottage I was (lucky to be) at, and emailed it to them all. Again yet another organic moment that materialized out of thin air with this project.

    I think when my friends and acquaintances saw this and they heard about the teamwork aspect of the project, they were immediately down with it. A lot of them gave me a brand new piece, others who didn't have the time, were generous enough to let me use an older image they've already made that could act as a connection to a song theme, or lyric, or abstractly to a vibe. That was a win/win for me. Most of the artists are Hamilton based, but I did reach out to a bunch in Guelph and Toronto too. Playing cards will be fun. I haven't manufactured the deck yet, but it's gonna happen in the Spring. I was originally going to make 100 decks, but then I realized that I wanted to give each artist one deck each (45 artists), and every musician one too (50+ artists), so I guess I'll make 200. Ha! John Smith (Young Rival) has helped me arrange them all, and put them online and in video form. Putting the finish on all the hard work. I'm indebted to that guy for sure!

    SM: How do you feel about the reception so far?  

    DH:  Very sweet. Very supportive, and it's just begun! I'm only 4 weeks (4 songs) in, but everyone I've talked to, or read comments from has been really positive about it. The scope of the project has blown a few minds, and I'm sure on the negative side, it's size has turned people off as it's a LOT to take in at first. But what I'm trying to convey now, is that it's not supposed to be overwhelming, it's a very slow roll out with only one song released, without hoopla, regularly, every Monday morning.

    The project is also coming out with NO CALCULATED END GOAL or schemed hypothetical outcomes, nor does it have a big commercial business plan attached. At the end of the day, it's a collaborative recording and art project with me and a bunch of my talented friends. My bud Liam (O'Neil- Eight & Half, The Stills, Kings of Leon, etc.), mentioned when I told him about this, that he liked that the project seemed simple, even though it was grand, and that he could see that one of the redeeming qualities of it was that it was pure and true and organic and grassroots and that it wasn't about making money. He anticipated the response would be favourable because of that human element, which I agree with. I think it'll continue to be a fun "happening" for the whole year, especially with the unveiling aspect of it. People are telling me they are "looking forward to Mondays for once." It’s really nice to hear it's having that effect! 

    I also think that it’s cool that I get to promote all these artists with these images every week.  People are talking about that as much as the songs sometimes.  Their style gets shared, their websites and contact.  Who knows what will come of that for them!

     

     

  • LivingArts: Creative Blocks

    January 26, 2016 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

    I used to be an artist.

    When I worked in a job that was, let’s say less than fulfilling or creative, I was an artist.  I made lots of work, I had lots of ideas, I had some shows.  It was great, and it seemed that the ideas and the drive to work were very present.  Working led to more ideas, which led to more work…

    Lately, I am stuck in a very different cycle.  No time to think means no ideas to start from, which means no drive to create.  I have a studio set up very nicely in my new house, mostly ready to go, but not quite the intuitive and comfortable space I am used to.  It is actually bigger and better organized than before, but still unfamiliar.  There is also a work space with all the tools out back – this time not so organized, but a nice little home for saws and drills and things.  Waiting...

    Creativity is an imprecise concept, and it is something I have begun to think about in new ways.  Rather than being the territory of so-called ‘creative people’ – the artists, writers, designers – I am interested in creativity as it is present everywhere else.  It is true, people at the top of their field have succeeded through creativity, innovation and tenacity, but what about the rest who haven’t had the opportunity to really develop or appreciate their nascent creative potential? 

    And more personally, how can I find a way to tap back into the artist that I used to be? 

    My first step is always to look at art.  A great museum visit or pictures in a magazine – either will work, though the challenge of the museum visit now is that it just triggers the museum educator side of me, and that takes over the artist side and I spend all my energy thinking and experiencing art through that lens.  This is one of my blocks.  Another of course is the time – commuting, living with a perfect little person (who is two), trying to have a tidy house and three meals a day.  We all have those blocks, but art still gets made.

    My biggest stumbling block is how to get started – how to jump into the cycle.  This is true of many people that I work with too – fear of making a mistake, fear of not succeeding, fear of doing it wrong.  Just start playing with some materials I tell people.  Just start with a tiny idea and see where it goes. 

    Just start.

    Lately I’ve been feeling the itch to make something.  It is getting stronger, and my museum brain is making a bit of room for my artist brain.  It is coming. 

    Just start.

  • LivingArts: Creative Control

    January 22, 2016 by Crystal Jonasso...

    As we enter a new year many people look for new beginnings and make resolutions to that end.  This year, as in many years past, I have reflected and come to the conclusion that I would most like to improve my organizational skills, especially as they relate to my artistic passions. With many areas of interest and other immediately important tasks, like remembering to buy orange juice, it can be easy to lose track of deadlines and goals.  

    I have had discussions with artists in many fields about organization, mostly over coffee and often with frustration, and have come to the conclusion that balancing the creative, passionate, sometimes impulsive urges to make art with the planning, record keeping and troubleshooting necessary for a successful and sustainable artistic process is a common challenge. When inspiration strikes, waiting a few weeks to turn it into action can seem stifling. However, for a project like a theatrical production often more than a year is required to properly bring a production to fruition. How do we as artists reconcile our passion and our patience? How does one schedule inspiration? Is control over the creative process even possible?

    Step one: find a tool. I was once given the incredibly important advice: “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”  If you are facing a problem such as formulating a recipe for stage blood that is both safely edible and will not stain costumes, while also staying within the props budget (this is a real scenario that I have faced), no matter how unique it feels there is a chance that someone else has also attempted to solve this same conundrum and so why not borrow from their experience? What I found is The Passion Planner, a tool developed by Angelia Trinidad, an artist herself, to help people with various interests to accomplish daily tasks while still moving forward with their passions a little each day. Best of all it is available to download and print for free. If a free organizational tool that helps you to remember to buy orange juice and to go to your writing circle doesn’t make you feel good already then the fact that this young entrepreneur has made a pay what you can option, 100% of which goes to a different charity each month, may.  

    So now we have a tool that can help set aside creative time; however I still find myself apprehensive about creating on demand, even if that demand is coming from me.

    Step Two: organized inspiration.  Even if specific time has been set aside to work on a creative project it isn’t always easy to switch your creativity on and off like a light switch. I have often set aside time for writing only to find myself staring at a blank document or aimlessly wandering the internet. In one of my many wanderings I came across a powerful TED talk by internationally bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert about the creative process, the pressure it can place on artists, and how we might look at it differently both as artists ourselves and as a culture in general (if you haven’t already discovered TED Talks, prepare to be addicted). Gilbert discusses the idea of giving ourselves a certain distance from the creative process, allowing for the possibility that we may set aside time to do our creative work and that if it doesn’t happen to be a particularly productive day, not internalizing that as a personal failure.  She is articulate, funny and totally worth 20 minutes of your time.  

    So here’s to a new year of creative and organizational possibilities! Perhaps the two are not all that dissimilar after all. It is clear that much creativity went into the creation of The Passion Planner and sometimes, despite our best efforts, our organizational muse may not pull their weight some days and we may find ourselves eating breakfast without our orange juice. Not to worry, we can always start a new page of our planner or of our next script tomorrow.

     

  • LivingArts: When we talk about writing as a hobby, we devalue it

    January 21, 2016 by Jessica Rose

    There’s a sentiment that irks me more than all others. It comes in a variety of forms, but each version is delivered in a condescending tone:

    “You’re so lucky that you have time to read.”

    “I don’t remember the last time I had time to read a book.”

    “I wish I had time to read like you do.”

    They’re innocuous sounding conversation starters, the kind one should easily brush off. But they appear constantly, and always evoke a sigh. Each makes assumptions about my free time, and imply that in the absence of things of substance, I read.

    I can’t get too upset. I know I’m a minority; a voracious reader who has turned an appetite for books into work, in the form of reviewing. I can’t expect everyone to know the important role literary criticism can play in the arts. I’m forgiving.

    I am, however, less forgiving when the word “read” is replaced with “write.”

    “You’re so lucky that you have time to write.”

    “I don’t remember the last time I had time to write.” *

    “I wish I had time to write like you do.”

    *This one usually begins with a line akin to: “I used to write, you know, in high school, before I had a job.”

    Writing is so often treated in the same way we treat knitting, axe throwing, building extravagant houses out of cards. We categorize it as a hobby, by definition “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.” A hobby is a pursuit done after the things we do of substance.

    When we talk about writing as a hobby, we devalue it. We also ignore the countless hours that writers spend not creating -- researching, writing grant proposals, scrapping ideas that once seemed promising but have vanished into thin air.

    Few writers have the privilege of writing full time; instead most have no choice but to write in the wee spaces before and after work and/or after caregiving ends. But this doesn’t mean their creative pursuits are simple ways to fill time. Pursuing creative passions is worthy, but so often, they’re dismissed as frivolity.

    At the same time I was starting to formulate these annoyances into a blog post, I started a new book (you know, in all my free time) called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, written by Elizabeth Gilbert, who famously unleashed endless conversations about writing and privilege when she published Eat, Pray, Love. Also a memoir, Big Magic explores creativity, “offering potent insight into the mysterious nature of inspiration.”

    I’ll resist the urge to write a review of Big Magic here, but I can say it precisely articulates my sentiments, using examples such as Toni Morrison getting up at five o’clock a.m. to tend to her work before heading to a grueling job and J.K. Rowling struggling to get by financially, yet still writing on the side. Neither of these scenarios are remotely glamorous. They’re created out of an undeniable urge to create.

    “People don’t do this kind of thing because they have all kinds of extra time and energy for it,” writes Gilbert. “They do this kind of thing because their creativity matters to them enough that they are willing to make all kinds of sacrifices for it.”

    The role of the storyteller is one celebrated throughout history, and in many cultures, it still is. When we undervalue storytelling in the form of writing, we dismiss it as unworthy, and we contribute to a culture in which artists are underpaid, or not paid at all, and where aspiring artists hide their aspirations in fear that they’ll be dismissed as frivolous.

     

  • LivingArts: Freedom

    January 20, 2016 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

    Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

    When the American minimalist painter Ellsworth Kelly passed away late last year, my Facebook stream burbled up a nice bit of video of the artist not just explaining his life-long commitment to abstraction, but also illuminating the difficult position of being 90+ years old and knowing he has at least 15 more years of paintings stuck in his head.  He spoke with an urgency, a need to fulfil as much of his artistic mission as he possibly could.

    It’s weird to be jealous of a man with oxygen tubes in his nose, who wakes up certain he has only days left to his life.  But that was the feeling that struck me.  It was the same jealousy that kicked in watching David Bowie’s latest videos last week.  To have such an entrenched sense of purpose that even imminent death only serves to amplify or galvanize it, well, it’s hard not to covet it for oneself.

    These events have contributed to my recent obsession with the word ‘freedom’.  Not freedom in the gun-happy American vision of the word, but creative freedom, artistic freedom. That feeling or condition when you feel fully immersed in your own practice.

    This is how I would frame my own psychology when it comes to being creative.  I have sporadic, beautiful moments of being free. Then there are the moments of being ‘not-free’, which I divided into two categories.   There is the ‘not-free’ when I have lots of time and space to work but am gripped with the panic of having no worthy ideas to pursue.  There is the ‘not-free’ when my time is tied up, I scramble around from obligation to obligation like a squirrel, and feel like I have a million ideas that will never get out.  

    My mother, aged 82, talks to me often about her own trajectory as a painter.  For the bulk of her artistic life she has successfully sculpted and painted Rubenesque satires of historical, social and Biblical narratives, but recently has felt a need to change directions.   She talks about this change often, but hasn’t as yet plunged into it. I am so curious as to what this new body of work might look like, I keep imagining I can say something that will catalyze her urge to jump in. 

    And then there is my recent connection with the Hundred Dollar Gallery. My collective TH&B agreed to hang a show there this February, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more ‘free’ in my efforts to prepare for an exhibition in my life.  I don’t even know if they know it yet, but Gallery creators Andrew McPhail and Stephen Altena have come up with an exceptionally liberating premise.   A gallery that only allows $100 works is liberating because you have to abandon or self-satirize aspects of the way you work.  The mandate seems to guarantee that you will produce something you otherwise would never have thought to produce.  And a gallery that only allows for $100 works means you can’t worry about success— the scale of show is designed to be unsuccessful in conventional ways—as a result you can literally make art knowing you have nothing to lose.

    Working within a collective is similarly liberating because you can artistically contribute in a way that isn’t affected by the momentum of your own practice.  And if your art offerings bomb, there are still a few people to drink with at the end of the night.

    There’s something about doing a Hundred Dollar Gallery show that reminds me of how art went down in the city before Art Crawl too.  There was a smaller audience for art back then, and certainly less of an income to draw off it.  But that didn’t make the art scene bad.   A lot of art back then was free in a way that we don’t see as much these days; the kind of freedom that happens when no one is looking.

    I can’t tell you the comfort it is for me to know that there are other means, significantly less ominous than looming death, to loosen artists up, to make them create with freedom and purpose.

     

  • LivingArts: Public Art vs. The Internet Round 2

    January 19, 2016 by Brandon Vickerd

    In my last blog post I discussed the impact of the internet on artists working in the public sphere. I was mainly concerned with the unauthorized use of artists’ work and how this phenomenon can extend the life of the artwork in some cases. Artists post their work online because it makes it accessible to everyone with internet access; the drawback is that it makes their work accessible to everyone with internet access and artists can fall victim to deliberate acts of plagiarism.

    All an artist has is the body of work they have created. This is what an artist’s career is built on and how they secure their ability to support themselves. So what happens when an artist suspects someone is copying their work and infringing on their intellectual copyright?

    Last fall I had an experience when a colleague tipped me off to an artist in Europe who was creating a performance that appeared uncannily like one of my projects. Now I believe in the zeitgeist of our times and that there is the potential for similar works to be created by more than one artist. In this case, the language the artist used to describe and promote their work online was nearly indistinguishable to the language I used in my promotional material. The piece in question is a large scale performance titled Dance of the Cranes, which has been performed a number of times (see video here), starting with Nuit Blanche Toronto in 2009.

    I am a reasonable man, and I do not claim to own the idea of using heavy machinery to perform a complex dance. I recognize that there are numerous artists that have come before me that have worked in this genre, and some non-artists who have also worked in this vein. After I investigated this other artist who had titled their performance very similarly to mine and whose language and artistic approach was too close for comfort, I decided to take action.

    I am not going to give a blow by blow account of what transpired in my exchanges with the artist’s agents or my conversations with various lawyers. Two things did become apparent: the other artist was aware of my original performance and they had seen it on the internet; and because they are in another country, any legal action would be a futile.

    Several lawyers I consulted agreed that I had a case based on current international conventions governing copyright. The same lawyers also agreed that legal action would be ridiculously expensive. The first step in any copyright or intellectual property case is a cease and desist letter, but even this relatively simple action was complicated by borders and even when it reached the other artist and their agents it would be unenforceable. The next step would be a more serious legal action requiring hiring lawyers in Europe to pursue the case. I quickly realized that if I chose to pursue the issue, I would be jumping into the abyss of international law and the intricacies of copyright law.

    In the end, it came down to a question of resources and whether it made sense to devote my finances and mental energy to pursuing legal recourse - or was it a better idea to shrug off the issue and focus on the real work of making art. It took considerable emotional effort to let the issue go, but I believe the negativity that legal action would have brought into my life was not worth the hassle or the financial drain.

    I will note that now whenever a work I have made begins to gain attention online, I take the basic steps of securing any website address, Facebook page, Twitter handle etc. that could be a variation on the title of the work; although I may never post on any of these sites, I am secure knowing that no one else can either.

  • LivingArts: A Literary Arts Wishlist

    January 5, 2016 by Jessica Rose

    The new year is here and, forgive the cliche, with it comes possibilities. On a personal level, a new year breeds resolutions, and the belief that the year ahead can be different than the one that just passed. This year, I’m low on personal resolutions. That’s not to say I’m low on ambition, but 2015 was a successful year for me. I’m looking forward to building on the goals I set for myself last year without throwing too many new ones into the mix.

    However, what I lack in personal resolutions, I make up for in hopes for Hamilton’s literary arts community. In fact, I have so many hopes for the year ahead that I’ve compiled a wishlist -- one that I hope is achievable.

    In 2016, I hope local media invests in literary arts coverage.

    Earlier this year, I wrote about why arts coverage matters on a local level. My sentiments were echoed when all three panelists who took part in “Navigating the Literary Landscape in a Time of Change,” the panel discussion I hosted as part of the Living Arts Symposium, shared their own frustrations about the lack of literary arts coverage in Hamilton. We need media organizations to commit to cultural coverage, not only because it shines the light on deserving local artists, but also because by supporting local authors, we also support local independent bookstores that are committed to selling local works and local arts journalists in need of a platform.

    In 2016, I hope we recognize deserving local writers.

    In 2014, there were zero nominations in the category of Writing at the City of Hamilton Arts Awards. Zero! Nominations just closed for another awards ceremony I am involved in (it’s too soon to release any details), and nominations in the category of arts and culture were considerably lower than expected. In a city that has been hailed for its art scene in recent years, it’s easy to think we’re recognizing our artists, but it’s up to us (especially those within the arts community) to make sure it’s happening. Recognizing artists on a local level can be a source of encouragement for both emerging and established artists, showing them their work matters. (Let’s face it, sometimes being an artist can feel like a thankless job).

    In 2016, I hope we support local authors and local literary events.

    I’ve been to my share of literary events where you can count the number of spectators on two hands. In fact, I’ve organized quite a few of them, and nothing can be more discouraging. I can only imagine how authors who have spent years publishing a novel or collection of poetry must feel. This year, I hope Hamilton is as enthusiastic about supporting local authors as we are about supporting local musicians, mom-and-pop shops, and trendy new restaurants, but we can’t expect this to just happen. It’s up to us already within the literary arts community to make a difference by committing to attend not only the literary events we (as organizers, authors, etc.) are stakeholders in, but the many others that take place in the community. We can’t expect community members to unite to support local authors, events, and bookstores if we’re not supporting them on a significant level ourselves.

    I have to admit I’m a sucker for a new, fresh year ahead. I can’t wait to see what 2016 holds. 

  • LivingArts: Art Through Different Eyes

    December 18, 2015 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

    In my work I have found that my perspective about things is constantly in flux, often despite my efforts to maintain a sense of stability. This is true professionally, personally and artistically.

    When talking about art, the lens through which I interpret a work can be tentative at best.  It takes the smallest turn of a conversation to shift the way I relate to a specific work. An example: I've recently been working with a group of new volunteers at the Gallery and my task for them at the end of our training session is to choose two very different artworks and to create a mini tour that connects them in some way – their challenge is to find that connection.  What I love about this activity is that even though the works they choose are usually very familiar to me, other people’s interpretations give me an entirely new insight into the work. I am far happier talking about two works together than one in isolation and this has proven to be true and effective again and again.

    It's all about considering how an individual sees an artwork.

    This particular example compares Kim Adams’ Bruegel Bosch Bus and Eric Cameron’s Another Brushstroke. At first glance these two couldn't be more different. But comparing aspects of the process, concept and the psychological impressions that a viewer can imagine led to a fantastic new way of thinking about two works that I already really like.  I leave the details of this connection out, in the hopes that some of you may try to create your own.

    As another example, I am interested in connecting an artist’s own words with the interpretations of the viewer.  It is a balance between the artist statement and the visual cues present in the work (it also demonstrates many of the challenges of creating an effective artist statement).  Ultimately, as an educator I feel that if the viewer is unable to find the connection between the artists’ interpretation and their own, the artist has not been completely successful – more often in their own expression of their work in their statement. The true interpretation falls somewhere between the artist and the viewer: works are meant to communicate with their viewer in some manner, and their interpretation is the result.

    In my artistic practice I see this as well. I usually learn something new about my work or its contents when I talk to others – this may sound odd, since I should be the authority on my own work, but as an artist working with found objects I see a myriad of interpretations of individual objects or of the grouping of them.  Where I see something as representative of one idea somebody with different experiences will interpret that same object in very different ways. Others’ ideas usually have an interesting impact on my own ideas.

    Professionally, the idea of shifting perspectives is an essential part of our reflective practice and development.  It is very easy to get comfortable in proven success, but the introduction of a new person or idea to the mix, while unsettling, can often lead to exciting new ideas, innovation and growth.  Perspective is a sliding scale at best, and it is the shifts that occur than make for the most interesting and transformative experiences.

     

    Images (from left):

    Kim Adams  (Canadian b. 1951)
    Bruegel-Bosch Bus    1997-ongoing 
    sculpture-installation
    1960s Volkswagen bus, figurines, mixed media
    Art Gallery of Hamilton

    Acquired with the assistance of the York Wilson Endowment Award at The Canada Council for the Arts, and with funds from The E. Muriel Baker Estate, The Russell Nelson Eden Estate, and the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, 2001

     

    Eric Cameron  (Canadian b. Leicester 1935)  

    Another Brushstroke   1990-1999

    acrylic gesso and acrylic on a single brushstroke of black acrylic paint (3704 half coats) from the artist’s Thick Painting series

    Art Gallery of Hamilton

    Gift of the artist, 1999

     

  • LivingArts: Exposed

    December 17, 2015 by Crystal Jonasso...

    Recently I came across a fascinating viral video created by Toronto based advertising agency Zulu Alpha Kilo (if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend giving it a watch) in which we follow one man as he attempts to persuade professionals who do not work in the creative sector to work for free.  Their responses range from confusion to shock and even anger. Watching this video and seeing it bounce around my social media feed caused me to reflect, not for the first time, on creative work and what it’s worth.

    “Exposure is something you die from,” my friend quips. I haven’t heard it phrased quite like that before and I can’t help but laugh. A photographer based out of Toronto, she often goes to the Toronto Zoo between jobs and takes fabulous photos of the animals there. One such photo attracted the attention of a resort in an exotic location who contacted her asking to use the image on their website. When she replied with a cost their response was not to negotiate the price but to offer her credit for the image in some fine print and “exposure.” They even had the nerve to seem surprised that she had expected financial compensation. It’s not the first time she has been asked to offer her work for free nor is it likely to be the last time. Most artists are no stranger to being asked to work for free and having it presented as a privilege. I commiserate with her and we reassure each other that our creative work has value. We state the obvious: if they were able to find her work she has done her job to get her name and images out there, and if they want her image then obviously the work she does is useful, desirable and therefore valuable. She refuses to let the resort use the image for free. 

    It’s not the first or last time I have had conversations with artists from various fields about working for free. It’s a difficult subject because there are many fabulous projects that have little or no budget that would never get made if all artists refused to work without financial compensation. However, there is also a persuasive argument to be made that feeding into the expectation that artists ought to work for free devalues creative work in general.  I think part of this expectation comes from a deeper underlying perception about artists as workers.

    “I admire your talent,” I say to one of my musician friends. I smile, having intended it as a compliment but he frowns and sighs. He can sing, play the piano, the guitar and other instruments and writes beautiful music with moving lyrics; he is undeniably talented. However, he explains to me that “talented” isn’t a label that he finds flattering. “Talent” is something you are born with, a predisposition towards a certain skill, but a predisposition will only get you so far. Becoming a good musician takes years of dedication, commitment and training. “Talent” is not earned, it is merely a matter of luck. “Skill” on the other hand carries an assumption of effort and learning. No one would tell a chemist that they are “lucky to be so talented,” he asserts and I have to agree. Language is powerful and I take his explanation to heart. “I admire your skill,” I rephrase and this time he smiles back.

    Imagine if artists were viewed as skilled labourers by employers and society in general on par with workers that have a technical or scientific passion. How would that change the way we view the value of art in our communities, our education system and our lives?  We can certainly start with our language. We can talk about “arts workers”, “skilled artists;” we can start the discussion about art as valuable work.  

    Recently I came across a fascinating viral video created by Toronto based advertising agency Zulu Alpha Kilo (if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend giving it a watch) in which we follow one man as he attempts to persuade professionals who do not work in the creative sector to work for free.  Their responses range from confusion to shock and even anger. Watching this video and seeing it bounce around my social media feed caused me to reflect, not for the first time, on creative work and what it’s worth.

    “Exposure is something you die from,” my friend quips. I haven’t heard it phrased quite like that before and I can’t help but laugh. A photographer based out of Toronto, she often goes to the Toronto Zoo between jobs and takes fabulous photos of the animals there. One such photo attracted the attention of a resort in an exotic location who contacted her asking to use the image on their website. When she replied with a cost their response was not to negotiate the price but to offer her credit for the image in some fine print and “exposure.” They even had the nerve to seem surprised that she had expected financial compensation. It’s not the first time she has been asked to offer her work for free nor is it likely to be the last time. Most artists are no stranger to being asked to work for free and having it presented as a privilege. I commiserate with her and we reassure each other that our creative work has value. We state the obvious: if they were able to find her work she has done her job to get her name and images out there, and if they want her image then obviously the work she does is useful, desirable and therefore valuable. She refuses to let the resort use the image for free. 

    It’s not the first or last time I have had conversations with artists from various fields about working for free. It’s a difficult subject because there are many fabulous projects that have little or no budget that would never get made if all artists refused to work without financial compensation. However, there is also a persuasive argument to be made that feeding into the expectation that artists ought to work for free devalues creative work in general.  I think part of this expectation comes from a deeper underlying perception about artists as workers.

    “I admire your talent,” I say to one of my musician friends. I smile, having intended it as a compliment but he frowns and sighs. He can sing, play the piano, the guitar and other instruments and writes beautiful music with moving lyrics; he is undeniably talented. However, he explains to me that “talented” isn’t a label that he finds flattering. “Talent” is something you are born with, a predisposition towards a certain skill, but a predisposition will only get you so far. Becoming a good musician takes years of dedication, commitment and training. “Talent” is not earned, it is merely a matter of luck. “Skill” on the other hand carries an assumption of effort and learning. No one would tell a chemist that they are “lucky to be so talented,” he asserts and I have to agree. Language is powerful and I take his explanation to heart. “I admire your skill,” I rephrase and this time he smiles back.

    Imagine if artists were viewed as skilled labourers by employers and society in general on par with workers that have a technical or scientific passion. How would that change the way we view the value of art in our communities, our education system and our lives?  We can certainly start with our language. We can talk about “arts workers”, “skilled artists;” we can start the discussion about art as valuable work.  

  • LivingArts: Public Art vs. The Internet

    December 16, 2015 by Brandon Vickerd

    In our post-internet age (the latest phrase to catch on with artists), any artist who wants to have a serious career has a web presence that may include a webpage, an Instagram account, a YouTube channel, a Facebook page, and whatever new social media is the flavour of the month. There is no question that the internet is a tool for disseminating your work and provides quick access to your portfolio for art lovers and art professionals.

    As an artist I have benefited from having a current webpage and an Instagram account – it has led to exhibitions and sales of artwork. Perhaps most importantly, my web presence is an opportunity to share my research and engage in a discourse with artists who I might not have otherwise met. However, the internet is not all sunshine and lollipops for artists; it can also have a negative impact when it comes to copyright and intellectual property. There can be cases of plagiarism of an artist’s work (as recently happened to me, but more on that in a future post), but more likely is the unauthorized use of an artist’s images.

    In recent months I have had people send me links to images and posts featuring my work without crediting me as the artist. The public art I create does not immediately reveal itself as sculpture, but instead I seek to insert an anomaly into the viewer’s experience of the everyday. The context of the public setting and the lack of institutional signifiers such as pedestals or signage allows the viewer to experience the work in the same way they approach common objects. This is central to my approach as an artist, and I have always found it interesting that when a viewer first interacts with my work they often reach for their cellphone and snap a picture. Disregarding for the moment what this says about our culture of mediated experiences and not living in the present, this process of documentation launches the work into the virtual realm where I have no control over how the image is used, presented, manipulated.

    Recently a colleague forwarded me the following image that she had sent to her via Facebook – the image is of a piece of my sculpture from 2011 titled Passenger, edited in someone’s attempt to create an internet ‘meme.’

    Some fellow artists were concerned that someone had manipulated and approriated my artwork. To be honest, I am a little unclear as to what a ‘meme’ actually is (I hear it has something to do with grumpy cats) and I do not think it is worth my time to engage with this issue. As an artist who makes work for public consumption, I accept that when I present my work in a public setting I relinquish a degree of control over how that work is preceived and re-produced. In the case of this (failed) meme, I see it as the work taking on a life of its own, beyond me, and it would be futile to assume that, as the author, I can control how the image will be used. I have also seen my work pop up unattributed on Reddit under the discussion thread ‘that won’t buff out’ (see image below).

    Of course the uses I am referring to here are non-commercial, and I draw the line when someone atempts to use reproductions of my works for commercial gain. I have had to issue legal threats to bands that use images of my work on their album covers without permission. Last summer I found out that an Australian documentry company used the following image in a TV show about space junk falling to earth. The image is in fact a sculpture titled Northern Satellite that I created in 2009. The TV producers found an  image of the sculpture online (presumeably through a Google image search) and assuming the crash was legitimate used the image. Needless to say when I contacted them and illuminated their error they were sufficently embarrassed. 

    Perhaps the weirdiest example is a completely banal YouTube video of gamers talking about gaming that uses an image of my work Dead Astronaut ( https://youtu.be/sNNQYlp2Dkc?t=7m11s, see the 7minute 11 second mark). The truly weird aspect of this example is that unbeknownst to the video’s creators, the sculpture is reportedly now owned by one of the inventors of YouTube, who saw an image of the work online and bought it over the internet – in some ways like a lopsided circle completing itself. 

     

     

     

  • LivingArts: Grants

    December 14, 2015 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

    There was great profile of ‘Breaking Bad’ star Bryan Cranston published in the New Yorker a couple of years ago, just as the series was reaching its culmination. In one section of the piece, there is a story of how Cranston transitioned from being an actor stuck in commercials to a film and television star whose roles get increasingly juicier. 

    According to the article, the switch happened after a motivational coach told him to change how he auditioned, to shift his focus onto the process not the outcome.  When he auditioned therefore, he wasn’t to worry about getting the job, but to use the audition as means to work his chops, hone his skills and hopefully learn something.  According to Cranston, every subsequent break he got as an actor was born from the kind of luck one only attains from this kind of focus.

    I remember this story every time I have to write a grant.  An Ontario Arts Council or Canada Council Grant is very much the visual art equivalent of an audition, and I truly believe that you have to have your head screwed on in a similar kind of position to survive the experience, let alone be successful at it.

    In the ‘90’s, back when I was primarily a painter, I avoided grants. I did this mostly because I think I was in the grip of a mania. I painted in such a way that allowed me to believe in only two possibilities for myself: either I was genius incarnate or I was a scuttling and worthless crab.  A grant could only therefore guarantee two outcomes: not enough validation or confirmation of my worst fears.  It was far too volatile an undertaking to be worth doing.

    As I aged, my mania softened and I started to think that my practice might actually be sturdy enough to warrant government support. But it was amazing how wrenching those first grant writing experiences were.  Artist and/or project statements are around five to seven hundred words (shorter than my average blog entry), yet when those words have to be about one’s own work, they don’t come easy. Write a sentence, write another sentence, delete the first sentence, rewrite the first sentence, delete the second sentence, etc., until it’s 3am the night before the due date and there is still nothing on the page.

    Worse, the harder the process of writing, the more vulnerable you become to voices whispering in your ear, voices of bullshit.   One voice might lead you to make statements that only make sense when your stoned, like ‘my art allows viewers to challenge everything they know about colour and immerse themselves in vast new worlds of creativity’.   The other, more common voice of bullshit will have you frame your work in dense academic buzzwords: ‘my work is interested in social dystopias, geopolitical synergies, and the body’, and so on.

    A curator once told me that my paintings had a heraldic quality.  I used the phrase ‘my work explores heraldic possibilities’ in three separate grants before bothering to investigate what heraldry actually was (it’s about flags, right?).

    Needless to say that my early grant attempts were painful and unsuccessful.   But they did have a good outcome in that they created a habit for writing grants.  Soon I started writing grants as an end of year ritual.  A taking stock.  And slowly I started to enjoy finding language for my practice; one that allowed me to scrutinize and advance my work in small, essential ways.  Eventually my writing shook off most of the bullshit and started sounding pragmatic, even minimal to some degree.

    ‘I am a Hamilton artist interested performance anxiety and stage fright.  I am looking for funds to build a big box into which I will put nervous performers. ‘

    In other words, I took on an attitude that was similar I think to the one that worked for Bryan Cranston.   I stopped caring about the results, and started getting interested in the process of the grant. If the experience of writing the grant was valuable, then there was some likelihood that I might be writing a valuable grant.  I know this because eventually I started having success.

    Somewhere during this journey I was fortunate enough to serve on an OAC jury, and had a chance to read hundreds of grants from all over the province.  I learned three things:

    1. Good artists and bad ones are all just as prone to the forces of bullshit as I am.

    2. Good images are worth so much more than good writing.  Writing only has to be good enough not to interfere with the images (which is still harder than it sounds)

    3. Juries are just as fickle, weird, irrational, and capricious as individual artists, regardless how rigorous and accountable the process is.  Successful grants always rely on a little luck.

     

  • LivingArts: Venue Spiritus Sancti

    November 20, 2015 by Steve McKay

    Hamilton has a glut of sleeve-roller-uppers, bull-horn-grabbers and charge-takers.  

    At a time when Hamilton was in the depths of decentralization and its effects (downtown parking lot abundance, tourism dropping, Mike Harris doing Mike Harris things), the type of people who were good at taking the bull by the horns had moved elsewhere.  In the late 90s, the general consensus was that Hamilton was a nice place to grow up, but an even better place to leave.  The type of restless personality that relishes taking the bull by the horns didn’t want to hang around in a city with a sleepy, bedroom community feel, so they left.  A lot of my friends went to Toronto or Montreal, because they actually felt like proper cities.  Opportunity abounded in Toronto in the late 90s and early 2000s, especially in the arts.

    Well, everybody knows what has happened since then.  The few of those people who stuck it out in Hamilton have done their darnedest to make a difference and all of a sudden we have a wealth of talent coming home after decades abroad.  I am one of those people, and after spending ten years seeking bull-horn opportunities in Kingston and Toronto, my wife and I decided to come back to Hamilton to settle down.  

    If you have what it takes to make it in the arts, you are likely the type of take-charge, entrepreneurial person that seeks out opportunities and so it makes sense that we saw such a large migration in the past few years.  Never mind the cheap rent - Hamilton is the land of opportunity right now and that is appealing to a certain personality.

    In the independent music community, the last decade has seen Hamilton go from being a three-venue town to a fifteen-venue town.  All of these take-charge people need a place to wet their whistle and so it stands to reason that a number of new clubs would pop up as a result of the grand influx.  Where it was once only the Casbah + Pepperjacks + Absinthe, it is now:

    There are probably more that I’m missing, but you get the point.  We’ve got a LOT of venues in this city and they are all competing for the same business.  If you are unlucky enough to book a show the same evening as even just TWO other similar shows, you are white-knuckle driving to that gig.  Imagine what happens when you book a show on the same evening with TEN similar indie-rock EDM shows all over town. 

    The people who operate these venues need to fill out their roster for at least four nights a week in order to stay in business, which is great because it means there is a LOT happening in downtown Hamilton right now.   It also translates into pretty stiff competition between artists, which means everyone has to bring their A game as performers and self-promoters.  Although there will be a tendency for long-tenured Hamilton musicians to grieve the loss of the three-venue ecosystem that we had for so long, it’s ultimately a sign of growth.  That should mean that Hamilton’s marketing plan to brand as a "music city" might actually work.

    That said, one characteristic of the sleeve-roller-upper crowd that works against them is that they tend to be self-centred.  I know this, again, because I am one of these people.  It’s not a judgement, just an observation of entrepreneurial people in general.  These people aren’t afraid to take risks and make change, but they are counting on your support to accomplish their goals, whether that’s building a new venue or trying to be a rock star.  

    What that means is that we have a LOT of people moving to town who are vying for patronage in one form or another.  What that means in the music scene is a glut of creators and venues and not enough consumers.   The equilibrium of supply and demand will undoubtedly get thrown off if we don’t see a migration into Hamilton of people who like to consume culture.  It will be interesting to watch how people navigate that imbalance and whether or not we’ll see an adjustment at some point, either in the form of venue-closures or a growth in audience support.  

    [Next month: Steve analyzes the outlier phenomenon that is DOORS PUB.  How do they do it?!?]

  • LivingArts: Peers and Colleagues

    November 19, 2015 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

    Several interesting events have converged for me lately, allowing me to think about some of the amazing people working in the arts in Hamilton.  So today, rather than talking about arts education in terms of our role in teaching/ facilitating / inspiring our various audiences I want to talk about our impact on each other.

    Think of any type of arts education program or any particular group of audience members, and do a quick look around the community or do an internet search and you will find as many different approaches and ideas as you do educators.  Whether you are looking for classroom-based learning, art-making with persons with disabilities, public performance or educator-training programs, you will find examples of artists and educators whose vision has created a powerful and unique experience for their programs.

    I have been fortunate to have many opportunities to attend and participate in conferences and events that bring peers and colleagues together to talk about things that they have done.  Most recently, I chaired the Art Education panel for the Living Arts Symposium, and was privileged to have three colleagues join me to discuss their favourite projects, two of whom I hadn’t previously met.  It was wonderful to hear about their approaches and successes in bringing art alive in some pretty great projects.  In another recent meeting I learned about the success that other colleagues have had in engaging new audiences in their community.

    Each time I meet new art educators, I love to hear about their work – What is new in their work? What are their challenges?  Who are they trying to engage?  This kind of sharing is by far the most beneficial part of my own professional development – to hear what others are thinking about and to share ideas.  I am more than a few years out of school, and I often think about going back for classes in this or that, but I always come back to the same conclusion: the professional networks that we develop through our work are by far the best opportunity for development and growth.  Never underestimate the value of your peers, and of sharing what you do.  This is where the growth happens, and ultimately where innovation can begin.

  • LivingArts: Going to the Dogs

    November 17, 2015 by Jessica Rose

    On Tuesday, November 10, the Scotiabank Giller Prize was awarded to Fifteen Dogs, a novel by Andre Alexis in which a group of dogs at a Toronto veterinary clinic find themselves suddenly capable of complex thought and human language. Coach House Books, who published Fifteen Dogs, has already extended the book’s print run, expecting to face what’s become known as the “Giller Effect,” a term describing the “dramatic spike in sales for a book after it wins the Scotiabank Giller Prize.”

    People have a lot of opinions about literary awards. Australian author Richard Flanagan said, “National prizes are often a barometer of bourgeois bad taste.” Canadian publisher Jack McClelland said, “Better put a fox in a henhouse than to ask an author to judge his peers.” Much of the criticism about literary awards is that the same authors win prizes for the same sort of books; however, Alexis’s win gives me hope. This year’s Giller Prize shortlist had myriad diversity, including a translation from Quebec, a collection of short stories, and multiple books from independent presses. Alexis, born in Trinidad and Tobago, is also a departure from the white men we often see celebrated in literary circles.

    Despite their criticism, one thing we can’t deny is that literary prizes are a big deal. Just five years ago, Gaspereau Press found itself in a crisis position when The Sentimentalists won the Giller Prize and the small independent press couldn’t keep up with the print demands associated to a Giller win.

    Last month, during the Hamilton Arts Council’s Living Arts Symposium, I hosted a panel discussion about the literary arts, and two of the topics that dominated the panelists’ discussion were how to recognize the literary arts and how to promote the value of the literary arts. In my opinion, literary awards do both.

    One of the many findings of the summary report from the National Forum on the Literary Arts, which was held last year in Montreal, is that “valuing creators is a key priority” and participants “lamented the lack of recognition for creative work.”

    The report said, “Literary awards were seen to be a very influential element of book dissemination as they affect what works are being read. The downside to this influence was described as a “winner-takes all” approach to marketing and media coverage. This trend of celebrating a small number of recognized books creates a limited perspective of the diversity of the supply of literary works.”

    The problem with literary awards is that we often celebrate the same people. Who we honour is important. When we diversify our award winners, we diversify what people are reading. For the first time this year, my own parents watched the Gillers broadcast, and because CBC valued the literary awards enough to broadcast them, my mom now has Fifteen Dogs on her reading list. Bringing a book written by a person of colour, published by an independent press, told from the perspective of dogs to a mainstream audience is no small feat.

    When we honour artists, we tell them that they matter. We tell them that their work is valuable. In the case of international prizes, we also tell the world that Canadian literature matters. (Shout out to Alice Munro and her Nobel Prize!)

    Just like books themselves, literary prizes come in all shapes and sizes. The Lammy’s, or Lambda Literary Awards, “identify and celebrate the best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books of the year and affirm that LGBTQ stories are part of the literature of the world.” Here in Hamilton, the Hamilton Literary Awards shortlist was just announced, with the goal of recognizing and celebrating the best of our city’s published authors. In a city where books coverage is extremely lacking, the Hamilton Literary Awards are a crucial part of recognizing our writers.

    Literary Awards create excitement, not only about the books that are nominated, but about Canadian literature. I can’t help but think that matters. 

  • LivingArts: Hamilton's Public Art Master Plan Review

    November 13, 2015 by Brandon Vickerd

    Cities across Canada have an official policy that governs the process for commissioning public art. Hamilton’s policy has always been an anomaly because it attempts to achieve a level of transparency and community involvement that most public art programs lack. When municipalities strike committees to adjudicate submissions for public art projects, they almost always include a ‘community representative’ – usually defined as a non-art professional who is somehow attached to the community/location that will live with the art being commissioned. This person could be from the local BIA, a community activist, or a business owner. Interestingly, Hamilton takes this community outreach one step further than involving a community representative on the committee.  Hamilton begins the entire commissioning process with a community consultation where stakeholders come together and discuss the themes that are relevant to the public art commission before the call to artists even goes out. Once the call is open and the committee creates a shortlist of 4-5 artists, Hamilton then holds a public consultation where the shortlisted submissions are made public and written comments from the public are sought. Often referred to as “Hamilton Idol” by artists in the community, this consultation is not actually a vote, but a method of gaining feedback to help the jury make the final decision. I have never experienced a public art process that took such a transparent approach to commissioning work before I was short listed for a project in Hamilton. 

    The City of Hamilton is currently in the process of reviewing its Public Art Master Plan, the document that governs how the city commissions and acquires public art, and through this review the city is upping the ante on community involvement. The obvious thing to do in the internet age is to post a survey online to acquire feedback on what has been done and what is planned for the future, and Hamilton has done this; however, what interests me the most is that they have also created an interactive map that shows existing works of public art and where projects are being planned. Best of all, the map allows anyone to suggest locations in Hamilton for future public art projects. I decided to take a quick look at the suggested projects the other day, and I easily spent an hour scrolling through some truly inspired suggestions, ranging from turning the Bitmar oil storage tanks off the Skyway into giant canvases for murals (suggestion 93), a massive work at Kay Drage Park that would capture the attention of commuters on the 403 (suggestion 120), an outdoor stage for theatre in Tweedsmuir Park (suggestion 156) and so on.

    Since they are unattributed, I have no idea if these suggestions are coming from artists or non-artists, but most of them are insightful and give a glimpse into the fabric of our city. More importantly it is allowing the community to drive the public art process and take ownership of how we want to see our city build communities through works of art. As Hamilton continues to evolve into a major force in urban renewal and growth in Canada, this process is an example of trying to maintain a grassroots approach to city building. Hopefully the city will listen to the suggestions and feedback from its citizens. If you haven’t had a chance to visit the survey or the interactive map I encourage you to do so – here are the links: 

    Taking the online Public Art Survey

    Participating in the online Hamilton Public Art Map

  • LivingArts: Haunted

    November 16, 2015 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

    I can’t remember who said it, but somewhere out there is a quote about creativity having nothing to do with possessing a gift or talent but being the result of a deficit, a hole in your being that you desperately need to fill.   I love this quote, and derive a lot of comfort from it.  That being said, I would make a slight adjustment and say that creativity often arises from a deficit, so much as from a state of being haunted.  Haunted by an image, an idea, a need, an objective. 

    I don’t know why but I have been thinking much about the state of being haunted, and trying to see just how big a factor it has been in my formation as an artist.

    I can fairly easily construe a list of the things that have weirded me out in my life.  It begins with the black and white Betty Boop and Disney cartoons that routinely terrified me when I was tiny.  From there it goes to a specific edition of Time Life Nature books in our family home entitled ‘Evolution’, inside of which was an array of irreconcilable pictures -- albino raccoons, humourless scientists measuring oversized vegetables, a lot of very angry monkeys, etc.  I can still close my eyes and precisely recall one page in particular featuring four Chilean aboriginals, their bodies painted, and faces obscured with triangular hoods.  I never bothered to read a single word in that book, and it was years later before I understood what the word ‘evolution’ meant; nevertheless I repeatedly went back to the pictures, as if they were things cut from my own dreams.

    Years later when I began nursing a teenage interest in cinema, I encountered David Lynch’s Eraserhead, the black and white bit of oddness that the Broadway, our city’s once legendary rep cinema, screened virtually every month.   I hated Eraserhead; it was boring, pretentious, and deliberately obscure.  It filled me with such frustration, such a need to know what exactly was going on, that it prompted me to re-watch it over and over again. A film like Star Wars I could watch multiple times and know that it would never have as much impact as the first.  Eraserhead however just got more complicated and powerful with each successive viewing. I never liked it, I still don’t, but boy did it ever activate a part of me.

    As I matured I started getting more comfortable with the fact that being unnerved is a necessary kind of inspiration; it’s a kind of intellectual engagement energized by one’s irrational fears and desires.  Soon I began to curate and savour those moments as much as possible.  I started to distinguish and look past images that shocked or scared me in favour of the ones that smoldered.  I started to avoid haunting things that were iconic or ubiquitous – the paintings of Edvard Munch or Francis Bacon for example—to search for moments that were rarer, more specifically tailored to my psychology.

    There is a small portrait entitled Madame Eugène Carrière or Head of a Woman, by French painter Eugène Carrière that came into the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s collection in 2002. It’s dark, virtually without colour, hard to focus on, strangely photographic and somehow unrooted from the time in which it was made (it was painted in 1895). I discovered it when the gallery hosted an exhibition on Carrière in 2011; there were multiple times where I would slip in on a weekday and spend a quiet moment with it. Every few months or so I go online to the AGH’s virtual vaults to keep it in my head.  It’s important to me, but I can’t tell you why.

    Last week, my son and I went to the University of Waterloo Art Gallery for the opening of Jillian McDonald’s Valley of the Deer, a three screen video installation which combines the staggering settings of rural Scotland with actors, all wearing animal masks of some kind, all standing still or moving in inscrutably repetitive gestures. There is no real plot or narrative movement in the works; instead the whole point of the piece seemed to be an exercise in being able to stare into the face of the wild unknown, only to have that presence stare right back at you.  My son was quite unsettled by the exhibition, but boy did he ever want to talk to me about it.

    If I break down my artistic practice into components - irrational animals, shadows, concealed figures, hoods - I very quickly come to the conclusion that my work borrows very little from artwork I revere, and owes significantly more to the images and experiences that have pestered and bedeviled me.

    Funny how that works.

  • LivingArts: LIGHTNING CRASHES vs. CRAZY TRAIN

    October 21, 2015 by Steve McKay

    I teach a weekly guitar class to a group of boys.  They range in age from eight all the way up to sixteen, with a wide range of abilities on the instrument.  

    For two hours every week, I try to work my magic, shifting back and forth between motivational speaker and disciplinarian.  It’s an exhausting two hours, but also a rare chance to revisit my own boyhood.  These boys love the guitar and really do want to be able to play like the masters.  When we talk about the songs that they like, they always light up with a mischievous grin.  When we talk about the musical bits I want to teach them, they stare back at me blankly.  

    Last week, we were talking about songs that they wanted to learn.  One kid asked if I knew the song “Lightning Crashes."  Anyone born in the 80s and brought up in the 90s will remember Live’s hit record, Throwing Copper, myself grabbing it for $4.00 one snowy Boxing Day morning at the old Sam the Record Man on James St N.   

    Lighting Crashes, eh?  He went on to tell me that his Dad is a big Live fan (of course) and then continued to challenge me to a Crazy Train riff race.  Obviously I won the riff race (take THAT, kid) and held back the tears as I showed him the changes for the pre-post-rock hit of the 90s.

    As I listened to each kid in that guitar class talking about their favourite songs, it became clear that most of the music that these kids wanted to learn is from their parents’ generation.  It makes sense - as a kid, you listen to your folks' music at home typically until you hit puberty, at which point the awkward newness of adolescence is matched only by the awkward experimentation in musical identity.  

    When I think back to my own musical upbringing, I remember my Dad’s tapes.  Oh how we would cruise in our ’87 Plymouth Voyager, head-nodding to the uptown beats of Billy Joel  or the New-Wave meets R&B vibes of the Beverly Hills Cop Soundtrack.  In my middle school years, I did my best to replace my parents' music with the sweet soothing sounds of Tool, Rage Against the Machine and Primus.  

    I’d like to think that the music that I discovered on my own played the largest role in shaping the artist that I have become today, but you know what?  My favourite go-to in the car is Billy Joel and Beverly Hills Cop.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that my formative years (aka 0 through 10 years old) are the foundation on which I have built my tower of musical taste, given that those years affect our make-up in every other part of our lives.  It stands to reason that we would take extra care to expose our kids to as much nutrient-rich culture as we can, as parents and as educators.  

    AND YET - we don’t.  Not really, anyway.  There are organizations that tirelessly shout statistics from the rooftops about the long-term positive effects of musical training, exposure and performance.  I watched as my Mum (an elementary music teacher),was cut back from full-time in one school in the late 90s to half-time in two schools.  After she retired, the schools likely introduced a 30-minute allotment of music each week, taught by a teacher with no proper music training. 

    From a purely selfish stance, I am really worried about future audiences for the arts.  It takes time and exposure to acquire the musical pallet required to appreciate and love art music (like Classical, experimental electro-acoustic…prog rock).  How can they possibly learn what they need to learn in 30 minutes a week?  Should it be solely the responsibility of the parents to look after their kid’s musical education?  

    It’s a complicated issue, for sure, and certainly not something to figure out in a blog post.  I can’t help but feel like we aren’t talking about it enough and my guitar kids are living proof that kids are sponges for music and will soak up everything that surrounds them.  Surround them with glorious, beautiful art music at a young age and they will grow up to love it, even if it takes 20 years to surface.  

    [Next month: Steve tackles the Federal budget, world hunger and climate change]


  • LivingArts: Nuit Blanche Edmonton

    October 9, 2015 by Brandon Vickerd

    On September 26, 2015, I participated in the inaugural Nuit Blanche Edmonton, staging a performance titled Dance of the Cranes. The project consisted of a choreographed dance performed by four tower construction cranes hundreds of feet above the city’s downtown core. I have participated in my fair share of one night arts festivals over the years in various cities across Canada. Besides the positive audience reaction to Edmonton’s inaugural event, my experience stood out for another reason: the organizers ensured that they treated the artists well, giving them the support required for their installations to be successful.

    From the moment the first conversations about my participation began, the Nuit Blanche Edmonton team were on the ball – answering emails quickly, gathering information, staying organized and generally being responsive to the artists. They took care of hotel bookings, arranged multiple flights, and picked up artists at the airport. They dealt with staging logistics, press events and even made sure the cheques were ready on time. It may seem like these details are the standard business that an arts organization must successfully accomplish; however, Nuit Blanche Edmonton handled these details extremely well. I have been very lucky in regard to having mainly positive experiences, but I have heard horror stories about artist fees not being paid on time, emails going unanswered as deadlines approach, contracts broken and other stress inducing oversights.

    Organizing large art events is consuming and complex, and like all professionals, some artists can probably be difficult to deal with. In my experience these events work best when there is a collaborative approach between organization and artist, with a fluid exchange of ideas and clear defining or responsibilities and expectations of all parties. I appreciate working with an art organization that treats artists as professionals, partners in a professional endeavor. As an artist, when I am not worried about which hotel I should book, how long it will take to get reimbursed for expenses, or who is booking the sound system for the event, it means I can focus on the creative act of orchestrating the best possible experience for the audience. 

    Nuit Blanche is a high stress, one shot event. Artists participating often have to rely on multiple people within the organization for their project to come together. When those people have a track record of returning your calls, meeting deadlines, and generally being reliable it permits the artist to have confidence that on the night of the event they will have the full support of the organization. Edmonton’s Nuit Blanche team is top notch, and I would not hesitate to encourage artists to work with them.

     

  • Living Arts: Artist Talk

    October 13, 2015 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

    How’s this for a timely comparison: I feel the same way about artist talks as I do about baseball games.  I have to be very careful about how I attend either.  To be sure, when they work, the good ones fuse energy with an intellectual narrative that exhilarates me long after they’re finished. However, the bad ones have no through line, and feel bloated with details that are either extraneous or light years beyond my grasp.  Bad ones make me swear a blood oath to never put myself at such risk ever again.

    I have been to two artists talks in the last two weeks.  They were both worthwhile, thank the Lord. 

    A few weeks ago, I went to “The Builders” at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. It featured three of the institution’s past curators—Glen Cumming, Ihor Holubizky, Shirley Madill, as well as Katharine MacDonald, the daughter the Gallery’s first curator T. R. MacDonald.   The talk was arranged as four parts of a chronology, the story of the evolution of the gallery’s permanent collection. I had always thought of curators as somewhat standalone entities, but this talk positioned them more like generations of some exalted and eccentric family, each trying to use guile, luck, and connections to expand the ancestral holdings.

    Last week, I attended and participated in a five-person artist talk as part of an ongoing series called Inc. Spots at the Hamilton Artists Inc.  This event borrowed its form from a recent phenomenon called Pecha Kucha, devised in Tokyo more than a decade ago by an architecture firm who wanted to intensify and truncate the experience of an artist talk to make it more accessible.  Pecha Kucha demands that an artist use only twenty slides, and that each slide is only viewable for 20 seconds.    Each artist talk therefore has to be contained to six minutes and forty seconds in length.  

    It sounds like a gimmick, but it has a lot to recommend it.  At the Inc., five artists were able to present the story of their practice and answer questions in little over an hour’s worth of time.  Artist Daniel Hutchinson was able to successfully communicate the overlying conceptual premise behind his body of work.  Svava Juliusson was able to build a narrative using only slides from international residencies. Cornelia Peckart told about her work from a more personal perspective, intermingling slides of finished work with studio and installation shots, as well as slides of art which were key inspirations to her.  Ric Rojnic was personal but much more interior, giving a painting by painting account of the kinds of formal and intellectual issues he tries to resolve with his brush.

    The format in other words supported a wide range of tones, but the time constraint cut out the fat, destroyed any possible self-indulgence and made the whole thing zip along like a theme park ride.  Obviously, some potential for depth went missing, but as a form of introduction to artists’ work, it was beautiful.

    There’s not much really in common between the curators’ talk at the AGH, and the artists’ talk at the Inc.  One was fast and informal, the other was stately by comparison.  The AGH had what looked like a hundred people in attendance, the Inc. had this small, yet deeply engaged group.  

    Nevertheless, they both got me thinking about why artist talks are important. 

    When I think about it, art is a very dissociative experience.  Artists create these things, mostly objects, in what is usually a very private circumstance.  And they create these objects so that they can travel and communicate of their own accord.  Patrons subsequently encounter these objects, and are themselves encouraged to have personal intimate moments of engagement with them, particularly when they encounter them in the quiet of a gallery.  In other words it’s easy to focus on the art object, and turn the people who contributed to them into an abstraction.

    The public talk is not just a service put on by a gallery to educate.  I think it is also a kind of public declaration, a rare moment to remind people that all these objects of significance have human lives attached to their fabrication, evaluation, and upkeep.  The artist talk is the moment where those human lives can come out of the shadows to be publically appreciated as well.

     

  • LivingArts: Learning to Look

    October 16, 2015 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

    In arts education, learning to look and interpret images is as important as learning to make them.  Yet the idea of visual literacy is so often overlooked or accepted as an automatic result of having sight.  Understanding the visual cues and the language that an artist uses in their work is very much a literacy, and like other literacies it must be taught or explored over time to become truly proficient in its use.  The colour red means something – it has an immediate and powerful impact;  a gestural, rough brushstroke dragged across a canvas conveys emotion and power;  an image of an important person astride a powerful white horse reveals character and meaning.  The ability to make meaning from visual stimuli is essential to communication and images make an immediate and powerful impact.

    Unfortunately visual literacy has been taken for granted and in an increasingly image-driven culture this is a problem.  This is where art-based education has an important role to play.

    One of my goals as an art educator is to consider the relevance and application of art outside of traditional art history and art-making modes: to look at ways of reaching a broader audience in myriad ways that reflect the goals and values of artists and museums, but also those of the varied audiences that are currently engaging with the arts along with those who are not.  It is a balancing act: on one side are the formal and conceptual aspects of the arts and the mandate to keep art from becoming simply a prop or décor, and on the other hand communicating and engaging audiences that may see art as just that.  Mixed in with all of this is the question of whether considering art as entertainment is problematic or useful.

    There are a lot of successful interdisciplinary activities that have succeeded in this.  Doctors and researchers are being trained to look carefully at art to improve their diagnostic skills and bedside manner; police departments use art to gain powerful observational skills. Scavenger hunt companies have turned a museum visit into the next great adventure.  Corporate trainers use art to explore body language, interpersonal dynamics and personality types.  All of these ideas are exciting and have changed the way that I think about art education, and have provided new jumping-off points for a lot of program ideas.

    I read recently that the average museum-goer spends approximately 17 seconds looking at each object they encounter.  While this figure actually sounds like a high estimate to me, it is also concerning – the frantic pace and the volume of visual stimuli that is available to us is hard to escape, but with practice, the art of looking can offer opportunities for reflection, learning and inspiration.  Visual language is beautiful, and with some time, fluency is easy to achieve.

  • LivingArts: Giving Thanks

    October 15, 2015 by Crystal Jonasso...

    One weekend every year we have a tradition of taking time to be thankful for the wonderful things in our lives. Some of us are lucky enough to count an artistic passion among the things that we can be grateful for. Many of us can count the experience of art in our community as a valuable part of our lives. This Thanksgiving I found myself wondering how I can express my gratitude to the artists in my community who have positively impacted my life and who are fueling the rejuvenation of our beautiful city.  What can we do to support the artists who give their passion and their time in order to share their work with us?

    First and foremost we can get out and experience art in our community.  Go see a play. Go to an art gallery. Go see live music. Buy a ticket. Art is hard work, it is valuable and your ticket money is greatly appreciated.  If you have limited disposable income there are many groups that offer Pay What You Can (PWYC) nights or even better see if there are volunteer opportunities that allow you to attend for free. Get out there and see something new: a poetry slam, some stand-up or a circus arts performance. For many of us with a passion for the arts this level of engagement is already a part of our lives but perhaps there is someone in our lives for whom we can be a bridge into the wonderful world of the arts in Hamilton. Bring a friend. Has someone said to you, “I’ve heard about that, I keep meaning to go” or even “I’ve never been, I don’t know if I would like it”? Perhaps that person is just waiting for the opportunity to dive in.  What would happen if you said, “I’ve been and it’s great. I’ll go with you if you’re interested.” Our presence as patrons is the most valuable thing we can offer to the arts in our community.

    Secondly, talk about the art in your community that inspires you. Did you see a great show? Write a post for social media about it. Did you pass by something beautiful at Art Crawl? Take an art selfie. Did you hear a fabulous local band last night? Tell your coworkers about it.  Spread the word. One of the most powerful ways to impact a local artist is through word of mouth.  If something really made a strong impression then find that artist on social media and share a link to their work, it only takes a few seconds and is very valuable to that artist.

    Last but not least; tell the artist.  It may feel strange I know, but the truth is the path of an artist can be hard and discouraging sometimes, especially for the emerging artist. If someone’s work has really made an impact on you then let them know.  Send an email or, if the artist makes themselves available, tell them in person.  A simple “Thanks that was a great show” can really go a long way.

     

     

  • LivingArts: The Way of Fear

    October 14, 2015 by Jessica Rose

    I’m not afraid of a lot of things. Earlier today, I let a spider crawl up my arm simply for the amusement of watching my arachnophobic partner squirm. Last year, I boarded a plane for my first European solo trip, hopping on trains with ease and finding hostels on unfamiliar streets. I got lost a lot, but that was all part of the fun. There are a few things I’m a little bit afraid of. I’m slightly afraid of heights, but regardless, I force myself into the safety harnesses of the biggest roller coasters by convincing myself that the likelihood of plummeting to the ground is incredibly small.

    So far in life, I’ve just been lucky in the way of fear. It’s not in my nature to fret over most things, but there is one exception — a huge exception. I’m deathly, majorly, and absolutely terrified of public speaking.

    When the Hamilton Arts Council asked me to moderate a panel discussion at the upcoming Living Arts Symposium (Shameless plug: It’s on October 23rd-25th), my immediate answer was no. At least that was the answer I gave in my head as every horrific and embarrassing scenario flashed before me. I’m just not destined to be a public speaker, and I’m OK with that, I told myself. But ultimately, a fleeting moment of bravery overcame me, and I said yes.

    One of the goals of the Living Arts blog series has been to expose answers to the question “What do artists need?” Many of the answers to this question have focused on the social and community supports necessary to allow artists to do their work. However, my answer this month to the question is something more personal. Artists need to challenge themselves. Artists need to do things that may make them uncomfortable, not only to push personal boundaries, but because in the 21st-century, it’s expected. Gone are the days where writers could hand their manuscripts to a publisher, expecting the publisher to do the legwork. Today, authors are expected to read at (and in some cases throw their own) book launches, participate in panel discussions, be active on social media, and the list goes on. The (many) introverts among us are often forced from our comfort zones, and today, it’s all part of the gig.

    When I quit my steady day job in publishing earlier this year, I held on tightly to one of those inspirational quotes you often see written in cursive on over-priced notebooks or set against a filtered stock image of a mountain on your Instagram feed: “Life begins outside your comfort zone.” In the days before I gave my resignation, it was my mantra. It acted as a simple reminder that I had to push myself. It’s once again proving handy as I prepare for the upcoming panel discussion.

    Jerry Seinfeld had a joke in the 90s about public speaking: “According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

    Even as a young teen, this joke resonated. Back then, I was the student who never put my hand up to answer a teacher’s question, even when I knew the answer. The joke still resonates, but I’ve learned to fight against my fear. It may continue to persist and nag, but I refuse to let it keep me quiet.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • LivingArts: The Unattended Audience

    September 25, 2015 by Crystal Jonasso...

    If you are a theatre watcher or a theatre maker then there is one thing you know about your friends and family: some of them will go and see theatre and some of them won’t. People who don’t often go to see theatre may see a few shows in their lifetime: as a part of a school trip, or when they happen to be in New York City. People who like to go see theatre may see a few shows every year - unfortunately for theatre artists, there are fewer people in this latter category. I have often asked myself ‘Why don’t more people go see live theatre?’  Michael Kras asked himself that same question and decided to get an answer.

    In an effort to determine what might inspire more people to explore the art he loves, Kras created an easy online quiz asking people who don’t often go why they don’t see theatre more often. I saw this quiz and quickly shared it on my social media and so did many others. I couldn’t resist asking Kras what inspired this simple approach and what he had learned. According to Kras, the survey produced some incredibly interesting and, in some cases, surprising results.

    Kras says he was inspired to create the survey after his entry into the 2015 Hamilton Fringe Festival attracted smaller audiences than he had been hoping for. ‘We opened to a house of four people, half of which was family,’ he recalls. The venue was an intimate space with a 40 seat capacity but filling it became a challenge. During the festival Kras did his best not to give in to negative thinking ‘When you're in the middle of something like that, it's so easy to project your frustration onto everything else and play the blame game: “My show is getting great reviews, I believe in this piece, it's entertaining and important, it's the audience’s fault.”’

    After the festival he was inspired to act, and the survey was released this August. Kras tells me he passionately believes that it is the artist’s responsibility to discover what the audience wants and to bring that to life. ‘I am not saying that we must sacrifice our art and pander to our audience with limited regard for our own artistic voice. But I am saying that making art to serve ourselves is a tragically selfish approach to what is the most generous institution in the world.’ Kras also recognised that the problem of low attendance wasn’t just isolated to his production. ‘Theatre is a shared, present, human experience. So the audience must be there, but often isn't.’ Seeing this as a challenge rather than a terminal diagnosis, Kras decided that if he wanted to know what the people who might have been sitting in those empty seats wanted to see then he would just have to ask them.

    So what did simply asking the untapped audience yield? Kras isn’t yet ready to release all his results but he tells me something that is so simple it may sometimes get lost: ‘My survey revealed that the most important factor in a piece of theatre for an audience is, by a landslide, its entertainment factor. Really, what other reason would anybody have for spending the time, money, and effort to go to the theatre?’ He doesn’t feel that entertaining an audience means that new works should avoid being thought provoking, challenging and sometimes disconcerting. Rather he feels that entertaining the audience is what creates their investment in the story being told and ultimately allows the artist to be provocative. Kras sums up: ‘Provoke me, make me think and question, unsettle me, upset me, enrage me, but please entertain me.’

    In my discussion with this young passionate theatre maker I am left with a strong sense of how much Kras values his audience, even the audience he has never seen. I am excited to see what can come of creating such an open dialogue and will be following Kras to find out where the opportunity of an empty house takes him. If you would like to follow him check out http://facebook.com/michaelkrastheatre.

     

     

  • LivingArts: The Next Stage

    September 22, 2015 by Crystal Jonasso...

    Each time a performer gets up on stage they are vulnerable, but perhaps no one more so than the bravest of the brave: the stand-up comedian.  They share their lives with us directly without the guise of a character or a fourth wall and I admire them for it. I had a chance to chat with one of my favourite local comedians, Clifford Myers, about his performance at this year’s Hamilton Arts Awards and whether or not he ever sees himself taking the plunge and creating a show for a theatre setting. 

    Myers returned to this year’s Hamilton Arts Awards after winning last year’s Emerging Artist Award for Performance. He started the night off with a few jokes about our beloved city. ‘I made sure to fit my material with the evening and the celebration. I also made sure to make a quip about the awards show to ease the nervousness of the nominees. "I won an award last year and I gotta tell you...ever since...my career has been relatively the same."’  I can’t help but ask if that is true since it seems as if Myers is quite busy these days; in fact, he tells me he left after his set at the Arts Awards to go to another gig later that evening. He tells me that things are consistently improving; more opportunities are gradually coming his way.

    “It's not a sprint, it's a marathon” he says wisely. “Getting the Emerging Artist Award was nice but to live up to the title you have to keep working. Keep working on your craft, keep getting better, keep getting seen.” It seems as if Myers isn’t focused on recognition and accolades.  “There's gotta be a grounding to the arts where you know you don't do this for awards or notoriety. You did this for you and for others and for whatever deep-rooted spiritual or philosophical reason that resides in your soul telling you to keep doing that thing you do.” That is certainly a sentiment that I can get behind as a fellow performer.

    I confess to Myers that I find the idea of stand-up terrifying and that I admire his bravery and we discuss the differences between acting and stand-up: “I think people do theatre and stand-up comedy for different reasons. Theatre is about being someone else and finding truth. Comedy is about being yourself and finding truth. I actually think they cover polarized ends of how people choose to seek truth through performing arts.” Myers is most definitely an astute student of the human condition. I can’t help but wonder if he would ever consider exploring the truth from the opposite direction. 

    “I always aspired to writing a storytelling show based around the fact that I was expelled from Bible College. Before pursuing a life of comedy I was pursuing a life of the cloth.” I can only imagine the twists and hilarious turns between those two career choices. Unfortunately I may have to wait a while to have my curiosity satisfied; for the time being it seems Myers is right where he wants to be. “My skills and my passion, at the moment, has me on the ground, in small bars and unlikely places, riffing on stage and talking to people. It's a nice, anonymous way of finding my voice as I stick to the shadows and hone my talent.”  Whatever the next stage of Myers’ journey is, it is sure to be filled laughter and no shortage insightful observation.

     

     

  • LivingArts: Artists Talking

    September 21, 2015 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

    What does it mean?

    What is it all about?

    When presented with works of art, people always have questions.  They want to know what the artist was thinking while they were creating their work.  They want to hear about the inspiration, the challenges and the process involved.  They want to understand the work, and they want to make sure they get it right.  Often people will ask really interesting questions that can lead even the artist to think about the work in a new way. 

    As an artist who works with found objects I know this first hand.  And, as an artist who tends to work fairly intuitively, I also understand the challenges of answering these very earnest questions.  Some artists work with an idea and build a work around it, others create work and deconstruct its meaning later.  Many artists work somewhere in the middle.  As an art educator who works with artists in staff training and public presentations, I am always interested in what people want to know about the art they are looking at, and I remember the successes and interesting presentations I see artists make to their audience.  What I’ve learned wearing both hats is that as an artist it is important to have considered your work well enough that you can answer these questions honestly and without relying on too much art-speak or spectacle.  I’ve seen the full range of the spectrum, and fumbled through it myself. 

    Speaking about your work is not always the easiest thing to do.  As artists we are makers, and we want to look to others to be the public speakers, but in practice we are making objects for the public sphere.  There is meaning in the work; there are specific and interesting decisions made throughout the creative process.  I cannot say strongly enough – artists: don’t do yourself or your work a disservice by not considering these things.  Prepare to be in the spotlight, and embrace the idea of public reception.  As I’ve said in previous posts, people are generally very nice and want to say lovely things to you. 

    Here are a few things that I have learned from watching a lot of artists speak:

    • Write an exhibition-specific artist statement that responds to your work in very precise ways.  Ask yourself some questions and create answers for them.  It will help you when others want to talk.
    • Figure out what you think is most interesting – is it the materials, the process, the visual image, the concept, and figure out ways to explain it briefly and in a straightforward manner.
    • Think about the strangest and hardest questions you might be asked, and prepare an answer so you are not surprised.
    • Ask questions of your viewers to draw them in.  A good leading question will get people looking and thinking, and this takes some of the pressure away.
    • Don’t try to be too smart, too cool or too remote. Believe in your work, and in your ideas.  People love listening to people who are genuine, passionate and comfortable.

    It get easier with practice, and the rewards are great.

     

     

     

     

     

  • LivingArts: The Secret About the Secret of My Success

    September 18, 2015 by Steve McKay

    Supercrawl was great.  I wrote my very first blog post for LivingArts in September 2014, titled “How Supercrawl Saved My Baby (And By ‘Baby’ I Mean My Music Career)”.  My thoughts then are the same now, basically that local music gets a huge boost from Supercrawl and this year proved to be no different.

    In a Hamilton-centric world where Supercrawl is basically Christmas for the Arts, it’s easy to forget that there is something even bigger happening just a few miles down the road. 

    I’m not talking about the Locke Street Festival (although I heard that Locke also had a great day in spite of the rain).  I’m talking about TIFF, with the Toronto International Film Festival turning 40 this year.

    I’ve never really been a proper film-fan.  For starters, I call films ‘movies' and my favourite ‘movie’ of all time is The Secret of My Success (look it up), followed by Beverly Hills Cop in close second.  I’m not exactly a critical thinker when it comes to that stuff, because I spend most of my creative energy trying to understand the difference between a French augmented sixth chord and an Italian augmented sixth chord (look that up, too).

    But these days, the big money for musicians is not in making records, but in making movies…films.  Somehow, the film industry has found a way to navigate the piracy of the internet age and maintained a steady revenue stream, whereas the record industry is literally grasping at straws in a time machine and reverting to vinyl.  

    You hear stories of musical colleagues receiving cheques in the mail for Hollywood film placements, sometimes as much as $30,000.  Not a bad pay-day, given that the work that went into writing and recording that material is exactly the same as any other musical venture.  As word gets around about the big film placement payday, one can imagine the clamouring in the biz for spots, with some artists tailoring their material specifically for cinematic placement.  

    My band, Bruce Peninsula, has lucked out twice in the film placement sweepstakes.  The first film that we landed was Ed Gass-Donnelly’s Small Town Murder Songs (featuring an INCREDIBLE Peter Stormare).  I say that we lucked out, because the circumstances that led to us working on this film can only be attributed to luck.  Mr Gass-Donnelly’s sister just happened to be a Bruce Peninsula fan, exactly when he started working on a film that needed a soundtrack filled with Indie-Gospel-Folk-Rock-Blues music (our genre).  He liked our stuff so much that 90% of the soundtrack featured BP.  

    That film made its North American premiere at TIFF and we saw a little cash as a result of its success.   Again, we had already made the music, so any extra dough that we made from film placement was a bonus.  To put it in perspective, I funded the entire recording of my Twin Within record with my share of that cash - a project that never would have left the ground otherwise.

    The second film that we lucked into had its North American premiere on Tuesday evening at TIFF.  Sleeping Giant, a film directed and written by Dundas-native Andrew Cividino, was given the Bruce Peninsula treatment as well.  In this case, the director was a Ryerson grad and just happened to be a Bruce Peninsula fan.  He used some BP material in a short film of Sleeping Giant, which ulitimately led to Bruce Peninsula being involved in the feature version.  

    This time around, the music was tailor-made for the film and the band is adapting the material to release as a new Bruce Peninsula record in the future.  It’s something that we did to a lesser degree on Small Town Murder Songs as well, with a couple tracks from the film ending up on our 2011 release, Open Flames.  It’s not the first time that a soundtrack had a life outside of the film that it was written for, but certainly it’s also not the norm.

    But in an industry that tends to lean so heavily on the film industry for revenue, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see this model more and more.  

    [Next month: Steve introduces a German augmented sixth chord into the mix…]

  • LivingArts: Expanding Horizons

    September 16, 2015 by Jessica Rose

    It's Supercrawl weekend, but by the time you're reading this, the stages will have been disassembled and the crowd of umbrella-wielding crawlers will be back to work. It's been a soggy but memorable weekend — one of the rare opportunities for artists from all disciplines to gather in one place to share and consume art.

    Whether you spent three hours or three days roaming Supercrawl’s main artery of James Street North, you undoubtedly came into contact with the work of many artists, each contributing something unique. Supercrawl creates a space not only for Hamiltonians to connect face-to-face with artists and their work, but also for artists of all disciplines to co-exist.

    Something I’ve come to realize in a year of writing for the Living Arts blog is that, while many of my days are spent sharing ideas and experiences with others who work in the literary arts, my interactions with those in other disciplines are rare, with the exception of my partner who has worked as a musician in the city for many years. While we often compare our experiences in our own realms of music and the literary arts, I’ve been privy only to a few conversations about artists’ experiences in public art, visual arts, and theatre.

    Among colleagues, I often find myself talking about our needs within the literary arts community, but it has only been since reading posts from my fellow Living Arts bloggers that I’ve considered the similarities and differences across each artistic sector. In a career in which I usually find myself buried in a book or glued to a computer screen, many of my interactions are conducted online, and most are with other editors or writers who share experiences similar to my own.

    Writing for the Living Arts blog has helped me remove my blinders, for the first time considering the challenges of other artists and the ways in which they are similar or different than my own. Reading the posts of fellow bloggers has given me a broader understanding of Hamilton’s arts community (an understanding that is sure to expand at the upcoming Living Arts Symposium, another rare opportunity for artists to co-exist and share experiences).

    One of the purposes of the Living Arts blog (as outlined on the website) is to “increase awareness among audiences.” Sharing my own experiences has been beneficial, forcing me to question my needs (and wants) as a writer and editor, but it has also expanded my horizons, helping me better understand the needs of the many other artists who make this city unique.  

  • LivingArts: Off Book

    September 15, 2015 by Crystal Jonasso...

    It’s that time of year again: back to school time. As I watch friends and friend’s children return to their various halls of learning I can’t help but wonder how students encounter theatre during their education.  What inspires a student to take the daring leap to apply to Theatre School? To satisfy my curiosity I spoke to two teachers who each encounter different types of students; the English Teacher and the Drama Teacher.

    The English Teacher

    In high school Drama is an elective. If a student doesn’t choose Drama, either because they don’t have any interest or because they have a stronger interest in another art elective, their only encounter with theatre during their high school education would be in an English class, reading Shakespeare.  I spoke to an English teacher from Dundas about the challenges of teaching the Bard to students who may have other interests. She tells me with obvious admiration that Shakespeare is still vital and that she believes that his impact stems from the breadth of his work -- comedy, tragedy, history, social commentary -- and that it is the duty of a passionate teacher to spread that passion to their students.  The secret, she tells me, to getting a modern teenage audience to connect is to properly contextualize a piece for a modern reader.

    “That's why I start Macbeth by asking kids about loyalty: to parents, to a best friend, to Canada; and get them into Macbeth's mindset before we begin to read the play.” It is also essential, she says, to understand the structure of a play, so students study the format of script writing and, most importantly, are reminded that plays are not written to be read. “I like to start Shakespeare by saying that the Bard didn't sit down with his quill and say "How can I bore 30 kids in Dundas for a month - I think I'll write Merchant of Venice!" Whenever possible students are taken to a live performance or alternatively are shown a film version of the play under discussion.  Not surprisingly she finds that a live performance is more impactful. “I love the conversation in class the day after I have taken students to see and hear a play.”

    The Drama Teacher

    I connected with a Drama Teacher at Burlington Central High School to ask questions about teaching those students who have chosen Drama because of their interest; however, to my surprise, that does not describe all of his students. “Not all kids that take Drama want to actually study it. Some take it because it is the only thing that fits in their timetable or because their friend is in the class. That, combined with the nature of a Drama class not at all looking like a traditional class can make it challenging to teach something meaningful to the kids that want to be there versus just trying to keep the others interested enough to not be a disruption.”  It sounds like a fine balance.  He engages students by allowing them to create scenes about topics that they enjoy; the success of presenting something enjoyed by their classmates can be the best motivation.

    Those students who return for senior level classes often demonstrate remarkable ingenuity. “One of the most remarkable differences is how incredible they are at problem solving. Many of my senior drama kids need very little direction when told to create a story or a scene.” But the most rewarding is the creativity let loose outside of the classroom with those students in their extra-curricular shows. “I do my best teaching when there is a clear goal that has nothing to do with grades. Watching a show come together at the high school level is a very cool experience and is easily the most satisfying part of what I do.”

    One thing is clear from my discussions with these educators: there are many teachers out there pouring their hearts and their time into helping students to connect with 

  • LivingArts: The Weirdness of Globalization

    September 10, 2015 by Brandon Vickerd

    Last month I installed a public art project titled Wild Life that was commissioned by the Edmonton Arts Council. The install went smoothly, and I was relieved to see the accumulation of two years of work finally realized. During a public art install there are periods of standing around waiting (waiting for approvals, waiting for cranes, waiting for the rain to stop) and I took the opportunity to post images of the installation in progress on Instagram.

    By the time I arrived at my hotel that evening I had received two separate emails from two separate foundries proposing that they cast my next public art projects. Both these foundries were located in China, and from what I could find online seemed to be legitimate foundries specializing in art fabrication.  The emails were courteous and professional, but with an underlining hard sell – they could do the work for a fraction of what North American foundries would charge. 

    Curious for more information, I began emailing one of these foundries and enquiring about their process and business model. They always respond instantly and with exactly the information I request. They even offered to cast a sample of one of my sculptures (for free) so that I can test their product. I have always heard of artists working with foundries in China and India as a way of saving money, but I never truly considered it an option. Intrigued, I asked the foundry to provide a quote for casting a life-size bronze sculpture. 

    I was stunned with the result: they offered to cast the piece for 1/5 of the cost of a North American foundry, and when we are talking about budgets in the tens of thousands this was a very significant amount (I could buy a new pick truck with the saved money).

    The foundry I work with on large projects is based in Toronto. I won’t name them but I will recommend them if you send me an email. They are a small business that employs artists and artisans, giving many young artists the chance to develop their skills working on larger projects. They always meet deadlines, come in on budget and their product is the best I have seen coming out of any foundry (domestic and foreign). When I am working with them, I can show up to the foundry whenever I want and oversee the casting, request revisions and even hammer on some metal if I feel so inclined.  As an artist who needs to have his hands dirty on every project, this is an invaluable experience that I would not get using an offshore foundry. 

    I have also heard horror stories of inferior workmanship done by offshore foundries. Welds cracking or patinas failing on a public art commission is a sure way of sinking an artist’s reputation. There is also the case to be made that offshore fabrication takes advantage of lax foreign laws in regard to environmental protection and labour. I certainly do not want to encourage exploitive labour practices or environmental destruction, although I have no proof of either of these arguments and honestly do not have time to research their validity.

    All things considered, when I am crunching the budget for a project, I realize that the funding for my public art projects often comes from the public – as in taxpayer dollars, or municipal funds, or even private individuals who have made their money here in Canada. If I am taking money from these entities, I feel I have an obligation to feed back into the local economy by using the best local fabricators whenever possible. Building public art is not about generating profit; it is about making artwork that enriches the community. Whenever possible, the process of fabrication should mirror this intent and support local, sustainable business in the community.  So for now I will not be farming public art projects out to offshore foundries, as appealing as new truck is.

  • LivingArts: Pressure

    September 10, 2015 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

    My wife often reminds me not to be hard on myself when I leave things to the last minute, because, ‘it’s part of my process.’  And, for the most part she’s right: I do have a reasonably successful process that relies on a lion’s share of the work happening in the absolute final hours.  When I’m pessimistic, this feels part of a sad legacy of my lazy, reckless days as a student, perfecting ways to push through tasks without learning from them.  When I’m optimistic, it feels like the smartest way to work ever conceived.

    If I have a few months to do a project, I spend a fair bit of that time sketching obsessively, meditating on details in bed at night, or on the toilet, or in the car.   It’s a kind of mental conditioning that allows me to spring into relatively efficient action when the time comes. When I’m optimistic, I liken this behavior to a hunting tiger, one who does a lot of sitting and staring and thinking before a final calculated burst of initiative takes over.  When I’m pessimistic, I feel like Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, i.e. a drunken hippie.

    As I write this, I am days away from delivering two art projects for two different Hamilton venues—a sound installation for the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre as part of 20/20, their 20th anniversary show, and an interactive sculptural project for Supercrawl.  I’ve had all summer to get these projects moving but like any good tiger, I spent most of the time thinking and waiting, and combing over my ideas obsessively.  By mid-August I was ready to spring into action.

    Just as I was about to pounce, I contracted an eight-day case of salmonella.  Salmonella by my own hand. I couldn’t even blame anyone for it.  Suddenly my excitingly small window of time became a terrifyingly impossible window of time.   During my sickness, I swung from abject despair to embarrassment to panic to dark fantasies where my illness would get so dire that it would free me of my commitments.

    When I returned to health, I felt completely purged. I could see my artistic situation with a combination of heightened clarity, ruthless efficiency, sober acceptance. I started making hard choices for my projects that only seemed to improve their overall concept and make them more honest.  I began to demand help from people I would normally be too timid to ask.

    Taoists have a concept of ‘wu-wei’, or non-doing that has always struck a chord with me. I interpret it as a way of working without thinking, of doing a thing with no self reflection.  This is what my last few weeks have felt like.

    And in this state I have been recipient of almost unfathomable moments of serendipity.  I need oak strips of wood, and there they are; I have 24 hours to find a recording studio, and literally stumble into an available one without knowing. When I was desperate for a set of curtains for the Non-Psychic Booth I’m constructing for Supercrawl, a magician acquaintance from decades ago offers up curtains cut to the precise length I need.   A magician!!

    I also don’t question the odd challenges that pop in the way.  When my brothers offered me bushels of plums and apples from their trees at precisely the time our refrigerator started to die, I knew instinctively I had to figure out a way to process apples and pit plums and repair the appliance in between what I was doing.  I make time for it all, even the errands, the blogs, the long-term projects.  These jobs that would normally feel like extraneous obstructions, somehow become essential.  One job fuels the other, they all calibrate the engine.

    I don’t know what the result of my art projects will be this weekend. I do know that success or failure, I will feel deflated at the end of it.  This deflation might invoke a round of viral infection or a short depression. But then I will pull myself together again, scratch my arm and look frantically for another deadline to push against.

    Right now, I am happy for the pressure. It has put me briefly into a state of grace.

     

  • LivingArts: Living the Dream

    August 13, 2015 by Steve McKay

     

    I have been cleaning house, lately.

    That’s not a figure of speech.  I have actually been clearing junk out of my house over the last few months.

    More specifically, I have been cleaning out our “garbage room” to make some room for my forthcoming LP (little person).  Everybody has a garbage room: it’s where you put slightly valuable stuff like old chairs.  The chair may be broken, but it’s fixable, so you tell yourself that you can turn it into a future Kijiji sale.  Time goes on and eventually, you realize that those are wounded chairs.  Put them out of their misery.

    I have also been working on all of the vanity projects around the house.  For instance, lately I’ve been thinking about replacing the vanity in the bathroom (teehee).

    Homelife is ALL about cleaning house, tying up loose ends and then after everything is done, you put your feet up and watch Netflix for four straight hours.  It’s the Canadian dream...

    In my art-life, a clean house is a boring house and so I have become a packrat.  Every dirty scrap of an idea is worth something to me, forever, so my artistic garbage room is full of half-baked ideas and unfinished projects.

    There was a time when those little ideas were actually worth something, too.  The hooks and riffs that I held onto were nuggets of gold with the potential to climb the charts, driving record sales and eventually landing me a big, fat royalty cheque.  When I started writing my own songs in the early 2000s, P2P sharing network was starting to become popular, but the world of Platinum-selling records was still very much alive.

    I dreamed that dream pretty hard and after about 15 years of working at it, I finally hit it big with a single.  A friend that I was co-writing with got lucky and Katy Perry tweeted out a favourable shout-out for the song that we wrote together.  Finally!  One of my nuggets was going to pan out and I couldn’t wait to see how big the big payday would be.  The song climbed the charts, as I hoped, and it was getting some major love in the American media.

    I won’t tell you how much I made on the royalties for that song, but I will tell you that it was barely enough to cover the legal fess that I paid to protect my rights to that song.  The royalties that I earned on that song might be enough to pay for the gas to tour to Halifax and back.  In other words, the most valuable idea I have ever had is nothing compared to the expenditures in this business.

    There isn’t much cash to be made these days and although that’s unfortunate for people who try to make a living in the industry, I can see a silver lining.  Whereas there was a time when you could actually be a millionaire rock star, making music is not really about making money anymore.  Without the financial incentives pushing us to make music that we think will sell, it frees us up to make what we WANT to make.  It’s about making art.

    Hamilton is still very much an industry town, with kids growing up the same way that I did.  They will  chase the rock star dream, just as I did, but hopefully they realize quickly that there is a much more fruitful life to be had as an artist.  They will learn that it is so much more rewarding to make what you want to make and get a job to pay the bills.

    In my eyes, that’s living the dream...

     

     

  • LivingArts: Who's Listening?

    August 13, 2015 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

     

    It’s summer camp season in my world right now.  About 75 kids from ages 5 to 12 fill all of the classroom spaces each day, spilling into exhibition spaces throughout the day and then heading back to their studios full of inspiration and noise.  In addition to that, we also have other camps visiting with their kids for tours and activities.  There is a lot of buzz and energy, and the gallery is quite different from the traditional notion of a site for quiet contemplation.

    I used to worry a bit about the noise – I used to think that people would be unhappy to have their art-viewing experiences interrupted by our camp groups.  And sometimes they are.

    But then I started paying more attention to the visitors that I saw hovering around the edges.  As I give a tour to a rowdy group of six-year-olds, I see an older couple in the corner smiling.  Or a single guest standing just within hearing distance from the group.  I realized that people are listening to the tour, even when they are not officially part of the group; and even more than that, the tours that we lead for kids are sometimes interesting to adults too.

    The other thing I notice each year is that even the rowdiest groups are listening too.  Each summer our return-campers or other visitors who have come in summers past join me in looking at the one installation that never changes – the Bruegel Bosch Bus.  As I ask the kids about this piece, I start to hear stories that I know have come from tours I’ve led in previous years.  Something in our previous conversations have stuck with our young visitors, to be shared at a later date.

    This is one of the really fun parts of talking to people about art – seeing what stays, what is reinterpreted and reframed, what comes out when one student tries to share ideas with another fellow student.  Ideas stick.  The power of art to communicate is pervasive.  What we share with others matters.

    They are always listening, even when it doesn’t seem like it.

  • LivingArts: The L Word

    August 10, 2015 by Jessica Rose

     

    Many years ago, a kindly old man at a used bookstore welcomed me into his shop.

    “We have many books you might like,” he said politely. “Our ‘chick lit’ section is right over there.” He pointed to a shelf teeming with mass market paperbacks with pastel spines emblazoned with cursive writing.

    I like to think he noticed the horror in my eyes. I was young. I was insecure. I was full of that snobbery that exists when you’re 20 and on a quest to prove that you’re more intelligent and worldly than you actually are.

    I read good books, I thought to myself. I read literary books! I immediately resented being shoved into a category based on my gender.

    Marketers especially like to neatly categorize books. In literary circles, you hear a lot of talk about genre fiction vs. literary fiction. These categories create a division line between works of art and everything else, including (but not limited to) books that are commercial, trashy, or popular. This categorization can be a breeding ground for literary snobbery.

    Literary is a weighty term. It carries with it a lot of meaning, but it can also be ambiguous. For some who work in the literary arts, it’s a term that can be challenging and limiting, including for festivals that are trying to diversify audiences and expand programming.

    “I love to read, but I’d feel out of place at a literary festival,” I’ve been told by friends and family members upon mentioning my work at gritLIT: Hamilton’s Readers and Writers Festival (formerly, you guessed it, Hamilton’s Literary Festival). Many, I’ve found, associate the word literary, and by association the term “literary festivals,” with intellectual and academic stuffiness. To friends and family, the words “literary” and “grit” offered competing messages.

    Snobbery doesn’t win you friends in Hamilton. It’s a city where events are held in former cotton mills and hardware stores, restaurants are named after modes of transportation, and phrases like “food trucks” and “pop ups” are synonymous with culture. We’re grassroots. We’re organic. We’re anything but snooty.

    Festivals, publishers, and authors are constantly seeking new ways of reaching audiences who don’t already travel in the book tour circuit. They’re attempting to blow away the dust from old notions of the bookish community and to engage a younger and more diverse audience. 

    In a lot of ways, they’re succeeding, especially as publishers reach out to bloggers with youthful and energetic voices, and festivals find more ways to be interactive. Just look at Woody Point, the maritime festival that blurs “the boundaries between nature and humanity, between words and music, between writers and readers,” bringing together music and books in an idyllic setting. Books on Bloor in Toronto brings together cycling and literature. gritLIT 2014 even welcomed long-time fans of Teenage Head to celebrate the release of a book about the iconic Hamilton band. (The at-capacity event resulted in the first, and only, time an audience needed to be removed for rowdiness). 

    Many of my days are immersed in books and writing, but very few of these days feel weighted down by stuffiness and snobbery. I’m not saying these things don’t exist, but they’re certainly not the norm, at least in my small corner of the literary world.

    What do you think about when you hear the word “literary?” I’m curious to know. 

  • LivingArts: Asking Permission

    August 10, 2015 by Brandon Vickerd

     

    I was invited to present an exhibition at Artcite Gallery in Windsor Ontario this summer. Given that it was summer time, this seemed like an opportunity to capitalize on the gallery’s downtown locale and do a temporary public art project.

    I proposed a project called Sputnik Returned II, which consisted of a scale replica of the Russian satellite Sputnik installed as if it had crashed back to earth. In the past this work has been installed in public parks, where we dig a big crater to enhance the narrative. Artcite’s location on a busy downtown street made it possible to revise that presentation by crashing Sputnik in to a car (a 1993 silver Acura) parked in front of the gallery.  Obviously, crashing a large satellite into a parked car and leaving said car parked on a city street for two months required me to get permissions and permits from the powers that be (city hall, parking authority, city councillor, surrounding businesses).

    The horizon where a creative enterprise crashes upon the shore of policy and procedure has always interested me. Most people, artists included, assume that if you approach politicians and bureaucrats with an idea for a project that is out of the ordinary their default answer will be a firm but polite no. There is a myth that creative people often tell ourselves that states that few people understand the value of what we do, and therefore that non-artists will put up roadblocks to our work.

    In reality, all the levels of bureaucracy involved in Sputnik Returned II said yes and we were permitted to install the public piece with relatively little hassle. A few artists remarked at the opening that I was lucky that we managed to ‘wrangle permission’ for the project, as if we had pulled a fast one on City Hall. The truth is that I often need to get various non-art world professionals to buy into supporting ambitious projects that they could easily say no to. However, they always seem to say ‘yes,’ whether it is city hall issuing a permit to crash a satellite into the downtown, getting condo developers to let me use multi-million dollar cranes to perform a ballet in the night sky, or a private property owner letting a wooden sculpture of a Chevy sedan decay on their property – people always say yes. I always try to approach people with a clear and honest explanation of the project, and emphasize the value it adds to the community, and usually they get just as excited about the possibilities as I do.

    Image: Sputnik Returned II, 2015, Stainless Steel, Acura sadan
    Photo Credit: Brandon Vickerd

  • LivingArts: Travel

    August 7, 2015 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

     

    I get to travel a little as part of my life as an artist, and that is fantastic.  I don’t do exorbitant bragging rights kind of travel; I’ve never been to the Venice Biennale, nor I have secured the six-month Norwegian residency that I often fantasize about but to which I never apply.  I haven’t done Big Travel.   I might one day, but I until then I will savour my moments of Small Travel.  I did a three week retreat at the Banff Centre a few years back.  I get to New York every now and then to look at things, but I go to Buffalo to work on things.  This past spring I spent two nights in Ottawa for an art reception and artist talk; this fall there is talk of Saskatoon.

    Saskatoon.

    Earlier this July I spent a week in Winnipeg at Art City, a community arts drop in center founded over fifteen years ago by famed Canadian painter Wanda Koop.  It offers free art programs for kids, but uses contemporary artists from across Canada to deliver them.  It is distinguished by the ambitiousness of the art projects, the spirit of its employees and volunteers, and by the fact that there is no target audience.  Kids and adults from any circumstance are welcome to participate. It’s a pretty special place.

    I had pitched Art City a week-long project to make floor to ceiling shadow screens, and then develop with participants theatrical and puppet based performances to inhabit them—a clear extension of my own art practice. I got flown in, put up, paid, and they even leant me a bike to toot around on.

    I had thought that the week would be structured like a summer camp.  I would have a dozen kids from a specific age range who would be committed for the entire week.  Instead, Art City functioned as an open ended drop in; the first day I had maybe 8 kids hovering around the age of 7, and four adults likely in their fifties.   The next day, the adults came back, but the majority of the kids were different.

    Initially, it seemed like madness, there was to be no way to create continuity or build up ideas ( the project was to culminate with a formal performance).  And in my first moments I was overtaken by the feeling that the week was going to be a train wreck.   But then something happened.   First it was the overarching feeling of calm that came from the Art City staff and volunteers, that was like ‘dude, this happens here everyday, calm down, it’s going to be fine’. 

    Second, we ate together.   I helmed a session that began at 3:30 pm and ran till 7:30.  Right in the middle, a bell was rung, everyone stopped, and everyone, the instructors, the kids, sat down and ate snack.   In an arts educational setting, I have this notion of ‘snack’ as a thing that adult instructors give children publically, and then adults eat furtively moments later.  This moment of snack opened my eyes to the true philosophy of the center.

    Eating food together, the same food, was such an effortless yet beautifully engineered way of establishing a community, a team of people of various ages and origins, who, because they share food, have been in many ways equalized.  It was only after snack that I started to grasp that ArtCity didn’t want me to teach, they wanted me to collaborate, to stand with and work alongside the creatively engaged community already in place.

    During my off time I made great use of the bike, such a handy tool to investigate a city, and I found that I could just ride in arbitrary lines through Winnipeg’s commercial centers, hipster boroughs, residential areas, industrial parks, greenspaces and get a kind of weird portrait of the city’s soul.   My snap impression of the city was only too familiar: a place that was both pretty and scrappy, very little pretense yet very comfortable in its own skin.  Very similar to here.

    It was only later during the flight home I started to really think upon and embrace the pleasures of Small Travel. Working in a place that is relatively the same size as Hamilton provides all these fruitful moments of comparison.  Moreover the things you learn or experience are at a scale that makes you believe can be easily replicated back in your home city.

    One day I’m sure I will be a tourist in Venice.  Another day I’m sure I’ll return to Winnipeg to work. 

  • LivingArts: Steve's Music

    July 16, 2015 by Steve McKay

     

    Do you remember the TGIF fad in the early 90s when every sitcom was a blended family sitcom?  Let me remind you:

    Step by Step - Full House - My Two Dads - Family Matters.  People will say that Full House doesn’t count, but I included it because Uncle Jesse and Becky have the twins…making it an even FULLER house.

    The premise of ALL of these shows is that there is a house completely rammed with people and hilarity ensues.  Basically, the house is the meeting place and as viewers, we get to feel like ‘part of the family’ just by watching the coming and going of all the characters.

    In a glorious stretch from 2000 to 2010, Hamilton’s music community was basically a blended-family sitcom.  Seasons 1 through 4 took place at the Underground and then seasons 5 through 11 took place at the Casbah.  When I was in town, I used to go to the Underground at least twice a week to catch whoever was coming through town.  There was a regular cast of characters who were always there and it was like a second family.

    In the last few years, with more venues popping up and big numbers moving downtown, the community has become much, much larger.  I don’t know 90% of the musicians playing these days because there are so many these days and we’re all playing in different spots.

    Just to be clear - I am not complaining over here.  This is amazing!  Those Underground days were an awful struggle, with a small inner circle and I’m relieved that there is a growing audience living downtown.  I just feel like we could use a centre that connects all of the musicians together.

    For instance, why don’t we have a big MUSIC STORE downtown?  If you want to get something of quality, you basically have to drive to Burlington and that’s ridiculous.

    Meanwhile, Hamilton is talking a big game about carving out this music town identity.

    A big music store downtown could be the big house where the musical blended-family hangs out.   Somewhere for connections to be made and maintained.  I’m at a loss as to who is going to step up and make that happen, but as an aging musician who doesn't hit up the clubs every night, I’m quickly losing touch with the musical community.

    Again - you have to leave the city limits to rent a half-decent amp.  You need to either own a car, borrow a car OR take two different municipal transit systems to get this stuff.

    <shaking head in disbelief>

    I don’t get it.  All I know, is that it is NOT funny, as opposed to our favourite Miller Boyett productions.

    [Next month: another long-winded diatribe on another thing that Steve has absolutely no power to change]

  • LivingArts: LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCING

    July 15, 2015 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

     

    One of the things that I have always maintained as important in arts education is the importance of authenticity in what a facilitator – be that docent, artist-instructor, lecturer or coach – has to say about their chosen topic.  Are they invested, excited and impassioned by their discourse or do they simply rhyme off a rehearsed speech?  This is a key concept in many business coaching programmes, but sometimes is forgotten when it comes to more educational settings, and certainly in more traditional museum settings.  While they are fewer than they used to be, tour scripts and pre-set lesson plans still exist in many educational settings.  The logic for this is often fairly sound – there is a set of facts or skills that a student should learn, and a solid plan will ensure that everyone learns these things.  The results are less convincing.

    Two things have converged recently to remind me of this idea.  First, I have been working with an exciting contemporary exhibition that poses the idea that a visitor need not know anything about art to experience and enjoy the works on display (are you experienced? is on view now at the Art Gallery of Hamilton).  Second, I attended a talk by two members of Museum Hack – a tour company based in New York City that provides what they call ‘alternative’ museum experiences.

    In the exhibition, the artists have created works that encourage both an instant and a reflective response.  The works reference the body and each contains elements of the ‘familiar made strange’.  Each person will experience the works with reference to their own physical and emotional states, and will create meaning from that.  While this sounds fairly theoretical, it is actually an intuitive and rewarding process.  Everyone will have a different response and that what the artists and curator want.

    On another tangent, the approach that Museum Hack tour guides take is to abandon the traditional scripted tours, and to get really involved in what makes the work exciting, or meaningful or upsetting.  They encourage their guides to skip over the key works in the museum, and instead to find their personal favourites and build a tour on this.

    In each case, interactions with art are individually meaningful, self-directed to some degree and most likely different for each person.  This supports my own ideas in education and learning that finding the ideas and experiences that are significant to each learner have much more impact than learning a predetermined set of details that someone else found important.  In my opinion, facilitators would do well to remember what got them excited in the first place and to help their audiences find their own passions too.

     

     

  • LivingArts: Book Bloggers are Liars and Other Random Thoughts

    July 14, 2015 by Jessica Rose

     

    I don’t actually think book bloggers are liars. I’ve floated around the #CanLit blogging scene for enough years to know that anyone who is passionate enough to spend their spare time writing about books for little or no financial reward is usually a lovely person who simply loves the written word. But I can’t help but think some bloggers exaggerate the truth, especially the ones who post multiple perfectly staged photos a week of new releases with unbroken spines intentionally strewn beside a monogrammed mug and a perfectly manicured garden. “Just reading in the garden,” the photo caption probably says, while my cynical mind thinks: Surely nobody has time to read multiple books a week and still keep up on the weeding.

    For the better part of a decade, I’ve shared my reading experiences with others through magazine book reviews, my book blog, and on social media. In an increasingly connected world, sharing one’s experiences as a reader and writer is common, but for me, it comes tethered with guilt. I can never read fast enough to keep up with the looming To Be Read (TBR) pile that fills my home. As a reviewer, I’m passed many books. Some of them are brilliant, some of them not so much. Many of them sit on my bookshelf, my desk, and in the bottom of my bag, begging to be read.

    My reader’s guilt doesn’t end with my pile of review copies. I bring books home from the library where they sit on my bookshelf for weeks until the fines begin to build. I feel guilty for not reading them and guilty for keeping them from someone who will.

    My shelves are even lined with a collection of books that I won’t read because they’ve been signed by Farley Mowat or Lawrence Hill or, most recently, Judy Blume. I have books from my childhood that are nearly spineless from having been read so many times, but I fear that one more read would surely seal their fate. Surely a book that isn’t read isn’t fulfilling it’s bookish destiny. There’s guilt in that, too.

    Sometimes I look at my bookshelf and remind myself that I’m going to die before I read every book I own. I’ve never read War and Peace or anything by a Bronte, and I’ll probably die before I do. It’s morbid, but true.

    There’s one thing I don’t feel guilty about when it comes to reading, and that’s not finishing books. Life’s too short to read bad books, and I can’t be precious about reaching the last page of a book I’m not enjoying. I’ve also stopped doing reading pledges. One year, in a quest to finish Goodread’s 50 Book Pledge I read only books under 200 pages. Life’s also too short to have your reading habits dictated by a quota.

    When I get those short unbridled moments of reading for pleasure, my mind reels. I should be editing, writing, sleeping, unpacking the box that’s sat in my office for a year. We readers aren’t the only ones bridled with guilt. A Google search of writer’s guild draws 433,000 hits, but a search of writer’s guilt has more than 100,000 more.

    I recently hate-read Marie Kondo’s hugely successful book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in which she writes “Do you feel joy when surrounded by piles of unread books that don’t touch my heart?” and the truth is, I do. I may  never read each unread book on my shelf, but I’m willing to try.

    A few weeks ago, I met Judy Blume. I say that as though we met over coffee and scones in what I imagine is her book-lined study in New York City. In reality, I was one of nearly a thousand people to line up for a chance to share eight-to-ten seconds with Ms. Blume as she signed copies of her latest book, In the Unlikely Event, in Toronto. But being in the same room with one of my childhood literary heroes reminded me of a lot of things. Hearing her talk about characters that were born in her head, but lived full lives in my own childhood brain, reminded me of reading as a child. More importantly, it reminded me of reading without deadlines. It reminded me of reading without guilt.

    The greatest gift we can give ourselves as readers is to read for pleasure. To give ourselves the permission to be selfish and intentional in our reading choices. To create a small impermeable space to recapture the joy of reading.



     

     

  • LivingArts: Reception

    July 13, 2015 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

     

    One the most awesome things you can give yourself as a visual artist is the permission to be gratuitously, passionately, even pathologically introverted.  To build a tiny sphere from your creative ideas and then seal yourself inside it for days, weeks, longer perhaps; if it doesn’t destroy you, it can be both transformative and exhilarating.   Starting out as a painter in my twenties I had frequent experiences where eight hours flashed by in what felt like five minutes, where the mind felt both meditative and lightning fast, and the process of art making was sublime.

    Nowadays, I’m at the studio less, and on the computer more.  I am more deliberate and less mysterious in my processes.  Studio time is rationed into roughly three hour chunks, jammed between professional and family responsibilities, and usually electrified by some kind of imminent deadline.

    I miss those open-ended stretches of exploratory making. But here’s the thing: because that kind of introversion is no longer such a dominant part of my practice, I wonder if I may have over-inflated its value when I was younger.  In my twenties, making the work was the paramount action; if I made something in a transcendent state of self-absorption, it only followed that the work itself should be similarly transcendent. When you are immersed, you feel like you are producing truth; the success or failure of its public reception was irrelevant to its essential value.

    When I was young I put no big effort into cultivating a good social circumstance for my work.  Nor did I participate very much at any reception that was organized for me.  Real artists were introverts I reasoned, and introverts should look sullen and uncomfortable at public receptions, and should say things like ‘my work is open-ended, I don’t like ascribing a single interpretation’.

    Over the last year, I have had what I can only describe as an epiphany about the nature of art receptions, one that swings my beliefs to the contrary of what they were when I started out.  In a nutshell, I’ve begun thinking that the reception, the social contrivance created to frame the art, might well be as important than the art itself.  The art is obviously the key ingredient, whose quality will dictate who and how people gather around it.  But the caliber of the social experience can also imbue the art with value it would not otherwise possess.

    And by receptions, I don’t mean the cheese and wine and polite stifled banter that is the cliché of the art opening, the one to which many galleries and artists still cling.  By reception I mean true moments of social convergence, things like the James Street Art Crawl in its prime, or the TH&B United openings I helped coordinate this past spring, moments where people use art as a tool to gather, celebrate, self-identify, rebel, whatever.

    Last month the Art Gallery of Hamilton launched its summer exhibitions, spearheaded by ‘are you experienced?’ an exemplary contemporary art show occupying the institutions entire first floor.  The social event organized to mark the exhibition broke from the habit of formal, staid receptions that have been the Gallery’s habit over the last decade.  This event was deliberately cultivated as a party.  I’m sure I’m not the only one to think this, but it took an excellent exhibition and made it feel significant, urgent even.

    In other words, the point where art goes public is an important one, part of the overall execution of the work.   And what thrills me is that it is another opportunity for an immersive experience—this time an extroverted not an introverted one—but one with an equal capacity for illumination and truth.

     

  • LivingArts: Getting Paid

    July 6, 2015 by Brandon Vickerd

     

    When working on public art commissions, I deal with both private and public entities. I have found myself having the same conversation a number of times, and this conversation highlights the difficulty that artists can have in valuing their work. A variation of this conversation recently took place with a company that was very interested in the project I had proposed. The company did not question my budgeted fabrication costs, engineering costs, or other line items. The company did, however, question my artist’s fee and the conversation went something like:

    Company: The artist’s fee seems high, and perhaps this is an area where we can adjust the budget.

    Me: My artist’s fee on a project of this scale is a standard 10% of the budget. It is not negotiable.

    Company: Perhaps part of the artist’s fee could be worked into the contingency budget.

    Me: No.

    Company: Maybe you could lower the fee this time?

    Me: This project represents four months of work on my part – how much do you get paid in four months? I bet it’s more than my artist’s fee.

    Company: But the exposure on a project like this is going to be beneficial for you.

    Me: Exposure to what end? So that other people can ask me to do projects that I do not get fairly paid for? My fee is fair and reflects the scope of the work.

    In the end the project got shelved indefinitely (a reality that happens in public art) for an unrelated issue. However, I bring this discussion up now because I believe it is part of a larger discussion happening among artists today. I have come to understand that part of making public requires educating the client and the community about the cost of cultural production.  Being an artist is work. If you don’t work for free, don’t assume an artist will.

  • LivingArts: Arts, Administration

    June 11, 2015 by Crystal Jonasso...

     

    “You’re pretty entertaining” my coworker comments in response to a somewhat successful attempt to find humour the sometimes mundane, but necessary, tasks  to prepare for this year’s Hamilton Fringe  Festival.  “That’s because I am actually an actor playing an administrator” I reply.  She laughs but I find myself thinking that there is more truth to those words than fiction.  This year the Hamilton Fringe Festival celebrates its 12th year and I am proud to be one the ever growing team of arts administrators and volunteers that make the festival possible, but my mind often wanders back to the festival’s first year when I found myself onstage in an experimental piece of theatre and I wonder ‘how did I end up here?’  It’s a place that I know many artists find themselves, excited to create opportunities for artists but also looking for opportunities to create their own art.  I had a chance to chat with Marilo Nunez, the Fringe’s General Manager, about her journey from artist to administrator and back again. 

    Nunez tells me that her career as an actor started out smoothly; after graduating from Ryerson University she secured an agent and began working regularly in television and film. Unfortunately, she found herself cast very often in stereotypical minority roles that were predictable, sometimes negative, and not artistically fulfilling.  Where she truly wanted to be was on a professional stage but there were no parts that fit.  Rather than waiting for these opportunities to appear, Nunez decided to produce a show that  offered a place for Latin American actors herself.  She tells me with passion in her voice that she could see a gap in the Toronto theatre community, and that she wanted to fill that space with untold stories.  After working on some successful and rewarding projects focused on that aim she founded a Latin American theatre company called ‘Alameda Theatre’ in 2006.  Since then, this company has developed more than 30 professional plays focused around Latino artists and stories Nunez tells me with a broad smile.  Here our conversation pauses and I reflect on the immense impact such a company must have had on not only its artists but its community as a whole. Also in this pause as we sip our coffees, I cannot help but imagine the immense amount of effort, tireless attention to detail and long hours that must represent.  ‘It started to consume my life’ she admits.  With little time to pursue her own artistic endeavours burnout started to loom its ugly head.  Nunez tells me she decided to re-evaluate her focus, find more balance between art and administration and a smile returns to her face.  She tells me she has plans to write and I can’t help but wonder what amazing stories she will tell, her own story is already quite an adventure.

  • LivingArts: My own personal Jesus birthday

    June 11, 2015 by Steve McKay

     

    It’s my birthday and I’m turning 33 years old.  Yesterday morning, someone told me that it’s my ‘Jesus' birthday.  That’s a sobering thought - think about all the things Jesus accomplished by the age of 33.  Salvation of mankind?  Resurrection?  The best I can offer on my life resume is that I won my NBA fantasy league last year.  

    When I was in my late 20s, I remember having a conversation with my fellow bandmates about old dudes who didn’t give up the rock star dream.  These guys, with their jowls, and their beer bellies, would march up on stage and give us a taste of whatever was popular in their hey-day.  There was always something so sad about the dudes with the tucked-in shirts, trying to relive their youth on stage.  My bandmates and I all agreed that we would NOT become those guys.  

    I remember reading an article once that argued that most people stop listening to new music when they turn 33.  Apparently that’s the age when you stop getting excited about what’s happening on the airwaves and start buying up all of your childhood favourites again.  There is a kernel of truth in there, I think, and I wonder if you can apply the same principle to the creative tendencies of artists.  Now that I’m 33 years old, am I less likely to embrace new styles and sounds?  Am I looking back to the past, instead of looking to the future?

    The answer is probably yes.  I definitely look at the music of my youth (Nirvana, Soundgarden, Tool…and Lisa Loeb) for inspiration and when I’m working on new tracks that sound like No Diggity, there is a 70% greater likelihood of goosebumps.   

    For whatever reason, I feel like that’s not okay.  Maybe I should be listening to Trap and spending every waking hour programming music on my computer.  That’s what my head tells me I should be doing.  My heart, however, is telling me that I should be rocking a mullet and ripping super wanky guitar solos on a BC Rich guitar.  

    With the internet speeding up our digestion of music and shortening the span between trends coming and going, it’s really hard to stay current.  When you’re a teenager, it’s really easy to stay plugged in because you don’t have to do anything else.  For me, there are weeks when I won’t listen to anything except Ambrosia (look them up) and between work and family responsibilities, there is zero time to spend investigating the latest trends.   

    Thankfully, I have some youthful dudes to play with and I’m hoping that they will keep me up to date.  If that doesn’t work, I am in serious danger of becoming one of the jowly guys. 

    [Next month: Steve recounts the 3 minutes when he was on the cutting edge…]

     

     

  • LivingArts: Those Who Tell Stories Rule the World

    June 10, 2015 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

     

    This month, I have been thinking about an article I read recently about how the important ‘new’ skill for business is storytelling.  It is great to see the art of telling a good tale being brought to the fore in the business world, and it has led me to reflect on some of the work done in education and in the arts.

    Sharing a personal anecdote helps us build a feeling of connection, of shared values or interests, and can humanize a person for those listening.  When I work with new staff and docents, one of the first things I ask is that they introduce themselves using a short anecdote rather than listing their credentials or past as we usually do.  I tell them to think of a story that tells us something meaningful about them.  Doing it this way takes a bit more thought, but it means that I have learned something valuable, and I feel that I know that person a little bit more.

    I think this is an important approach to take in all forms of teaching, and it is one we use often in arts education programmes when we talk about paintings and sculptures.  If a painting is worth a thousand words, a good story is worth a thousand factoids.  Looking at a painting can communicate so much information, emotion and energy that a reaction is instant, meaningful and memorable.  As art educators we know this inherently and often employ techniques in our teaching that use this experience to further our message.  When leading a discussion about an artwork with a group, be it an elementary class or a corporate team on a retreat, I work through an analysis with them to help them really look.  What are the details that the artist has included? Excluded?  What are people doing with their hands, where is their gaze?  What kind of brush strokes do we see?  Why has the artist chosen the materials that we see?  Through this experience of looking, viewers are able to build a story, and that in turn will lead to a much more meaningful experience and memory.

    As arts educators we must be sensitive to our audience – what are they interested in – not just what facts, but also what kind of information?  For free-choice learning (a museum visit, for example) the entertainment factor can be as important as anything else.  Find a way to reach your audience on their level, connect them with the art they are seeing, and the experience will be far richer and memorable.

     

     

     

  • Living Arts: A Thousand Doorways

    June 9, 2015 by Jessica Rose

     

    My sister went missing from the Burlington Public Library when she was somewhere between the ages of five and seven. This isn't my witty way of telling you she "got lost in a good book." Rather, she did quite literally go missing after a presentation in the basement auditorium of the Central Branch. She was under my not-so-watchful eye, and she simply slipped away. The police were called. My mother's face was streaked with tears as she shouted things like "Someone could have taken her all the way across the border by now!"

    Nobody took my sister over the border. She got separated, and she did exactly the thing parents tell their children not to do during "stranger danger" conversations. She left the library and found my parents' station wagon in the Central Branch's large parking lot. This is where we eventually found her.

    This isn't my first memory of the library. It probably isn't even in the first ten. But it certainly stands out as one of the memories I won't likely forget.

    In April, I had the amazing pleasure of introducing one of my favourite writers -- Richard Wagamese -- at his literary salon at gritLIT: Hamilton's Readers and Writers Festival. Over the hour and a half that followed, Wagamese shared with us stories of homelessness, poverty, and finding his voice as a writer. He also told us stories about his relationship with libraries, and inevitably, it forced me to reflect on my own.

    "Every book I ever opened had a thousand doorways in it," said Wagamese, speaking in particularly about the time he spent at the St. Catharines Public Library where librarians "were always there for me." Before he was a celebrated writer, he was homeless, hungry, and thirsty for knowledge. My memories of libraries come from a more privileged place; however, I share Wagamese's hunger for books and fondness of libraries.

    The Burlington Public Library's Central and Aldershot branches were both second homes to me as a child. The Aldershot branch is where I sat cross-legged for storytime and where I counted jelly beans in canisters in hopes of taking the whole thing home. The shiny beige plastic chairs would likely seem miniature to me now, but back then they were the perfect place to sit and decide which books to bring home.

    In the summer, Central Library was a weekly, sometimes daily, destination. My appetite for books was never more acute than during the BPL's summer reading program. For every five books read, I collected a prize, and I've been a competitive reader since. I've moved half a dozen times in the years since then, but I still have my summer reading program record sheets, and they're invaluable to me. They're keepsakes of the summers I met Amelia Bedelia, Cam Jansen, and the Rosso family (from my all-time favourite children's book, Ten Kids, No Pets).

    There are at least a hundred stories I could share about the role of libraries in my life, but here are only a few: Always the budding historian, in elementary school, I connected to the library's copy of Encarta and listened to the speeches of dead presidents. I checked out a hardcover copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz more times than I can count, and it was at that school library that I transcribed the lyrics to Michael Jackson's Heal the World to be sung at a school assembly. In middle school, I accessed the Internet for the first of a million times, and a whole new world was at my fingertips.

    In high school, the library was the place I pretended to study because it was easier to hide than to try to make friends. The school library is where we turned on the news to watch the World Trade Centre towers fall. It's the place where we held a memorial for two students who died too young fifteen years ago today. At the Carleton University library, I devoured copies of The Village Voice, reading about concerts I couldn't go to and movies I couldn't see.

    It's been years since I've visited the BPL, but for eight years now, I've had a new home at the Central Branch of the Hamilton Public Library, a place I first visited by bus in high school in search of Leonard Cohen CDs and a little bit of freedom. I do a lot of my freelance work, writing articles like this, tucked in a corner of the library's fourth floor.

    It must come as no surprise that I spent eight years editing children's books, and even more as a reader, writer, and reviewer. It will come as no surprise that I pity my travel partners, because each new destination means another library (or libraries) to visit.

    "One of the things we need to give to our children is that the culture of books is the best place to be in," said Richard Wagamese at gritLIT's literary salon. It goes without saying that I couldn't agree more.

     

  • LivingArts: Honesty

    June 9, 2015 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

     

    Earlier this year I was invited to contribute a work for a contemporary outdoor art exhibition in Toronto.  It was a pretty sweet invitation because it offered an opportunity to create a temporary outdoor site specific work—a challenge I particularly adore.  Better than that, it offered to pay me properly for my materials and my time.  Better even than that, the curators of the event had sought me out and invited me specifically to participate.  I did not have to apply or jockey or compete for this opportunity—I was chosen.  Chosen! Amazing how nice that feels.

    The only detail that gave me any whiff of concern was the fact that the event had branded itself with the adjective ‘Eco-Art’.  My art practice uses almost exclusively reclaimed and repurposed wood, which I happily describe as an environmentally sustainable practice.  However, the art that I construct from this wood doesn’t actually ever talk about the environment.  Therefore, when my initial excitement to be in this art show subsided, I started nursing the worry ‘does my work belong here?’ 

    But then I thought ‘Don’t worry about it.  They chose me, they must be familiar with the work I make and have decided that it jibes with their vision.” 

    In the months that followed I joined other invited artists to tour the site, was given photos and text in order to understand the historical and natural profile of the venue.  We were then told explicitly what we can’t do on site (dig into the earth with so much as a trowel, put art near where wedding photos are taken, situate art in any area that is undergoing an environmental remediation, for example).  Each artists was encouraged to submit a proposal of what we intended to present, and how our plans adhered to the shows conditions.

    None of this was in any way out of the ordinary.  The technical demands were strict, but my experience is that those limits often assist the formulation of a work rather than hamper them.  Much trickier was coming up with a work that ‘fit’.

    In the end, I decided to remain loyal to my own practice.  An honestly and sustainably made work of art that is not about the environment must be worthier than any environmental statement that I would contrive solely to suit the purpose of a show. Plus, they chose me.  They must expect me to make a work that is inside my own artistic practice, right?  How could it be any other way?

    Not surprisingly, I get called out several times to justify my proposal against the mandate of the exhibition. Each time I stick to my guns, insisting that my art is not environmental, but my materials and methods try very hard to be.  My idea is never rebuffed, but I certainly get the sense that I have pissed off the curators and organizers.

    So what do I make of all this?

    If the organizers of this event had said they wanted to commission me to create a didactic object to help with a summer’s worth of programming centred around  the environment,  I would have had no trouble abandoning my artistic goals to make a piece for them.   But because they use the words ‘art exhbition’ however, I feel I have to remain staunchly inside my artistic mission.

    Does a work that has nothing to say about the environment, but has nonetheless been made in an environmentally positive way, does it still say something about the environment?  If I made a great environmental statement, but delivered it using new, unrecyclable materials, would that be better?

    Should I have excused myself from the show, or should I have just laughed a hideous laugh and enjoyed the pay cheque?

    What is the honest thing to do?

  • LivingArts: Concrete Poetry

    June 8, 2015 by Brandon Vickerd

     

    The artist Robert Smithson argued that cultural confinement occurs when artists are forced to insert themselves into fraudulent or fabricated categories in order to have their work squeak by cultural gate keepers such as curators, funders, etc. He argued this was detrimental to the moral integrity of artists, and it is possible to extend this criticism to the realm of public art. Many artists feel in order to enter the arena of making “public art” it is necessary to engage in a series of compromises. Therefore, I am amazed when I encounter a work of public art that has run the gauntlet of negotiations with selection committees, consulting engineers, municipal rules and so on, and in spite of these challenges has apparently emerged unfiltered and undiltuted by the process. Locke Street has one such piece titled Concrete Poetry by Simon Frank. This series of phrases cast in bronze and inconspicuously inserted in to the side walk leads the viewer to ask more questions than it answers and expands social engagement within the neighbourhood.

    Long before I met Simon, Concrete Poetry was one of the first public artworks I encountered in Hamilton. Every time I stumble across these bronze words inserted into the sidewalk they present me with a new experience - a new frame for understanding the commercial strip that it grafts itself to. The plaques themselves are small and inconspicuous, but they effectively turn the experience of walking down the street into a performance. Taking them individually or attempting to decipher the entire message, engaging with the piece activates the street and adds value to the environment. I am not sure how this piece came to exist, if the selection process was contentious or if the artist was nudged towards altering his idea in relation to expectations of the selection committee or community stakeholders. In the end it doesn’t matter, because the artist navigated whatever hurdles were put in his way in order to craft a piece that adds value to the community in a meaningful and engaged way.

  • LivingArts: ...who shall remain nameless

    May 13, 2015 by Steve McKay

     

    One of my favourite people in the history of Earth is the visionary architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.  Aside from designing some of the most inviting buildings I have ever stepped foot in, he was also an interesting man in his personal life and an outspoken artist.  His opinions were always made known, right or wrong.  Frank also managed to revolutionize North American architecture TWICE.  Once at the turn of the 20th century and then again in the 40s and 50s, culminating in some wacky stuff like the Guggenheim Museum in New York.  

    One aspect I love about Frank’s buildings are the names: Fallingwater, Taliesin, Graycliff, and Westhope.  The buildings are beautiful on their own and worth a trip to see, but the name establishes the mystique.  It is permanently tied to the legacy of the building and just as much a part of the building as the bricks and mortar.  Frank always gets it right.  

    As artists, we always need names for things and most of us would agree that the naming process can be a joy and a pain.  The name you choose invites your audience and if you fail to name your project artfully, it can keep people away from the work.  

    In the music world, there are SOOO many names out there and it can be overwhelming.  

    As young folk, we don’t really care what the meaning of the name is, as long as it sounds cool.  For example, my band at Westdale was called Kashmir Funk.  We weren’t even a funk outfit, we played what can only be described as a precursor to Emo with bass solos all over it.

    After Kashmir Funk inevitably broke up, I took a leap of faith (so to speak) and formed an Anglican funk outfit called Anglicanwefunk?  The question mark was part of the name.  I think it’s fair to say that both of those were missing the mark.  

    After a few years of people making fun of one's band name, one starts to take things a little more seriously.  There is usually an attempt to capture the spirit of the project.  Even if you can’t come up with something that’s super cool and meaningful, you simply stick with whatever your given name is because people can’t judge you for your given name (unless it is “ Apple" or “ Seven").  

    Let’s say that you do finally capture the spirit of your project with a few words thrown together.  A few keystrokes on the old computer and you will find that your great idea has been eureka’d by thousands of others all over the globe.      

    Feel like you’ve found the perfect name?  It exists already in Australia.  Oh, you want to buy the domain for your website?  Can’t do it, bro.  You’ve got to tag “music” or “band” on the end of that because there’s already a jewelry shop based in Reykjavik called "Twin Within".  Seriously though, check out Twin Within Jewellery.  

    It’s enough to make you give up and choose a meaningless stupid name, like “Tar-butt” or “Smiggle-snomp”.

    It’s not hopeless, though.  The internet makes the steep climb of naming that much steeper, but you always get there in the end.  It just takes a little extra blood, sweat & tears (already taken).  

    Frank says it best: "The present is the ever moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow. In that lies hope.”

    I’m not sure what that means, but I feel like it means you’ll find a band name at some point between yesterday and tomorrow. 
     

    [Next month: Kashmir Funk takes on Smiggle-snomp and Tar-butt in a battle of the bands showdown…]

     

  • LivingArts: Art in the Garden

    May 13, 2015 by Brandon Vickerd

     

    Recently I found myself with a free afternoon in Washington DC, and decided to check out the Sculpture Garden of the National Art Gallery.  The 6 acre park full of mature trees and manicured spaces is located in the heart of the city beside famous museums and archives, and boasts sculptures from A-list artists, including David Smith, Claes Oldenburg, Louise Bourgeois.

    It is rare to see so many large scale art works in one location.  As a sculptor and educator, I was excited to see work I had only experienced in images. Upon entering the park, school groups sporting matching shirts and families snapping cellphone images of kids made it evident that this is a major tourist destination. It was exciting to so many people experiencing art in a public forum, but this was undercut by a strange sense of déjà vu. The wide open space was unsettlingly familiar: from the iron railings dividing the artwork from the viewer, to the descriptive plates in front of each sculpture, to the way viewers walked up to piece, snapped an image and walked away without investing further in the sculpture standing in front of them.

    Standing in front a giant Bourgeois Spider it struck me this this did not feel like a public art forum, so much as it did a zoo – a place where sculpture was contained, categorized, and safely tucked into cages. Encountering a bear in the safe confines of a zoo is a very different experience that encountering one by chance in the wild. In the zoo, the bear is not real; it is out of context and it poses no threat. The Sculpture Garden does this to the large scale sculptures it contains by removing them from everyday existence and placing them in suspended animation.

    This experience highlights the importance of public art – art that is encountered on the street, that inhabits the cityscape and is not segregated within a curated park.

     I realize that the Sculpture Park is ideologically more akin to an outdoor gallery than a public art arena, and I do not dispute the value of a citizen experiencing the collected work, however it seems counter to developments in public art over the past forty years.

    Claes Oldenburg famously said “I am for an art that does not sit on its ass in a gallery” (I am paraphrasing), I wonder how he would feel about his sculpture pacing in a cage like a confused lumbering bear.

    (Photos by Brandon Vickerd)

     

    BRANDON VICKERD is a Hamilton based sculptor and Professor of Visual Arts at York University. He received his BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (1999) and his MFA from the University of Victoria (2001).

    Purposely diverse, his studio work straddles the line between high and low culture, acting as a catalyst for critical thought and addressing the failed promise of a modernist future predicated on boundless scientific advancement. Whether through craftsmanship, the creation of spectacle, or humor, the goal of his work is to provoke the viewer into questioning the dominate myth of progress ingrained in Western world views.

    He has received numerous awards and grants from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Toronto Arts Council, and the Ontario Arts Council. Recent and upcoming exhibitions include Chopper at Art MUR Gallery (Montreal), Ace Art (Winnipeg), Grunt Gallery, and Artcite Gallery; Dance of the Cranes presented by Capitol Fringe (Washington DC), Sputnik Returned at Pulse (Miami, USA) and Sculpture by the Sea (Arrhus, Denmark), Clutch at the University of Waterloo Art Gallery (Waterloo, CA), and Monuments to a Perfect Future at Art Mur Gallery.

    www.brandonvickerd.com

     

  • LivingArts: Where is art education?

    May 13, 2015 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

     

    Typically when people think of arts education they think of yellow school buses lined up outside museums, artists in schools or maybe kids classes and camps.  These are all true, and likely make up the bulk of all arts education activities in schools and museums. Having recently read through some information collected from artist-interviews on the same topic, it seems that artists think the same thing.

    The Ministry of Education recently released a new arts curriculum that strengthens the role of art and of artists in the classroom, but we continue to hear about the lack of funding, equipment and supplies, not enough training or support for staff in the arts, and no money for bringing in artist-experts.  This is also all true, and I fear it leaves many artists with the idea that there are no opportunities for them in art education.

    This is definitely not true.

    Through my museum work, I spend a lot of time looking at different ways to bring the power that art has of art to teach and to inspire an ever-changing and varied audience. If all we think about is the school classroom, or the school-age child, arts education will never achieve its true potential of being the vehicle that changes the world. A bit of a grand statement perhaps, but there are so many things that other audiences can achieve through art I like to think in grand terms.

    Art education is in hospitals – providing opportunities for caregivers to share precious moments with their loved ones outside of the burden of care that they live with every day.

    Art education is in the streets – giving voices to people who have felt marginalized or outside the mainstream through art-making, mentorships, or simply being involved.

    Art education is in the corporate workplace – encouraging business teams to communicate and problem-solve in creative ways.

    Art education is in the bars and clubs – encouraging people to try something new, and to see the world in a new way.

    It can be in jails, shelters, libraries, markets and retail shops. Anywhere where there are people – art education can be there. 

    It’s up to the artists to break out of the old mould and reframe their educational roles, rather than being stuck in the rut of underfunded schools.  It is easy to say that schools should do better for students in the arts, but instead of waiting that kind of institutional change, I think it is better to go in new directions.

  • LivingArts: Hamilton’s Love With Leila

    May 12, 2015 by Crystal Jonasso...

     

    “I keep wanting to come back.” I must admit that it’s exactly what I want to hear. As a lifelong Hamiltonian, I want my hometown to be the kind of place where people want to be; as an artist I want my community to be a place where the arts are supported. When I stop and think about how much the arts scene has changed in the last five years I get giddy. As I hear my own excitement reflected in Izad Etemadi’s voice I am glad he cannot see my ridiculous notebook dropping happy dance through the phone. I may be a little biased in favour of the Hammertown but I am in good company.

    When Etemadi first came to Hamilton to perform a one man show ‘Borderland’ in 2013 he only knew one person in the city; two short years later he has connected to hundreds of people here, fans of his work who he feels more comfortable calling his friends. Originally from Victoria he has toured across Canada and tells me that he often connected with other touring artists in the cities that he visited but Hamilton was different. Here he felt that he really connected with the community, the audience. One evening, during a post-show discussion, a Hamiltonian suggested that one of Borderland’s characters was so fantastic they could have a show of their own.  The idea stuck with Etemadi and the following year he found himself in the Hamilton Fringe Festival again, performing exactly that. ‘Love with Leila’ was a hit, many performances were sold out, and the audience was hooked. Etemadi tells me he often got messages from audience members after performances telling him how they had been affected by his work; not only its humour but its darkness as well.  

    During one performance he, as Leila, spontaneously promised the audience that he would return with a Christmas show, and so he did.  ‘A Very Leila Christmas’ was performed at the Staircase Theatre in December 2014. It doesn’t stop there. After the 2014 Hamilton Fringe Festival Etemadi connected with the Immigrant Women’s Centre and hosted a series of storytelling workshops that culminated in a performance on International Women’s Day hosted by Etemadi as Leila and featuring 4 women from the centre. ‘Leila’s Girlfriends’ gave these brave women a chance to tell their own personal stories.  “My whole life has been consumed by Leila and I couldn’t be happier” Etemadi laughs. There is even a webseries.  

    Both ‘A Very Leila Christmas’ and ‘Leila’s Girlfriends’ are being developed further for Christmas 2015 and International Women’s Day 2016 respectively but it is ‘Love With Leila’ that has become the biggest ongoing project for Etemadi. He will be touring a new updated version of the show this summer with performances in Toronto, Winnipeg, Stratford, and The Sunshine Coast.  Etemadi still wanted to keep his connection with Hamilton and the Hamilton Fringe, and so a special performance of ‘Love With Leila’ will be held at the Pearl Theatre on May 21st as a benefit for the Hamilton Fringe Festival.  This updated version of the show contains never before seen content and characters, including Leila’s parents, so even dedicated Leila fans will see something new. Although he is set to travel far and wide again, Etemadi tells me that Hamilton is a special place: a supportive community where artists are safe to explore the journey of creating something new and honing their skills.  “Hamilton loves the journey” he says with a smile in his voice and I can’t help but smile too. Hamilton audiences love Leila and it seems that the feeling is mutual; “Hamilton Rocks” Etemadi concludes, “You can quote me on that”.

  • LivingArts: Why Arts Coverage Matters

    May 12, 2015 by Jessica Rose

     

    What's the first word that springs to mind when you think of the Hamilton Spectator? Chances are your adjective of choice isn't "adorable." But on April 23, the cover of the Spectator's GO Section was adorable. Boasting the headline "Cats in hats: It doesn't get much cuter than this," it was slathered with images of felines in knitted hats. Cute, right? I inevitably held it up to show my better half, and immediately we gave a collective, "Awww." We're predictable like that.

    After the initial overdose of cuteness, something struck me. I couldn't help but think of the dozens of artists and local arts organizations who would have killed for the front page of the GO Section. I couldn't help but think of the many authors, musicians, visual artists, arts advocates, arts events, and arts issues that could have taken precedent over an Associated Press article about cats wearing hats. (Surely there's a local artisan making hats for local cats who could have been highlighted). But in a world of tight budgets, local arts coverage is often the first to go.

    In Transforming Hamilton Through Culture, the City of Hamilton's Cultural Plan, which was approved by Council on October 23, 2013, cultural leaders identified three major opportunities. Communication was one of them, the plan stating "Increasing arts coverage will raise the caliber of public dialogue around the arts."

    Arts coverage matters, and it isn't only crucial because it helps artists and arts organizations fill seats at events or sell copies of their books. Though creating interest is one important function of arts reporting, there are many other reasons that arts coverage is crucial to Hamilton.

    • Local arts coverage tells artists and arts organizations that their work is valid and valued. It celebrates the achievements of local artists, giving voice to crucial members of the community.
    • Local arts coverage raises awareness about the value and impact the arts have on Hamilton.
    • Local arts coverage helps to inspire a new generation of artists, giving children and youth the artistic role models they need.
    • Local arts coverage builds social capital. It helps to create and sustain a sense of community and shared identity.
    • If done correctly, local arts coverage reflects the diversity of our community and the diversity of the artists within our community.
    • Local arts coverage creates a dialogue about issues important to artists.
    • Local arts coverage leads to economic growth within the arts community.
    • Local arts coverage celebrates creative expression. In a world of bad news, celebrating the arts can be a bright spot in the constant news cycle of doom and gloom.

    This, of course, is just a selection of why arts coverage is crucial in Hamilton. So, what do we do? As artists, we need to demand more from our mainstream local media. We also need to support the independent journalists and bloggers and publications that work tirelessly to promote the arts. The local literary community is lucky to have many local advocates in its corner, among them literary reviews (Hamilton Arts and Letters), bloggers (Dead Letter Birds), and reviewers who are dedicated to increasing awareness of the literary arts in Hamilton. I like to think it's our job as artists to support them in the same way they support us.

  • LivingArts: Art Champions!

    May 11, 2015 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

     

    Here’s a snippet of conversation I had the pleasure to be part of last Thursday. I’m on the top floor of 270 Sherman, the converted textile mill that is the site for an exhibition I’ve helped coordinate called TH&B United—lots of big works of contemporary art inside a sprawling factory setting (what’s not to love).  This particular evening the exhibition is open specifically for an event called Architecture Crawl, which buses people around a half-dozen historically significant buildings where they can drink, schmooze, and listen to live music.  It’s a buoyant event. 

    For what it’s worth, the fellow conversing with me was wearing an expensive shirt with cowboy boots.

    “Hey Buddy, so you one of the artists with this show?”

    “Yes.  I helped organize the event and collaborated on one of the pieces”

    “No shit.  Cos’ this is like crazy, crazy shit this art.  It’s like from a film or something.  You gotta walk me through it and explain it all to me”

    “Okay.  I can start by showing you this work by two friends of mine who…”

    “You guys put all this art up here just for tonight?”

    “No. It’s up for a month, we had an opening recep…”

    “You and your buddies must smoke a fucking huge fatty before you come up with shit like this.  You can’t think up shit like this straight; I know that.”

    “Um, yeah, I don’t know that it works exactly like that”

    “You don’t have to tell me how it works, man.  You artists, all of you artists are off the hook”

    It’s the sort of conversational exchange that I dream of.  And  as is the way with me, I spent several chunks of the past weekend meditating on this exchange.  Here’s where I am currently with my findings:

    Art Champions don’t always sound like Art Champions. The Architecture Crawl was put on by the Hamilton Burlington Society of Architects, one of the financial sponsors of our art exhibition. The crowd this event attracted—an eclectic mix of mostly professional workers in this city’s public sphere—had for the most part a deeply nuanced understanding of visual art the role it plays in the public sphere. The above conversation therefore is significant because it stood out radically from the other more polished exchanges I had that evening. All that being said however, the above conversation is still that of someone super excited by the art he was seeing, someone who spent a longer time engaging with the work.

    Art Champions don’t always want to know the truth about Artists. When the guy asked me if I smoked an inordinate amount of pot in order make art, he wasn’t asking for the truth.  I think the last thing this guy would want to know is how art-making for me is often scheduled and executed with the same sober matter of factness as my kid’s swim lesson. I think when he asks me about the big fatty, he is inviting me to ‘complete the myth’—he has a stereotype of what an artist is, the stereotype is essential to his enjoyment of the art, so don’t muss with his stereotype.

    It is sometimes impossible to distinguish between contempt and adoration. I swear both things were being transmitted to me in equal measure during our exchange. It was like he was saying ‘you are an impoverished, outlandish buffoon who will dance a jig for table scraps, and yet I wish I had the guts to be in your shoes right now’.

    I need to read a book about art’s relationship to film. It happens frequently enough that people express their approval of an art event by saying ‘it’s like something out of a movie”.  And the more it happens, the more obsessed I get in trying to unpack it.   Is it that art sometimes heightens the reality of things to the point that people can only process it in the context of cinema?  When they say ‘it was like a movie’, do they mean that they don’t quite believe it was true?

  • LivingArts: The Virtue of Virtual

    April 16, 2015 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

     

    In a recent meeting with volunteers from another gallery, I was asked a question that I have heard many times before.  Are my [staff] and I concerned that technology-based resources (like audio guides) will replace the work that we do?  The same can be asked of museums as virtual exhibitions and image access expand exponentially across the internet.  The short answer is always no.

    One of my most memorable museum experiences was walking through the doors of the Met in New York and finding myself in a place I had imagined for years.  The soaring architecture and the anticipation of seeing vast collection of centuries of art from around the world was thrilling. I was there for a conference and had five days to explore.  I saw the whole museum; I took five hundred photos, and have amazing memories of what I saw, but that first feeling is one of my favourite parts of the visit.

    Being immersed in such a space is a feeling that I often experience when I visit galleries and museums for the first time.  It is the result of absorbing everything about a place, and is about so much more than just the individual artworks on display.  Art-experiences, and thus art-education are about objects, which can be reproduced, but also include context, personal interactions, emotions and connections that go beyond just looking at a single visual object.  

    I have been thinking a lot about virtual arts-based experiences lately – online content, virtual tours and video conferences. As technology brings the world to our doorstep, the possibilities for innovative, interactive and multimedia programs continue to grow.  Museums can share exhibitions and collections with visitors anywhere and those virtual visitors can access information in so many ways, but I wonder about that real-life experience.  Is there a way to recreate that first sensation, and what does it mean if we can’t?

    Take the Google Art Project for instance.   Not only can you view artworks from around the world and zoom in to see the individual brush strokes, but you can enter many major galleries to see the work in situ, to virtually wander through an exhibition and consider works that are hung together.  You can see the architecture of these major museums and explore actual (virtual) spaces.  There are even options to curate your own collection.  

    As another example, I recall watching a video of someone walking through a Robert Rauschenberg exhibition a few years ago (which I have not been able to find) that was such a great way of experiencing the show – not just as individual photos of artworks, but seeing the scale of each piece in relation to the others, how the curator laid out the show, which works were installed together etcetera.  My understanding was so much greater, even though I had seen most of the works before.

    Finally, there was an Anselm Kiefer exhibition in Montreal years ago that I will always regret not seeing.  How happy I would be to take a virtual tour of that show!

    I have already imagined a number of online tour programmes for visitors outside our walls that can feature works that are no longer on display, or can bring artworks to audiences who cannot visit them in real life.  These resources allow artists to access the legacy of art-making the precedes them in many ways and allows for integration of this legacy into their own education-based activities.  There are endless exciting possibilities!

    My hope and goal in all that by sharing virtually what cannot be shared in reality viewers will be as excited as I am about art and museum experiences, and will take the next step and visit an artist’s studio or a museum near them as a result.  The virtual is an entryway, please take the next step!

  • LivingArts: MY VERY OWN TOP 5

    April 17, 2015 by Steve McKay

     

    My Dad loves lists.  He’s got a series of lists that break down his favourite things, like movies, books, and most importantly, his annual ‘top 100 songs of all time”.  I think I have like 5 songs in his top 100 - he’s my number one fan.

    I love lists too.  We all love lists - that’s why buzzfeed is constantly introducing new list concepts:

    - top 7 reasons why your cat peed on the coat rack
    - top 9 cat fights (with actual cats, not women at a bar)
    - top 6 cat-egories of dog-umentaries

    …and so on.  It’s apparently just lists of cats.

    Well, in the spirit of the “Age of Lists” and to pay tribute to my Dad, here are the TOP FIVE REASONS WHY YOU NEED MANAGEMENT.

    5)  Self-sabotage prevention

    If I had a dollar for every time that I indirectly sabotaged an event by skipping out on rehearsals or promotion, I would have at least $10.  Having a manager is basically like having a partner and you don’t want to let your partner down, so you don’t.

    4)  Dealing with self-promotion fatigue

    Most artists are in the business of self-promotion, whether they like it or not.  I feel like people don’t like people who talk about themselves all the time, so I try not to.  Turns out that’s a bad thing and sometimes my own Mother doesn’t know that I’ve got a show.  Having someone else to talk a big game about you is AMAZING.

    3) Drug connections

    Just kidding.

    2) Turning good ideas into GREAT ideas

    If you have a vision as an artist, it’s important to pursue that impulse and see it through.  I once had a vision that my solo project, YerYard, would be better as a duo (like Simon & Garfunkel).  With the help of some people who have their thumbs on the pulse of the music industry, we fleshed the idea out and it has really worked out.

    1) Business sense

    This is the most obvious reason why I needed management.  I actually have some business sense, but I’m relatively green in terms of the industry.  Working with people who KNOW what they are doing means I can focus on the artistic side.  Given that there is only so much time in the day, it’s important to spend that time working on your art.  Let somebody help you with the business side and pay them for their efforts.  It will pay you back dividends…

    That’s my list - take it or leave it.

    [Next month - Steve discusses his drug connections…]

  • LivingArts: In Tech

    April 16, 2015 by Crystal Jonasso...

    'Tech Week' - As I look at my calendar for next week those two little words seem so benign, however, the fact that their presence has prevented the addition of any other entries reveals some of their significance.  It is the last  seven days before opening night,  when all the separate components of a show come together for the first time and must be made to coalesce,  sometimes not so lovingly referred to as ‘Hell week’: it’s that time again.

    Tech week is like the high school years of a show’s life. It’s a short, stressful, transformative period where many diverse groups collide. In retrospect, we look at this time with nostalgia, but when immersed in it we are fighting for survival. Life before or after this time seems alien. Concerns that seem small in outside reality are dire within the hallowed walls of our transformation. Those who travel along with us through this journey are like family; until the journey’s end after which time we may not be able to recall their names.  Those who are separate from the process assume that we must be filled with excitement when in reality we are simply exhausted.  The most necessary of evils, we could not become who we must be without it. 

    Within tech week there are several events: 

    The Paper Tech: A meeting between director, stage manager, and perhaps other technical or production team members, during which each cue is discussed so that all concerned have a theoretical understanding of what ought to be achieved. 

    The Hang and Focus: A meeting in the theatre with the director, lighting designer, lighting operator, stage manager, and perhaps other technical or production team members during which each lighting cue is reviewed on stage and adjusted as necessary. Stand ins for actors are sometimes used; these stand-ins are called ‘light walkers’ and should be roughly similar in physical characteristics to the actors involved. 

    The Cue to Cue:  A run of the show with actors and technicians which focuses only on events on stage which trigger lighting cues, sound cues etc. Important plot points may be skipped. The purpose of this run is to cement what each cue looks like for director, stage manager, technicians, and actors. 

    The Costume Parade: a meeting with director, stage manager, costume designer, and actors where each costume is shown to the director on the actor to confirm that it is properly fitted, suitable for the activities the actor performs in it, approved by the director etc. 

    The Dress Rehearsal: A run of the show with all costume pieces. The purpose of this run is to allow actors and backstage team members to explore the timing of assisted and unassisted costume changes. It also allows the director to see the costumes in context and in action. There is also the possibility of a ‘Dress and Tech’ in which the new elements of lighting, sound, and costumes are all introduced simultaneously. 

     This is an extremely simplified list and does not account for the possibility that you are mounting a musical involving vocal, dance, and instrumental considerations. In each of these situations unforeseen circumstances will arise and problem-solving skills will be put to the test. This is the trial by creative fire that each show must pass. 

    Once more into the breach, dear friends.

     

  • LivingArts: The Tireless Work of Arts Organizers

    April 10, 2015 by Jessica Rose

     

    If you're a promoter of the arts, you know how hanging posters usually goes. It's windy and it's rainy, but your event is two weeks away, so you have no choice but to do it. You hold the tape in your mouth. The scissors dangle from your pinky finger. You press your entire torso against the poster so it doesn't blow away while you tape it to the pole. It's a ridiculous dance, but you do it dozens of times, and you think to yourself, "Yep. This year everyone is going to come!"

    Two days later, you inevitably walk by and your posters are gone. You try not to take it personally, but every other poster is still in tact. You think to yourself, "Wow. Someone in Hamilton really hates literary festivals."

    Promoting the arts, and promoting yourself as an artist, can be tireless, but necessary, work. Small arts organizations, like gritLIT, the literary festival I help organize, are run mostly by volunteers who donate their time in order to help colour the city with something vibrant. Promoting the arts doesn't end at 5:00 every evening. The work of committee members, volunteers, and organizers inevitably extends around the clock, especially in the weeks leading up to an event.

    Promoting the arts on a small budget is only possible because of the people who sit on committees, attend city council meetings to advocate for the arts, and network in order to help fledgling events and organizations appeal to a larger audience and grow into something bigger. Without volunteers willing to brave winter Art Crawls to hand out information and to take to social media to help spread the word, Hamilton wouldn't be the hub for the arts it is today.

    This week is National Volunteer Week, which seems a fitting addition to this post. National Volunteer Week is an opportunity to recognize the tireless, sometimes frustrating, work of people who dedicate their time promoting art, making art, discussing art, and advocating for art for little or no money. Promoting the arts can be tireless and thankless, but damn, it can be worth it.

  • LivingArts: Painting

    April 10, 2015 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

     

    I took my kids last month to see ‘Now’s The Time: John Michel Basquiat’ at the AGO.  I did this because my kids’ habit for art-making has been threatened by a myriad of shiny diversions on our computers, and I wanted to re-ignite their interest.  I did this because my older boy has recently balanced the act of drawing with an equal measure of erasing and cursing, choking a facility for art that has always come easy to him.  I did this because my youngest draws constantly, but refuses to categorize what he does as art.

    I was also curious to see if I could connect with Basquiat again.  His work has always been an emblem of the 80’s and 90’s, and I wondered if coming face to face with it again might be akin to listening to an Ani Difranco cassette—inspiring, but forever stuck in the era in which it was born.

    I have also been thinking a lot about painting recently.  The Blair Bruce exhibition that marked the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s centenary last year did unexpected things to my understanding.  It made me realize that I when I think about paintings as images, they don’t excite me as much as when I think about paintings as physical objects. Weird how that works.

    The Basquiat exhibition was nicely compact, and I thought it balanced out enough familiar big moments with more intimate and unexpected statements.   But it was an odd experience to take that kind of a blockbuster.   It was weird to hear youth educators unpack the work in order to make every single brush line a deeply considered intentional act.  As if to suggest that Basquiat working intuitively is somehow a slur against his genius.  There was also a positioning of Basquiat as a prophet; that he somehow knew what new shape America’s race crisis was going to take.  And maybe he was a genius prophet; what I wanted my kids to see was a guy who painted honestly about his circumstances, who used his art not to represent ideas but to work through ideas, and who showed that being loose and thoughtful are things that can happen at the same time.

    Within five minutes my youngest son was lying flat out on a padded bench like the wounded Christ, his suffering was apparently that great.   My oldest tried to stay interested but was clearly unnerved by the throngs of people, and subsequently tottered about in a daze.   As much as I could slow them down, we made the gift shop in about 30 minutes.   I purchased the catalogue as my consolation for not being able to linger.

    My sense of defeat had peaked by the time we were back in the car, driving home. What a waste of time and money. How the hell am I going to reach these kids, I thought. Can paintings really compete with the kind of immersive distractions that kids consume these days take?

    Two thirds of the way home and I overhear the following argument:

    Oldest Son: “I liked that he put crowns in all his work.  Like it was his own symbol.  I like that he paints like a kid.”

    Youngest Son:  “No. Basquiat can draw really well, but he chooses to paint like a kid.   He doesn’t have to paint like a kid, he actually wants to.”

    Oldest Son: Yeah. That’s cool.

    For the next two days the two of them retell the story of the exhibition to friends and relatives, they look furtively and quickly through the exhibition catalog, they make quick attempts at painting.    Each time the importance and impact of their experience seems to swell.   And each time they demonstrate a broader scope of understanding: Basquiat’s approach to making mistakes, his technique of cutting out details with paint, his use of found materials, of using text and symbols as ingredients.

    I guess that’s what you call a victory.  A slow, smoldering impact.  And maybe that’s how painting endures: it plays the long game.

  • LivingArts: Seeking to See Underneath

    April 10, 2015 by Ciara McKeown

     

    Invisibility is a tricky juxtaposition in the art world, where it’s so much about the visual but so much happens and is created in isolation. My experience thus far has been that most of us in this world embrace isolation (Introverts, unite! Individually, not together, of course). Despite this I've come to embrace and champion the invisible: the systems; the inner-workings; the 'process as product' way of practicing public art.

    If we struggle so much to have visual art supported and entrenched as a part of peoples' experiences, do we want to keep it hidden, unidentifiable and remote? Even when the public art project is a broadly accessible and noticeable visual display, seen far and wide, there are many important parts which remain hidden: like how the artist engaged with the many people who are inevitably part of the process; how s/he had others inform, help or create within the work, inevitably contributing to the outcome.  And what about site narrative, the stories which already create community ownership of their neighborhood instead of us imposing one.  I know many might disagree with me, because the underlying principle within public art is for art to be public, but I have found what ends up happening is that goal supersedes the rest; we fulfill the visual and lose the rest. Hence why there is often not a connection between the artist, place or people. This may also be why often public artworks don’t stand up in the critical context of good art.

    Despite an artist naturally wanting to share their work especially one created through a public art process, I think there are times when we don’t need to point to the ideas, we just need to have them and include them as part of bigger thinking. Veer away from display and spectacle, and dig underneath the basics and there are fascinating images that can be created.

    A friend and colleague had this idea about shifting the way we can access art and the artists' process, both economically and personally, and started a business that focuses on investment in production, so that you pay into a staged process rather than simply buying the end result (and end up with a more enriched and learned experience, and the art work of course).  I see this very much relating to the creative process of public art, by which there are so many implications beyond the artists' final work, that investment in making visible the invisible throughout the entire process is hugely worthwhile.

    I think in Hamilton right now we need both (desperately) – we need more responses and artistic ideas about place, more public art interpretations in our city. Right now, it doesn’t feel like public art is infused with the same energy that exists in other realms of the arts in our city; public art does not feel present and needs more visibility.

    Simultaneously, why don’t we talk about the invisible things that take place in our city: the inner systems; the workings of a city; of people, time and place - public art is a way to communicate but also to ask questions and prod criticality into existence, and that is an outcome that will surely be plenty visible.

     

  • LivingArts: I FEEL YOU

    March 18, 2015 by Steve McKay

     

    I feel you. 

    That’s not what you think it means!

    I have a heightened sense of how people feel and I anticipate how they are GOING to feel.  It’s a problem, because I sometimes get caught up in the anticipation of how someone is going to react and start talking about it.

    It comes across as if I am narrating our interaction.  For example, right now you are thinking:

    “Geez…what is this guy talking about?....hmmm…I wonder if somebody else liked the cute picture I just posted…”

    Am I right?  I’m probably right.        

    You may not know this, but Hamilton’s JUNOfest producers are the first in history to include Classical music in the general festivities leading up to the big show.   Traditionally, the Classical crowd looks after themselves, which is fitting because their crowd doesn’t usually like to ‘mingle’ with the unwashed of the rock/hip-hop/every-other-kind-of-music crowd.

    Or so I believed until Friday night.

    Working with the JUNOfest producers, I organized a Classical vs. Indie crossover event that brought together artists from varying backgrounds and encouraged them to cross-pollenate.  The results: a packed house with an eclectic mix of folks of all ages and backgrounds, reflecting the eclectic mix of music presented on stage.

    The response was 100% positive – which was surprising.  I mean, there were people in their 80s there and people who were born in the 80s.


    It’s funny – when the JUNOfest producers and I first pitched the event, there was a general feeling of who is going to come to this concert?   Well, about 175 people came to the concert and they loved it.  Now I’m looking for an opportunity to do it again.

    I guess it just goes to show that it’s hard to tell what will work until you try it.  

    That’s true not just as promoter, but as an artist as well.  For me, the audience is always a part of the creative process and, at times, I get caught up anticipating what they will like or dislike.  In the end, it never works and I end up frustrated and disappointed with the results.  You don’t know how people are going to react until you try it on them. 

     That sounds like the kind of message that GI Joe would tag on the end of an episode:

    [Kid practicing the violin alone in his room with a pouty expression, looking outside at other kids having a great time playing kickball.  GI Joe character enters the room:]

    GI Joe character: “Hey Billy – why the pouty face?”

    Billy: “I don’t fit in – those kids are playing kickball and I play the violin.  I wish I could be friends with them, but they won’t like me because I’m a nerdy violin kid.”

    GI Joe character: “Why don’t you practice your violin down on the street and watch them play kickball?  Maybe they’ll like it?”

    [Billy runs down to the street and plays violin next to the kickball game]

    Kick-ball kids: “Wow – Billy is so good at the violin!  That’s so cool!”

    Billy: “Thanks GI Joe – I didn’t realize that they would like it so much!”

    GI Joe: “Well now you know – and knowing is half the battle!”

    You have got to give the kickball kids some credit.   Maybe they’ll think playing the violin is cool.   

    [Next month: Steve finds a way to compare Dundurn Castle to Castle Greyskull]

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • LivingArts: Agoraphobia

    March 18, 2015 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

     

    I am not a people person.  Too many people at once makes me tired.  I know how that sounds.  It’s an odd thing for an educator to say, but it’s true. 

    Not too long ago I was fortunate to be able to spend a few days on my own in New York City while attending a conference.  So many people!  The streets held little interest for me, and I soon retreated to the comfort of the museum.  It was also filled with people, but there it didn’t seem to matter.

    On this trip, I was travelling alone.  I didn’t have to worry about anyone else’s interests or schedule and it was blissful.  I spent two full days at the Met, and two at MoMA.  I walked and walked and walked.  I sat for half an hour in the Monet Waterlilies room looking at two paintings.  I visited the El Anatsui installation and two Rauschenberg pieces four times.  I discovered that while I am not crazy about David Smith as a painter, I really like his sculpture.  There was a feeling of energy and flow in a museum that I don’t feel anywhere else.  For me, this is the feeling of making connections to the world around me.  I can saw the artist’s brushstrokes, or the finger prints left in a sculpture, I can see the process in the finished piece.  I saw some of those artworks that I had previously only seen in photos and it was thrilling.

    Luckily I realized a long time ago that for me it’s all about the art.  I love what I do.  That’s the energy that people feel from me at work.  While many of my more outgoing friends get fired up on the interpersonal dynamics of working with people, I do not.  I thrive on being immersed in a gallery setting, being surrounded by amazing and inspiring things.  Despite my inner introvert, I love giving tours - I can share what I love with others, talking about art, asking questions and encouraging others to look a little more carefully, think a little more critically and consider the world in a new way.  

    There has been lots of press on ‘the introvert’ of late, and it’s funny to me to see how many people have jumped into that group – lots of my artist friends, in fact.  I’m a different person when I’m in a museum than at a party or social gathering, and I’m okay with that.  The trick of it is to find what you love and the rest will work itself out.

     

     

  • LivingArts: Managing Theatre

    March 17, 2015 by Crystal Jonasso...

     

    You are in the audience watching a play; the conflict of the story has just been resolved and the main character sits alone onstage. The actor raises their head to face the audience under the guise of looking out a window. In their expression you can see everything that character feels about how this story has concluded and just when the moment of their connection with the audience has lasted the perfect amount of time the actor lowers their head and the lights on stage fade out in perfect unison leaving us with the feeling that, with the loss of their gaze, our connection to their world and their story has also been lost. The audience applauds. One audience member turns to their companion and says ‘That actor performed that so beautifully’, and they are right. Probably no audience member turns to their companion and says ‘That cue was called so beautifully’, although they would also be right.  Every moment on stage is a convergence of the work of many artists: playwrights, musicians, lighting designers, makeup artists, actors, each with their various works arranged like pieces of music painstakingly put together by the composer or, in this case, the director.  If a piece of theatre is like a piece of music and we could look out on an orchestra of all the artists involved sitting in their seats; the strings holding costumes, the brass waiting with cumbersome set pieces.  If you could follow their gaze to the conductor, in black, standing at the center with their baton poised as if to say ‘Standby’ you would see the unsung heroes of the stage. At the hand of this conductor these artists could perform a symphony or a cacophony; in theatre we call them the Stage Manager.

    In case the introduction above wasn’t sufficient evidence I would like to make a confession: I love Stage Managers (SMs). When I first got the chance to direct I considered it one of my first priorities to get a good SM. As I began my first foray into directing I could barely contain my excitement and as I shared that excitement  (perhaps not always in moderation) I got a question that surprised me from my friends who are not involved in theatre: ‘What does a Stage Manager do anyway?’ My first thought was: ‘What don’t they do?’ but I felt my friends deserved a better answer and this led me to reflect on the essential, but somewhat intangible, callers of cues.  In every production that I have been involved with there have been differences in the responsibilities of the various players involved depending on the creative processes of those involved. This variability and the finitude of my experience makes it impossible for me to give a definitive definition of what it means to be a Stage Manager but what I can share is my observations of what some SMs do that has caused me to love them.

    SMs excel in that critical area that I know myself and other artists can often struggle: organization. Before the rehearsal process even begins the SM is scheduling, and communicating with producers and designers.  Once a show is cast they are scheduling read-throughs, rehearsals, fittings, etc. During a rehearsal while actors and their director are exploring a scene the SM is taking a flurry of notes so that when the director says ‘that was perfect!’ there is some record of the perfect formula of blocking, timing etc. to reference.  Even before opening night the SM is indispensable but on and after opening is when, in my opinion, they truly shine. In most productions I have worked on, the last opportunity for the director to give notes, make changes etc. is before opening night. After the show opens the SM runs the show, literally. Like with a piece of music it is all about the timing; when do the doors open to let the audience sit? When do the lights change after this line? When does this actor change costume and who helps them? When (not if) something doesn’t go according to plan, what do we do? All these questions find their answer in the SM. Their artistry is in ingenuity, diplomacy and timing, timing, timing. But there is another key to the art of the SM, I realised, and here is where I came to understand the question asked by my friends on the other side of the fourth wall.  When done well this artistry, like magic, is nearly imperceptible. As an audience we believe the reality of the characters and we willingly forget that what we are seeing is contrived, and for that to be possible we forget that there is a Stage Manager. We forget the SM looking out on to that stage as that actor gazes off stage left where a window would be. We forget that repetition after repetition of this scene has led that actor and SM to know just how long is the right amount of time to hold the emotion on that actor’s face; it may be slightly different every night.  Like two musicians who have played together many times they have an understanding, a trust, and just at the right moment the SM says “LX cue 89, Go” and the lights fade just as the actor lowers their head. In that moment we believe and we forget. The audience applauds and it is beautiful.  

     

     

  • LivingArts: Criticism

    March 16, 2015 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

     

    I miss Lola Magazine sometimes.   Lola was a publication launched in 1997 in Toronto; it encouraged writing that discarded academic bluster in favour of ‘tell it like it is’ cheekiness, and it introduced to me the concept of ‘shotgun’ reviews.  Shotgun reviews were paragraph long critiques of art shows, television episodes, architecture, urban planning, whatever a contributor wanted to critique; they were written by students, artists, arts professionals, or anyone willing to submit.   The only caveat was that they had to be articulate.  Shotgun reviews were predicated on the belief that everyone had a critical faculty, that criticism could be applied to virtually everything, and that criticism was exactly as fun as it was necessary. 

    When Lola’s publication run ended in 2004, I had every conviction that shotgun reviews would somehow relocate themselves to the internet’s unfolding universe of blogs and participatory writing.   I also hoped, that with the cresting of arts activity in this city that some kind of critical culture would rise up along side.

    So where the hell is it?

    Here’s what worked and didn’t at last year’s Supercrawl Art Installation.  Here’s the biggest disappointment and the biggest surprise of last month’s art crawl.   Here’s a public art piece that knocked it out of the park; here’s another that could have been installed better.  Here’s a contemporary art installation at the AGH that was ambitious but unfocussed.  Where do I go to read those opinions? How could those opinions not lead to productive conversations?  How could art in this city not improve if these conversations weren’t frequent and public?

    I ask this as someone who writes about art for the city (i.e. I am complicit in this problem).  I cover the arts for Hamilton Magazine.  It comes out five times a year, and I have been told I cannot review things I’ve seen, I can only profile what’s coming.  Similarly, this blog allows me only monthly postings, and doesn’t have a context for critical response.    The Spectator, View Magazine, Urbanicity,  and a handful of online entities publish frequently enough to support critical response, but refuse to be anything other than positive and non-judgmental; which is odd because they are happy to be judgmental about other things (movies, local theatre, urban planning, etc).  The position seems to be that it’s better to boost and profile arts activity than to undertake the cold hard work of trying to sort out what is and isn’t working about it.

    As an artist, I have two decades of art production behind me, and the only reviews to my credit (both within and outside this city) are ones that describe my work and glaze it with affirmation.  It’s an expanded version of the same kind of geniality that happens when I post photos of my work on my Facebook.

    Cool work Tor!  You are awesome!

    And don’t get me wrong: I love affirmation.  It’s just, after a while, it makes you feel a bit like a ghost. Or like no one will ever tell you that you have egg on your face, because they love you too much to embarrass you.  So you walk around feeling loved, but also always wondering if you have egg on your face.  That’s what it feels like to work as an artist who has never properly endured public scrutiny.

    There are great critics in this city, there have been sporadic moments where that criticisms comes alive page and screen.  What would it take, I wonder to build a place where art and culture reviews were frequent, fearless, accessible, and centralized.

    How hard would it be to deliver shotgun reviews in Hamilton?

  • LivingArts: Long-term Gain

    March 12, 2015 by Ciara McKeown

     

    I was reminiscing recently on my days running a small, scrappy public art start up in Brooklyn. The days when I worked so closely with artists we spent hours and hours together talking about art, theirs and other peoples`; when the smallest tasks were fantastic, when 'important' meetings were my 'first time' meetings, and it was all fresh, exciting and inspiring (while stressful and exhausting). But what that experience did have, at the core of a freely developing organization, was the ability to adapt. We met with neighbors and artists and local politicians, we listened, we learned and we grew. We thought about the immediate while simultaneously always thought about the big picture - I don’t know that my energy and hours could have been spent otherwise – but we knew the potential that was there, and the risks and chances were everything. As an experience so different from the one I live now, in a public organization, even the time outside of work I spend thinking about or doing public art stuff, it feels like the impending structures overpower the ideas and the vision.

    Related to this, I've been thinking a lot about the big picture, and how important long-term planning is, in order to have a platform for ideas and for public art to be part of, and mean something beyond itself. Based on what I`ve seen in other art plans (especially in Europe and the US), and what I think is a noticeable shift in public art in recent years, the vision is also about disruption and hidden meanings, underlying systems and connectedness. Yet this change is not embraced in some stratas of this field and we need to catch up. For example, this week at work I was trying to find examples for a colleague of well-sited ‘successful’ public art in a public plaza or park. Another public art guru and I racked our brains to come up with something…..it sadly took way too long. Well-sited, permanent art in public squares/parks brought me back to looking at the monumental Plop art in plazas in the 1960s. For two days my colleague and I spent time in frustration, recognizing that for so long, and still, people see all public art in this way! And a lot of it is not good!

    It has nothing to do with the power of the sculpture or allowing the artists' ideas to flourish for a long time in a publicly accessible space - that is absolutely important and will be for a long time. But I wish the other side could flourish just as much. I see the issue more about following systems we set up years ago which enforce a production line of works into situations where they often lack vision. You may disagree, but you can tell when a work is not part of a bigger picture or plan (we expect this when we’re in an institutional setting, why not in our public spaces)?

    Conversely, I met with an artist collective this week who work not within a physical space or site when working in public, but I would suggest practice within the realm of experience and subversion – and there IS a plan for that because it’s about bigger vision, longer-term, and their ideas as a whole. And it was inspiring to feel like I was back in Brooklyn, being part of the ideas and feeling free to think about vision and the POSSIBILITIES. It’s all long-term when it becomes personal, when you`re invested in it. So investing in the artist, the idea over the system, might free us to adapt and be nimble, and give us more to believe in.

  • LivingArts: (Don't) Quit Your Day Job?

    March 13, 2015 by Jessica Rose

     

    I'm writing this article at two o'clock, but for the first time in a long time, it's two o'clock in the afternoon, not two o'clock in the morning. I'm not writing this on a train or on my half-hour lunch break. I don't feel rushed, like I usually do.

    Two weeks ago I quit my job. I walked into my boss's office with a letter in hand, and I gave my resignation after eight years. It wasn't an easy decision.

    At 23, I landed what seemed to be a dream job, editing books to be used in classrooms. I was energetic and passionate, and I couldn't wait to get to work each day. I felt in control of everything, but that control was fleeting. Eventually, commuting, negativity, and the strict 9 to 5 began to feel suffocating.

    As artists and organizers, we learn to find time, even when there isn't any, to do what we are passionate about. The small hours of the night and my already-busy weekends became my time to write, to create, to organize, to burn myself out. Sunday nights would inevitably come, bringing with them a feeling of dread. I worked all the time, and when I wasn't working, I felt like I should be, and with that came guilt.

    For years, I've been an advocate for Hamilton, writing about it and talking about it as often as possible. But five days a week, I boarded a train that took me outside the city to work. It felt like a betrayal.

    In the early days of my career, I'd see men and women on the train with misery painted on their faces. If they're unhappy, why don't they just quit? I thought in my naivety. I learned eventually that quitting a job isn't easy, even if it makes you unhappy. To state the obvious, financial stability is a luxury, and one that isn't easily thrown away.

    Anaïs Nin once said, "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." They're words I'll eventually pin to the wall of my home office once I finally finish painting it (something I'll now have time for.)

    It's easy to romanticize the allure of being a full-time writer. It's what many in literary circles aspire to become. It's also a luxury. One that most of us can't afford. In her recent viral article, full-time writer Ann Bauer wrote about her own privilege, saying "In this world where women will sit around discussing the various topiary shapes of their bikini waxes, the conversation about money (or privilege) is the one we never have. Why?"

    I didn't have the luxury of quitting my job without a safety net, one that could cover my bills and buy my groceries. After two years of searching, I finally found one with an organization in Hamilton that does deeply inspiring work. It's a job that will allow me stability while I begin to take back control.

    It's only been a few days since I've started my new life. I still have the comfort of knowing there's one more paycheck on the horizon, and I haven't yet needed to panic. I can't tell you yet if this move was a good idea or bad, but there's a freedom in knowing I'll get to find out.

    Chances are, you'll still find me writing at two o'clock in the morning. It's when my mind feels most alive. But it's a luxury to know it's a choice I get to make. I've taken back control.

  • LivingArts: Following Kitestring

    January 20, 2015 by Crystal Jonasso...

     

    If you follow a #Kitestring where does it lead? Apparently, the sky’s the limit. If you take a look around our city you will see the thread of this company’s work winding back and forth through the Hamilton arts community. With a client list that includes: CoBALT Connects, The Hamilton Arts Awards, The Art Gallery of Hamilton and The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra this creative team, lead by designing duo Jenn Hudder and Chris Farias, is helping artists and arts organizations to express themselves through a different  medium; the brand.

     As artists we naturally want to express ourselves, to make a connection with others, but first we need to find those ‘others’.  When I set out to direct my first independent production for the 2013 Hamilton Fringe Festival I felt totally at home in rehearsals, sharing the creative process with my cast, but bereft when it came to making a marketing strategy.  In particular I remember a vast emptiness on my Fringe application form under the heading ‘Company Website’. I didn’t want to create a ‘brand’ I just wanted to tell a story! So I must admit I was surprised when I asked Farias to tell me about his work and he replied “We help clients with everything from creating their brand to helping them engage with their audiences… we create brand stories”.  Suddenly the intimidating world of internet presence and social media exposure seemed not so far off stage left.

    Farias is no stranger to the mind of an artist (if you want to take a Big Wheel ride down memory lane check out his recent project: http://www.kitestring.ca/social/blog/portraits-canadian-childhood and says that he enjoys working with arts and not for profit groups. In fact he recently won a national award for his work supporting the arts at the Canadian Arts and Business Awards.  The Arnold Edinborough Award is given to a business professional, under the age of 40, in recognition for their leadership and volunteer work within the arts. Farias was nominated by his fellow Culture for kids in the Arts board members alongside more than a dozen other young entrepreneurs from across the country.  When speaking about his work in the arts community which attracted such attention Farias was clear; ‘it’s important to me’. I couldn’t agree more. In a city where the presence and influence of the arts community is on the rise it’s easy to see where Farias has tied his kitestring, and perhaps also his heartstrings.

  • LivingArts: Make Me Better

    February 12, 2015 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

     

    I have recently read some interesting articles about the correlation between success and kindness. 

    According to one of them – the two don’t match up.  I think this can be true in a number of areas of life, but I’m particularly interested in looking at this as an artist and educator.  As the article says, "we are consumed with protecting [our children] instead of preparing them for the future. We haven't let them fall, fail and fear."  In arts instruction, we want to see students learn and achieve, but we also want them to feel comfortable taking risks.  If they are afraid of criticism and failure, that won’t happen – right?

    I still recall the dread I felt every other Thursday when I was in university, as we approached ‘crit day’ – the day we presented our work to our professors and peers (to the wolves, it felt like sometimes) for discussion.  It is no small feat to stand in front of a group of people and say “This is what I have created, and this is what it’s all about.”  A discussion would follow, debating the merits of the concept, the success or failure of its execution, and pondering what should happen next.  There were some in my studio class who relished the opportunity to debate – their own work especially, but that of others as well.  Some were diplomatic and helpful; others a bit less so.

    Well, I survived and actually learned a lot during those critiques.  My work developed in new ways, and I tried things that I wouldn’t have considered on my own.  The professors did not have the worry of parents fearing to hurt our feelings; they were there to push, to challenge any comfort we felt our in successes and to point out work that was too safe.  I knew it was useful at the time, but I didn’t love it. I never knew that years later I would actually it.

    Since then, I have been fortunate to have had a few exhibitions.  It still feels like I am exposing some private part of myself to the world, but people are very kind.  They tell me they love my work.  They show me the piece that they like best.  They often have really interesting things to share with me as well, which is the part that I like most.  But somehow I actually miss the critical voice – the one that asks if this was the best way to communicate my idea, or the most original way of crafting an object…

    Nice is lovely, but thoughtful criticism is far more productive.

     

     

  • LivingArts: Silence is golden

    February 12, 2015 by Steve McKay

     

    I’m completely uncomfortable in silence. 

    When I have to drive the babysitter home at the end of the night and make conversation, we inevitably run out of things to talk about with 10 minutes left to go and I die in that moment.  My discomfort in silence goes so deep that I fill the air with horribly awkward topics (boys, why the car smells like soy sauce, do you know what Mortgage Broker does,  etc).  It’s awful, but it’s better than the silence.

    As a musician, silence is inevitable.  Louder music (ie. most popular forms of music) tends to lean away from silence, because silence is a killer of good vibes.  If my band finishes up a tune and the audience doesn’t cheer, the awkwardness creeps in and dials up until we start another tune.  In those circumstances, my fear of silence is really just a fear that people don’t like the music. 

    In the classical world, however, sitting in silence doesn’t bother me at all.  In fact, I almost prefer how artists can take their time between movements/songs and milk the silence, because it enhances the anticipation of the next bit.  In fact, you are expected to sit in silence – that’s the rule – and I can be comfortable with that, so long as it is being forced on me by etiquette.

    You might think that the difference between the two cultures is due to the style of music being made.  That’s not quite the case – the current classical culture of silence is not a time-honoured tradition.  A large chunk of the repertoire that we perform today would have premiered in loud, busy halls with people yelling into each other’s ears the same way that we do in bars today. 

    We choose to be silent at classical concerts and there’s a tacet agreement between the musicians and audience that the music is more important than any socializing, coughing or sneezing. 

    The music has nothing to do with it.  The different cultures of quietness are dictated predominantly by the venue that you perform in, not the music.  If you ever see a pop artist performing in a Church, I bet you’ll find that people are much less inclined to chat.  If you saw a string quartet performing in a bar, I imagine the audience would feel much more comfortable talking to one another during the performance.

    As a performer, I’m always looking for the perfect spot in the middle - the goldilocks venue that lends itself to socializing AND a little reverence for the music being performed.  I haven’t quite found it yet, but my experience at The Baltimore House last week was fairly close. 

    We did our first event of my new WORKSHOP series, where undisclosed participants perform new works in front of a supportive audience.  The vibe was social, but once the music started, people were quiet and engaged.  As each number ended, there was a tiny moment of silence, followed by a cheer and the usual chit-chat while we awaited the next bit.

    …<crickets>…

    That’s the sound of me sitting in silence, while I contemplate whether or not I should take a vow of silence. 

    [Next month – Steve breaks his vow of silence at the Tim Horton’s drive thru]

     

  • LivingArts: In Review

    February 12, 2015 by Crystal Jonasso...

     

    This is how it happens; you are on stage, you are in character, and everything feels right. Suddenly beyond the glow of the lights something in the darkness on the other side of the fourth wall catches your eye. Someone in the audience has entered your awareness and now their presence cannot be ignored. Perhaps it’s because your subconscious recognized them or perhaps it is because they looked away from the stage to write something down, whatever the reason there is now an additional player in your creative space: the reviewer.  If you let yourself slip you will find your mind full of questions rather than your lines: What are they writing? What are they thinking? Will they mention you? Will they fail to mention you? Which is worse?  Most importantly: Do they like it?

    I have been that actor on stage, I have been that reviewer in the audience, and I have most certainly been the theatre going reader who wants to know what there is to see on Saturday night. Who are reviews written for and what is their purpose?  Should they be written in a positive light to promote our developing community? Should they be written in a critical manner to raise the standards of our art? Should they be simply informative for potential audience goers? Should they somehow attempt to be all of these things?  One thing is for certain; reviews are important, they affect audience attendance and therefore box office revenue.  I have even heard artists say “I want to produce X show but I know that X reviewer doesn’t like that script so I won’t.”  This is the power of the review.

    Many actors I know prefer not to read reviews of their own work while a show is running. They have faith in the choices made by their director, their scene partners, and themselves during the rehearsal process and they do not want to be influenced by an outside element.  Some actors I know do not read reviews even after a show has closed for these reasons. Out of respect for these choices reviews are often not discussed among performers.  As an actor or director I choose to read reviews even during the run of a show with some mixed results. I find an outside perspective interesting and I want to be able to use positive reviews to help promote my work. Most importantly as an artist who is still developing the foundation of my craft I am looking for feedback. I have, however, sometimes regretted the choice to satisfy my curiosity; criticism can be a tool for growth, it can also sometimes be hard to digest.

    When I have had the opportunity to write reviews I try to reach a balance between these three priorities; expressing my personal opinion, offering constructive feedback to artists, and describing to the reader what type of audience might enjoy the performance so that they can determine if it is of interest to them. While trying to balance these elements it is also important not to spoil the action of the story and say it all in 500 words or less.  It can be challenging.  If one of these three priorities must take the lead then, in my opinion, the review should be directed primarily at the theatre goer. Although it is impossible to be unbiased due to personal preferences the reviewer is in many ways a proxy for potential audience members and should write for them. This must be done with an awareness of the singular opportunity that reviewers have to challenge and support artists in their community.  

    As I ponder the importance of the review in the life of an artist I am struck with a conflicting feeling.  When I find myself on stage with a pen and paper moving distractingly in the corner of my eye the instinctive feeling that I have is that the review doesn’t matter at all. There are dozens of other bodies out there in that darkness and each one is watching a different performance. Whatever that pen put to paper and eventually to print has to say, in the end that is just one person’s opinion.  

  • LivingArts: I Read Banned Books

    February 12, 2015 by Jessica Rose

     

    I can't remember exactly how old I was the first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird, but I know for sure I was older than 13, but younger than 18. I was a high-school student, and Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was mandatory reading. The book offered a stark contrast to my life in the suburbs in the late 90s, and I devoured it in just a few days.

    To Kill a Mockingbird isn't a perfect book, and there are many others that could better teach high-school students about racial segregation. However, it's a book worthy of praise, and one that I could read over and over again. Not everyone shares this opinion. To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged in schools and libraries repeatedly for five decades.

    Freedom to Read Week is just around the corner, taking place this year between February 22-28. The annual event "encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

    Attempts to censor books in schools and public libraries happen today, and sometimes, right in our own backyard. In 1993, the principal of a Hamilton school removed To Kill a Mockingbird from a grade 10 reading list after a parent complained. In 2006, a parent challenged a title in the Burlington Public Library's collection, calling The Waiting Dog, a picture book for kids in grade 3 and up, "vile" and "revolting. In 2007, the Halton Catholic District School Board "ignored the recommendations of its review committee and voted to ban [a trilogy by Philip Pullman] from school." In 2013, a formal complaint was lodged against the Toronto Public Library by a patron who felt Hop on Pop, a classic by Dr. Seuss, "encourages children to use violence against their fathers."

    At least book burnings are a thing of the past, right?

    In 2012, Hamilton-based author Lawrence Hill was the recipient of the Writers' Union of Canada's Freedom to Read Award. At the time, Greg Hollingshead, Chair of the Union, said "We felt that he deserved this honour on the basis of his reasoned and eloquent response to the threat to burn his novel The Book of Negroes." Hollingshead is referring to a public burning of the book's cover, which took place in Amsterdam in June 2011 by a group that opposed the book's title.

    "Burning books is designed to intimidate people. It underestimates the intelligence of readers, stifles dialogue and insults those who cherish the freedom to read and write," wrote Hill in The Toronto Star. " The leaders of the Spanish Inquisition burned books, Nazis burned books."

    Artists, no matter the medium we work in, take on many roles. We push boundaries, share original thought, and cultivate ideas in interesting ways. We'd live in a boring world if writers only wrote books to please everyone.

    The arts offer teachable moments, and instead of keeping books away from youth, we should do the opposite, encouraging dialogue about them. This Freedom to Read Week, I'm going to reread To Kill a Mockingbird or one of the many other books that have been challenged in Canada or around the world. I hope you do, too. 

  • LivingArts: Labels

    February 12, 2015 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

     

    One of the things I love about visual art is how it constantly reminds me just how fickle the human heart is—how it can be put off or turned on just by the mere tweaking of a detail.  For example, the first time I encountered one of Fiona Kinsella’s gothic cake sculptures (which you can see@ http://fionakinsella.com), I was impressed by her execution, but felt a bit alienated by it.   The next time I encountered the work, I looked long enough at it to notice that the label near the piece seemed unusually long-winded.  This is what it read:

    Fiona Kinsella

    Cakes) Patron Saint of Housekeeping (St. Anne, St. Monica, St. Martha, St. Zita) (2006)

    Royal Icing, napkin set, hair of a woman, tablecloth, sewing scissors, shark teeth, red ribbon, agate, gold, citrine & seed pearls, stork, cameo, keys, dragon,needles, fossil, hat pin, stick pins, fondant. Hamilton, Burlington, Dundas, Nashville, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?

    I can’t explain it, but the label ignited my appreciation of the work in a way I don’t think I would ever have felt otherwise.  It was one of those details, one of those tiny moments of building context for an artwork that should be inconsequential, yet makes all the difference.

    Labels are important.

    In 2000, when I worked at the Art Gallery of Hamilton and was coordinating exhibitions for its Community Gallery, I had the chance to serve as a juror for an annual show by the Women’s Art Association of Hamilton (WAAH).  WAAH is possibly the oldest artist group the city has ever known (its annual exhibition has run uninterrupted since 1896).

    As you might expect from such an established group, the work submitted by its members tended to be for the most part very traditional and unsurprising.  A clear majority of it was painting in either oil or acrylic or watercolour, of which broke down further into genres of urban and natural landscape, still life, and portraiture.   There were occasional moments of abstraction and expressionism, but not many.

    I decided that my mission as juror that year would be to seek out and reward any examples of risk taking. 

    Imagine my surprise when I came upon an oil painting of a lush backyard garden, which upon first glance seemed unremarkable until I read the label: ‘Demise amid the Flowers’.  The title was so staggering that when I looked back at the painting I was struck by the way its heavy colours evoked a subtly looming feeling of dread and claustrophobia.  It caused me to study the work deeply enough to discover the trace of a human figure, a girl, tucked into the foliage, barely perceptible.

    Who or what was facing demise?  The girl? Her innocence? Had the artist decided to confront a memory of an assault (or murder), I wondered? Was this a quiet, yet deeply personal exploration? Or had the artist submitted this work as a fictional provocation against the otherwise conservative nature of this juried exhibition? With not much more than the title and some slight clues within the picture, this artist had completely challenged the tone of an otherwise polite exhibition. 

    I advocated deeply that this painting be considered one of the prize winners for the year.

    At the opening reception, I had a chance to congratulate the artist on her work (my deep apologies for not being able to remember her name).   She was a tiny, older woman who seemed delighted at the attention.  She took my arm and lead me to the painting, and said ‘do you see her? Do you see the little girl hidden in bushes there?

    “That’s my great granddaughter.  Denise”

    Denise.

    ‘Denise amid the Flowers.’

    The next morning I went and corrected the mistake on the label. I attached it beside the painting, a painting for which my heart no longer held any feeling.  I had a learned a valuable lesson.

    Labels are important.

  • LivingArts: How Does It Feel?

    February 12, 2015 by Ciara McKeown

     

    I sometimes feel lost, like I'm floating through my public art experiences not fitting in a 'role' or recognized path – I'm not a curator, I'm not an educator, I'm not an artist. I work in public art, without a discernible identity. I used to joke with colleagues that we are un-certified construction managers, un-trained engineers, facilitators and amateur therapists, a million things while maybe being nothing at all. It can feel like a specialized education or experience in public art doesn't mean as much when it's the public realm, because there are so many involved in creating it, curating it, building it; we get classified as just pushing contracts for pretty steel objects.

                While some days I dont feel optimistic, other days I know it's facing my feelings, losing fear and taking ownership of the role no matter how vague or not-understood. I also know we need public art therapy (I think I can safely speak for many of my friends and colleagues in the field who have shared similar or related feelings). I try to remind myself that we are, in fact, a WE and we are many strong! I can feel like a wanderer all I want, daily, but the bigger picture and longer-term always brings me back to the thing: the art, the artists and the critical nature of our work.

                It helps to acknowledge the insane amounts of credit that are due to the amazing skills of a good project manager, administrator. It makes an identifiable difference to a person, a project, and I've seen first-hand how taking ownership, asserting leadership and confidence in the process can set the necessary path for the best experience to happen.

                By knowing the broader context and being aware of public art beyond our projects, our programs/organizations and our cities, by keeping informed and knowledgable, I assert my pride and professionalism in being part of the bigger 'art system' and not needing external acknowlegement of that. The work and the artists' experience is the success, the criticality is the succes. And we as a group can be the strength needed to keep pushing.

                Sharing resources and creating opportunities to talk to the many other public art managers who struggle and lose and win in all kinds of ways, is a critical part of the 'healing'. That's one of the reasons I started a regular public art round-table event, so colleagues, regional and national when possible, can come together and talk, share, learn, grow and yes, play psychologist to each other. We haven't yet changed the public art world, but everytime we gather, I feel we are honestly steps closer and more 'weightless' having shared our joys and agonies. 

  • LivingArts: Artful Moments

    January 23, 2015 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

     

    January is Alzheimer’s month.  It is easy to find many concerning statistics about increasing rates of dementia and the toll it takes, but this month is meant to be about hope – new supports and options for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, for their loved ones and caregivers, and for some of the hopeful ways of managing and slowing the progress of the disease.  Dementia cannot be cured (yet) but there are many things that can help.

    I am very proud to have been part of an innovative pilot project called Artful Moments, which was a partnership between the Art Gallery of Hamilton and St. Peter’s Hospital.  We created an arts-based programme for persons with dementia who were residents of SPH that involved art appreciation conversations, gallery tours and hands-on art-making.  I cannot say enough about how much I enjoyed the programme, and the experiences I shared with our participants and their family members will stay with me.  I learned a lot of things that will inform my work well beyond this project too.

    Our focus is quality of life in the moment.  The experience must be positive and engaging as it is happening.

    Our activities aim to engage the participant and the caregiver.  Each experience is a shared moment, a chance to connect together in a positive way that puts the diagnosis aside.

    Our programme is all about the experience and the process, not the final results.  There is pleasure in looking at art, in moving a paintbrush around a canvas, in selecting colours and shapes of fabric to make an artistic work.

    Every person involved must have a voice and be welcomed to express themselves.  This is sometimes as subtle as a nod or smile, a whisper or sound.  Encouragement, acknowledgement and welcome are essential.

    The learning and experience is not one-way.  I have learned so much, and see things so differently now because of the people I met.

    I look forward to new programmes and opportunities, and am pleased to leave you with this short video of our programme.  I get chills every time I watch it.

  • LivingArts:Hamilton is right next to Toronto (but is it, though? [yes it is {but it doesn’t feel like that sometimes}])

    January 22, 2015 by Steve McKay

     

    For the years 2006 - 2011, I was living and performing in the people’s republic of FORD NATION. It wasn’t Ford Nation yet – no –that dream was not quite realized until just before I skipped town to move to Hamilton.

    When I first moved to Toronto in 2006, the city’s music scene was going through a major boom. The community was super tight and grassroots operations like Wavelength, Arts & Crafts, Blocks Recording Club and a number of other groups were making a buzz internationally. It was a good time to be a musician moving to Toronto. Not long after moving there, I had started playing with Bruce Peninsula and we were playing the Friday live slot on Q (the same episode that Steven Page announced his departure from BNL, incidentally).

    It was a great scene for the 5 years I was there and it still is, today.

    When I left the ‘Big Smoke’ and moved to the ‘REALLY Big Smoke’ in 2011, I had it in my head that I would keep up my status in the Toronto scene by rolling into town every now and then, attending concerts, occasionally performing and liking people’s Facebook posts.

    Artistic commuting is definitely a growing trend, especially when big urban centres are becoming so unaffordable. I’ve heard stories of artists commuting from Buffalo to Manhattan every weekend…

    Well I tried it. It worked for a while, but as time went on, it became abundantly clear that NOT living in Toronto meant losing my Toronto scene status.

    At the same time, it was taking quite a while to establish myself in Hamilton – go figure. I was wasting time and energy chasing rainbows in the 416 when I should have been focusing on the good ol’ 905.

    The thing is, although we are right next to Toronto, we may as well be in Winnipeg. There is no cross-pollination happening between the two cities – it’s not like people from Toronto are coming here to check out what we’re up to. Hamilton is just far enough away to be it’s own scene and close enough to be forgotten.

    It took me almost three years to figure this out.

    Now that I’ve figured it out, I’m trying my darnedest to make sure that other musicians know and embrace it early on. With the cheaper real estate, there are a number of well-established musicians moving to Hamilton and I imagine they are planning to make the commute. Just this past December, I had three musical pals move here from Toronto.

    In an effort to introduce them to the local musical community, I am putting together a couple of “welcome to the neighbourhood” events at Baltimore House. Called WORKSHOP, the premise is that established artists will go up on stage and workshop new material in front of other musicians. It’s part open mic, part meet and greet and something that I hope will weave the musical fabric a bit tighter.

    Heaven knows I could have used something like that when I moved here in 2011.

    [Next month – Steve explores the nightmare of what McKay Nation would look like…]

  • LivingArts: Resolutions

    January 16, 2015 by Jessica Rose

    I learned a new word over the holidays. Tsundoku is a Japanese noun meaning "leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled together with other unread books." It's a stunning word, and it, briefly, prompted a New Year's Resolution.

                A handful of months ago I bought a house, moving from Durand to Hamilton's Stinson neighbourhood. The move went smoothly, with the exception of one thing. Well, hundreds of things to be exact -- the many books I've accumulated over thirty years as a reader and ten years as a book reviewer.

                "I hope you like this place," said my better half, "because I'm not moving these books again for a very long time." Besides realizing that books are a pain to move, I realized another thing. I've never read many of the books that line my bookshelf.

                Enter my logical New Year's Resolution. Instead of adding more books to my collection, I should read the books I've been neglecting for years, right? This seemed like an obvious resolution -- for about five seconds.

                What writers need is support from their local community, meaning a moratorium on buying books is the last thing I should have. For an arts community to thrive, artists need to feel supported, and they need to be able to support themselves. It's important to buy books, and it's even more important to buy books by local authors.

                We tend to look inward when we make New Year's Resolutions. In past years, I've made (and broken) promises to eat healthier, to further my career, and to travel more. I've made resolutions to better myself, but not my community. This year I'm going a different route. I'm going to be more generous with my resolutions, making promises that will support others in the arts community.

                I know this sounds expensive. Supporting artists financially isn't always possible, but there are other ways to be supportive. That said, here are my 2015 resolutions.

    1. Read more books by local authors, both books I've bought and books from the library.

    2. Attend more lit events! Almost every week there are book launches and readings in #HamOnt, and they're often free or pay-what-you-can.

    3. Spread the word. I always have good intentions of reviewing local books, but reviewing gets buried on the list of things I want to do but don't.

    4. Be vocal! A local writer whose work I've reviewed emailed me the other day, and her encouragement went a long way. In an age of twitter and Facebook, it's often easy to tell someone when you appreciate his or her work. This year I'll do more of that.

    There. Now that my resolutions are posted on the Internet, I have no choice but to hold myself accountable and make them a reality.

    Happy reading, #HamOnt!

  • LivingArts: Commitment

    January 16, 2015 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

     

    I seem to always get angry with my oldest son if I find him caught in the middle place between two choices and unable to think his way through.

    “You can go skating and it will be good, or you can see a movie and it will be good; whatever you choose will be good, so stop torturing yourself and just decide”, I say, knowing that both the content of my advice and the pitch at which I deliver it will not help him in the slightest.

    At the time, I convince myself that my son is hung up on a fairly simple problem; later on I realize that what he struggles with is commitment.  He knows just as well as I do that it doesn’t matter what he chooses.  He is anxious because he knows that he has to jump into one decision wholeheartedly, and that always takes effort.

    This past weekend, I took part in a performance work that I collaboratively wrote with five other artists and musicians.  It was a series of songs and words and gestures that focus on a tiny detail of Norse mythology. There is no real narrative, lots of fairly opaque dialogue, a reasonable bit of improvisation, and an array of inscrutable shadows made behind a screen.  The piece works, but it requires commitment.

    We arranged for our work to debut for a small crowd at a modest and open-minded space called Silence in Guelph, ON. The morning of the performance I woke up agitated and angry at the fact that I had an obligation to this performance that would devour most of my weekend.  I procrastinated.  I made no proper provisions to keep clean the white shirt and black tie that I was to wear for the performance.  I was also responsible for driving over a large wooden shadow screen; I strapped this hastily and dangerously onto my car.

    Needless to say, ten minutes outside Guelph, the wooden screen cracked in two, and my arrangements to salvage it only caused me to sully my white shirt and black tie.  I drove the remaining miles to Guelph, my feelings of anger and shame overwhelming me.   But moments later I was overcome with a feeling of deja-vu.  This situation has happened so many times before.  I’ve even recently blogged about it (please see November’s post ‘Sales and Promotion).

    In art, commitment is arguably the most important ingredient.  Indeed what protects much contemporary art from being laughed into oblivion is the sheer wolf-like conviction of its makers.   I know the joys of possessing this conviction.  Like my son, I frequently also know the private hell of not fully having it.  When you don’t have it, you not only suffer internally, you also summon destruction all around you.

    Luckily, when I arrived in Guelph, thanks to the patience and support of my collaborators, the screen was repaired, the blemishes removed from my clothes, and most importantly, I was able to throw myself into my work.

    And here’s the thing.  When I think back, I have this crystal clear recollection of being uncommitted, an awareness of every moment, every nuance contained during those horrible hours before I arrived.  After that however, when I was fully engaged, running through a rehearsal, communing with my peers, performing the work, I have only the vaguest of memories, combined with a feeling of satisfaction.

    Commitment in other words is a trance, a devotion to a present task just deep enough to disable your capacity to criticize and appraise it.

    As I drove back from Guelph I do remember thinking again about my son, thinking about computer games and social media and a world where so many social endeavors and relationships are set up to be fleeting, floating, undemanding, requiring no pledge in order to fulfill.  And then I thought that this little hybrid of performance art, music, and theatre may ultimately be worth little to anyone outside its creators, but that’s not the point.   Just having a thing you can devote yourself to is enough.

  • LivingArts: In It Together

    January 15, 2015 by Ciara McKeown

     

    Collaboration is one of the, sometimes, hidden beauties within public art. It is an enormous opportunity which brings together professionals in numerous fields to work together, in the planning, the making, or in the best cases, in the full conception of a public artwork.

    I must here take the time to higlight one of the extraordinary examples in this vein, which I feel lucky enough to have come across in my work with public art in Calgary (declaring here many of those mentioned below are colleagues and friends). Sans facon are an artist duo currently based in Calgary, with an extensive practice and works across multiple cities in Europe and North America. They are the lead artists in a program called Watershed+, part of the public art group embedded within the Water Services Department at The City, as City staff. On a daily basis, these artists work with water engineers, educators, service managers and numerous other individuals to find a way to talk about the watershed and the importance of the Bow river to Calgarians. Whether through artworks embedded in infrastructure, a film series and public talks, or artist residencies, Sans facon and the Watershed+ team have almost entirely altered what many Calgarians now think about with public art, including the engineer or designer they work beside.

    Conversely, of course, public art has changed understanding and awareness of a precious resource and has energized the iconography of the Bow for its citizens. This collaborative program is groundbreaking because it is not speaking about itself, not reflecting on the art practice of two great artists, but is talking about water. And it is letting the engineering, the mechanics, the science of the water and the workers do the talking. That message should be a religion, preaching to the unconverted about how public art can, with an absolute true collaboration, entirely change minds and ideas.

    Though a blog post does not allow me the room to expand further on the many attributes, history and importance of this program, I can tell you first-hand the powerful stories I've heard and read about, of people who are learning from each other in the richest way, and I know there are fewer misconceptions about public art in that city because of this program.

    This inherent coming together is emblamatic of public art, a practice where the creative process can be potentially meaningless without being made by and connected to, others. Hamilton is in the moment to set the foundation for such long-term embedded collaborations. The multitude of talent in numerous industries here is begging for a platform to develop ideas unique to this time and this place. I can hardly think of a better opportunity than the waterfront development that will be taking place, to think long-term and about true impact. Countless cities are choosing this geography and this moment to move beyond creating a sculptural playground, which is wonderous and important, to set a vision that is guided and fully owned by the necessity of together-ness, whcih will serve our cities much better in the future.

  • LivingArts: Comparisons

    December 12, 2014 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

     

    Late December is typically the time I have an annual ‘state of the union’ discussion with myself, trying to re-calibrate my priorities as an artist, taking stock of both the year behind and ahead of me.  It’s grueling work, and if I’ve been through a hard year financially or creatively, it can be obliterating to my sense of self-worth.  It has in the past even caused me to question the whole notion of ‘artist’ as any sort of viable label for a person over 30.

    Luckily, this year my novelist sister, Krista Foss (read ‘ Smoke River’ and you will know how talented she is) suggested I look over a free downloadable PDF called “Making Your Life As An Artist” written by Andrew Simonet, an American dance choreographer and co-founder of a thing called Artists U, an initiative dedicated to solidifying the vocation of ‘artist’.

    It’s one of those books where the ever-changing font sizes and barrage of affirming sentiments makes it initially a little hard to trust. Nevertheless I found it fascinating for how it detailed anxieties I thought were mine alone, and useful for how it laid out a plan to transition ‘artist’ from something nervous and unstable into something sustainable, even comfortable.

    It is also a book that gleefully uses comparison to argue its point.  If you don’t know this already, artists consistently use comparative language to jog both themselves and the surrounding citizenry into an appreciation of what they do.  Art is like food!  If you do not have it you will starve and die!  Art is a science!  If we don’t have it things will not get better, questions will not get asked, problems will not get fixed!  Artists are shamans!  You will not go to heaven if you do not support and/or pay attention to us!

    The reason we use these similies/metaphors I suppose is because our society is still not comfortable with the word ‘artist’.  ‘Artist’ is not automatically understood as an essential part of human life; therefore we have to use comparatives to remind ourselves that it is.

    I like telling the story of why my friend, metal sculptor Dave Hind, chooses the label ‘maker’ over ‘artist’.  It allows him to maintain a practice wherein on any particular day he can alternate from building a set of stairs, repairing a weld on a neighbour’s trailer, tending his bees, and inventing a towering found metal sculpture, all without contradicting his self-identity.  The word ‘maker’ removes an otherwise uncomfortable pretense from his vocation; it makes him decidedly more functional, approachable even.

    Here’s another example.  On my Facebook feed I attentively look forward to Andrew McPhail’s ongoing photo-documents of our city; they are built around queries such as how reflected light and shadow change architecture, or how text in the public sphere becomes subtly absurd.  I have no idea how McPhail’s explorations are a commodifiable part of his artistic practice; perhaps they don’t need to be.  They are components of McPhail’s own ongoing mode of inquiry.  As such, it puts him into some sort of ‘artist as historian/researcher/explorer’ pocket. 

    I also look forward of Facebook to the sequence of collages Lisa Pijuan-Nomura posts along with details of the time it took her to make and the price it sold for (a collage that takes 47 minutes to piece together sells for 47$ for example).  This premise for making art is also a subtle bit of provocation that puts her into a slightly different ‘artist as worker/activist’ category.

    In the last couple of years I have toyed with the comparison: ‘artist as fraud/charlatan/pretender/huckster’, not just because it exposes a common accusation, but also because I think it can be a useful exercise in redemption.  Reclaiming the word ‘charlatan’ requires you to believe in lying, pretending, fakery, as valid tools of an exploration.   More than any of the aforementioned comparisons, this is the one that puts me most at ease.

    It’s unsettling to think of ‘artist’ as being such an amorphous label.  But as Simonet’s argues in his book, ‘artist’ is not a job, or even a specific set of skills.  Rather it’s a kooky mission, a bigger purpose that attaches to you and refuses to let go.   It’s good to have language on your side for that kind of journey.

    Happy Holidays.

    If you are interested: http://www.artistsu.org/making/#.VJNDtEtgNtU

  • LivingArts: Talking about practice

    December 15, 2014 by Steve McKay

     

    A new D’Angelo record came out - finally. We can all die now, knowing that his follow-up was equally as masterful as his breakout, Voodoo from so many years ago. A whole new generation of awkward teens are going to discover how great R&B can be, throw out their Nirvana t-shirts and start wearing their jeans backwards (it’s only a matter of time before we make that mistake again).

    Something that you might notice when you listen to any D’Angelo record is how cohesive the band is. The same is true of other R&B acts – James Brown was notorious for working his band up to soulful perfection. It’s a quality that you can hear on records, but not something you would notice unless you play two records side by side.

    What are we talking about? We’re talking about practice. If you are a performing artist, you’ve got to practice and some artists practice more than others. Making music is just as much about performing in front of people as it is about writing and recording. In today’s industry, at some point you need to leave the studio, set up shop on stage, eventually go on tour and sleep on someone’s cold concrete basement floor in Saskatoon (#truestory).

    And if you’re going to perform in front of others, the more you practice, the better your performance (unless you’re into punk, in which case…stop reading).

    When I was in University, I used to practice the drums sometimes 6 hours a day. I was, as you can imagine, performing at the peak of my ability. In the ten years since, that number has slowly dropped down to maybe an hour a week. This month alone, I have spent 5 hours in the throne and that seems like a lot.

    I don’t practice because I don’t have time to practice. I have a full-time job, a kid and a social life. If, by miracle, I find an hour or two for anything, I typically spend that time sitting on my couch with my guitar, working out new bits for songs or checking out new records.

    If you ask any of my colleagues, I’m sure they can relate. It’s a weird time in music, when there is so little money in the industry that you have to work a full-time office job to afford to play music.

    Now – you might be thinking “Steve - you’ve got a family and a house and stuff, so what are you doing still trying to make it as a musician?” That’s a good question, reader. I often ask myself that question.

    I haven’t come up with an answer, aside from narcissism or that I feel like I’m just now hitting my stride. But do we want to live in a world where musicians call it a day when they reach a certain age and haven’t made it yet? Are we missing out on some great music because artists with amazing potential are hanging up their instruments too soon?

    In the current musical climate, it’s getting to the point where it’s not a choice. You have to pay the bills and any time spent earning the cash to pay those bills is time that you aren’t spending honing your craft.

    I’m certainly doing my best to work around it, with last-minute rehearsals before gigs and
    sneaking in late night jams when there is time. We’re coming up with some pretty good stuff, too, in spite of the time crunch and the lack of resources to pay everybody for their work.

    Still - it’s hard to get your 10,000 hours in when you’re doing it a pace of 5 hours a month.

    [Next month: Steve launches his brand-new all Dad record label, ‘Sub-Papa’]

  • LivingArts: Who Owns This Tour?

    December 15, 2014 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

     

    Recently I’ve been interviewing potential volunteers to become part of the education team at the gallery where I work, and one of the discussion points that often comes up is regarding scripting.  Believe me, this is a very contentious issue.

    Historically, many galleries’ education departments provided scripts for their docents with more or less rigidity and detail, and I know from conferences that I have attended that this is still practiced in many larger institutions.  This is not how I do things.

    Early in my career, I was excited about providing people with perfect, relevant, accurate information.  I thought that the more I controlled a programme or tour, the more likely it was to succeed.  There can also be a vested interest from some curators, artists or others who are responsible for the creation of an artwork or exhibition to ensure that visitors hear exactly the right message.  Handing over control to others can be tough.

    Since then, I have learned that the relevant and correct information is only one part of the equation.  I’ve also been reminded that one person’s perspective (mine) is not the only one.  What is as important as the facts is engagement, passion and confidence.  I have seen this demonstrated again and again with my team and with tours I have followed in various museum settings.  The best tour is one that the person leading it is the most invested in, the most excited about, and the one where they believe in what they are saying.  Passion and enjoyment comes across loud and clear (as does boredom).

    I’ve just observed two tours of the same exhibition today, led by two different docents – one an artist and one a former teacher.  There was some overlap in their choices of work, and much of the information they shared with their groups was similar but each took their own experiences and interests and crafted an individual discussion that was insightful, informative and most importantly, engaging for their visitors.  Their groups went away having learned new information and new strategies for looking at and thinking about art.  As an Educator I can’t ask for more.

    What I’ve learned is that allowing for multiple voices and perspectives in any public programme can only lead to better results.  The walls are falling in the institutional ivory tower of one-way communication, and our audiences want opportunities for participation, personal engagement on their terms, and a feeling of life and relevance that starts at the point where we turn the precious objects over to those who love them and let them go.

     

  • LivingArts: A Winning Event

    December 12, 2014 by Crystal Jonasso...

     

    What would you do if you won the lottery? Would you invest?  Everyone has fantasized about what they would do if finance were no longer a concern and, for some of us, practicing our art is at the top of the list. On December 10th at Mills Hardware the Hamilton Fringe Festival held its first ever lottery and although the prize was not money, it was something even more valuable: opportunity.  Recently I caught up with an old friend and a new friend to talk about the lottery, the explosion of theatre that is our city’s Fringe Festival, and the opportunity to practice our art.

    “It was fun! I enjoyed the games and the atmosphere was relaxing.” reports my long-time friend and fellow theatre addict Aaron Middlemiss. Middlemiss is currently co-writer and co-director with A Company of Players.  He described the friendly atmosphere and games that interspersed the actual drawing of numbers from a whimsical bingo hopper. One challenge had participants gargling the lyrics of a song for others to guess.  Middlemiss gave a glowing review of the event praising the venue and happily suggested that the lottery would grow each year just like the festival itself, which isn’t the kind of response you might expect from an artist whose number wasn’t called.  Not the least bit deterred he noted that “with B.Y.O.V's, the gallery series and the family fringe, there are still tons of ways to participate.” Although he admitted that he was hoping for a different outcome and that the ideal would be for the festival to be large enough to showcase every applicant, he asserted that the lottery was a method that gave equal opportunity to all artists in a growing festival.  After expressing his excitement at seeing the festival grow exponentially over the last few years he agreed: “It needs to stay fresh and the lottery guarantees that.”   Middlemiss, like many other members of the grass roots artist movement reshaping our city, see the development of our city’s largest theatre festival as an investment that cannot lose.  “The Fringe needs Hamilton and Hamilton needs to continue supporting the Fringe”

    My new friend, Ryan Sero, is also hopeful about what the growth of the festival and the implementation of the lottery can mean for the theatre community of Hamilton. Sero is the artistic director of Make Art Theatre and one of those artists who’s lucky number came up last Wednesday.  He described feeling relieved, excited and then resolved when a spot was secured for his upcoming production of Much Ado About Nothing in the 2015 festival.  When discussing the implications of the lottery he eloquently opined:  “the best case scenario sees more outside interest in the Hamilton arts scene, which in turn brings in more quality artists to the city and, ultimately, forces local Hamilton artists to step up their game.  There is a danger, after all, in being insular.  With outside eyes on Hamilton, I think our artists [local artists] will rise to meet new challenges as part of a bigger arts community.”  His confidence is contagious, and his irresistible conclusion: “It's very exciting stuff” is hard to refute.

    As the festival, which offered itself as place for developing artists to experiment and explore, grows so too will our local artists, audiences and community.  It may seem like a big dream, but then again, so is winning the lottery.

  • LivingArts: I Write, So I Am a Writer

    December 12, 2014 by Jessica Rose

     

    Some of the most important advice I’ve ever received came from a Carleton University journalism professor, though I can’t remember which one. Back then, I was one of hundreds of teenagers packed into a large, impersonal lecture hall, wondering how the hell I was going to succeed in a program where more than half of students get cut after the first year.

    I can’t remember the exact wording of this advice, but it went something like this.

    “As a student in this program, you’re doing the work of a journalist. You’re collecting facts and interviewing sources. You’re packaging together stories. You’re not just a journalism student. You are a journalist.”

    These were empowering words, and they gave me a sense of purpose in the four years I spent in journalism school. It’s advice I think about often. It’s also advice that I often fail to apply.

    In bookish circles, I sometimes find myself the lone editor among writers, and I inevitably get asked the question, “Do you write, too?”

    “I write, but I’m not a writer,” I’ve found myself saying, insecurities creeping to the surface. “I write book reviews and blog posts,” I’ve said, “but I don’t really write.”

    I know I’m not the only one who struggles to find the words and phrases needed to define oneself as writer. There’s no exam to pass to enter the literary arts. There’s no magical moment when we look in the mirror and say, “Yes. Today is the day I’ve become a writer.” Writing is just something we’ve carried with us every day since we were small. It’s just always been something we’ve done.

    The holidays are here, bringing with them gatherings of friends and family who inevitably ask me prying questions that force me to question the legitimacy of my work. “When will you write a book?” I’ll inevitably hear, as though the only worthy writing is a 300-page novel that can be stocked on the shelves of Indigo.

    In the literary arts, we work tirelessly to hone our craft in the way those in any other career might. But I’ve yet to hear someone say, “I perform surgeries, but I’m not a surgeon.”

    The Living Arts blog attempts to answer the question, “What do artists need?” We need confidence! It might seem early for resolutions, but there’s one thing I need to do this holiday season. I need to suck back some eggnog and assert to everyone I can that “I write, therefore, I am a writer!”

  • LivingArts: Define 'Forever'

    December 11, 2014 by Ciara McKeown

     

    As I wrote my previous posts, I promised I would be more positive, so this is an attempt to frame one of the issues I’m most passionate about in public art with a 'strategic diplomacy' that is not necessarily my natural instinct.

    One of best things that happened in public art last year was when a Bristol, England-based organization, Situations (www.situations.co.uk), published a 'rule book' entitled 'The New Rules of Public Art'. This short list of 12 rules was basically a manifesto which challenge the assumptions we have and work with in public art. I try to read these on a regular basis to remind myself, in a succinct way, of the philosophical shift to work towards if public art is ever going to change.

    One of the 12 rules 'It's Not Forever' – (simple and direct, a skill indeed) – takes on the issue without using words which people seem surprisingly put off by or create a barrier. I've learned that in my field, people are very afraid of the word 'temporary'. 'Durational' is too 'artsy' and 'permanent' is expected. Yet when you think about how to redefine preconceived notions, language is a huge part of it. When we examine the root of the issue, we reveal something more sensitive such as memory and ownership, which lead me to think about words like ‘experience’, ‘value’ and ‘meaning’.

    There is a huge expectation set up that the mass of work produced live 30+ years. Our lives, our cities and places change on a constant basis and once the work becomes static, I think public art loses its wondrous ability to question and respond, to go beyond the momentary and capture longevity, because a memorable experience lives long in the mind and heart.

    I also know the issue of defining permanency is a question of sustainability, a pattern I’m sadly seeing the outfall of on an almost daily basis: too much public art, drained budgets and careless or entirely lacking ownership. Yet I also understand that investment is made of time, money and so much more, of each artists’ practice and personal commitment. And I think that can be heightened even more if the approach focuses on the experience rather than the defined outcome – imagine you could respond to a Call for Artists whose deliverable was to create a memorable experience in the public realm with the artists’ expertise defining what that meant – and if it meant the value of the outcome was a more engaged public, a greater understanding of the public art process, is that not a value we are all trying to achieve?

    There are ways to spend capital dollars on non-capital assets, and there are ways to create landmarks and legacies that are not static and rigid. We encourage ‘events’ and want to ‘animate’, but let’s look at what that really means in a public art context, and respond accordingly. Relationships are durational, and buy-in takes time, so we have the opportunity to examine how artists are the tellers of a certain reality and are creators of our present story, to be continued…

     

     

  • LivingArts: Hey dude, nice set.

    November 28, 2014 by Steve McKay

     

    DIALOGUE.  It’s my favourite word to use when I want people to take me seriously.  It turns a regular ol’ conversation into something with gravity (another word that I use when I want people to take me seriously). 

    In an age of Facebook and Twitter, we are constantly engaged in a billion tiny dialogues every day.  Our conversational chops are at their peak.  We have spent more collective hours talking about the Jian scandal than it took to build the pyramids…

    What’s even more amazing is the musical dialogue – a thousand words on how the guitar parts are incendiary on the latest Still Water record.  Most of my friends can’t stand that stuff, citing unnecessarily flowery language and a tendency for writers to love their own writing too much.  

    Haters gonna hate, but in my opinion, those pieces are too few and too far between.

    Here’s the thing: criticism makes music better.  For me personally, sometimes it comes from my wife, or even a friend, but ideally it’s coming from an arm’s length third party who doesn’t know me. 

    A Montreal review of my last record made a statement along the lines of “it’s breezy with lots of hooks, but didn’t have the staying power of a record that you want to listen to over and over again”.   It was too fluffy…

    Once I stepped back from the ledge, I thought about what the writer said and now I’m strangely thankful for the criticism.  

    Because what is criticism, but an opportunity to learn what people think about you?  Isn’t that what we all want to know?  I’d rather know that you think it’s too fluffy than to endure a series of insincere compliments.  I’d rather the criticism over the flaccid “hey dude, nice set” as I cart my gear off stage.

    Yet, for whatever reason, our musical dialogue tends to lean away from criticism.  You can read countless preview stories in the Spec, CBC Hamilton, or View Magazine, and those stories play a certain role.  But no one else is following up after the concert, or after the record is released to tell us how it was.   

    Maybe it’s because nobody is making money in the business anymore and they feel bad trash-talking the 40-year old doing the Scott Weiland impression…

    Maybe it’s because we live in a city that’s just small enough that if you did criticize somebody, you’d run into them at Fortino’s the next day and have to face the fallout of your comments immediately. 

    Whatever the case, the musical dialogue is shaping the music that is made in this city for better or worse. 

    [You can come tell Steve McKay to his face exactly what you think about him as he fronts Dwayne Gretzky this Thursday night at Club Absinthe]

  • LivingArts: CoBALT Connects to the Players Guild

    November 27, 2014 by Crystal Jonasso...

     

    It happens in every circle of friends; two people come together unexpectedly, it’s usually the quiet one and the quirky one, and suddenly you find yourself thinking “They are perfect for each other! How did I not see this before?”  Recently in the circle of Hamilton arts organizations one such unlikely duo has moved in together: Cobalt Connects and the Players Guild.  What does a non-profit arts service organization that is focused on spurring projects that advance the creative sector and North America’s oldest continuing amateur theatre based out of a beautiful Victorian house have in common? I planned to find, out and I couldn’t wait to hear their ‘How we met’ story.

    I caught up with Jeremy Freiburger of CoBALT Connects, not surprisingly, over social media and I asked him about this new partnership.  It all started, he tells me, at ‘Stage Directions’. Stage Directions was an open-space meeting about the future of the Theatre community in Hamilton held in March of 2014. This event brought together diverse members of the Theatre community: professionals, amateurs, new Hamiltonians, and lifetime steel town residents, all wanting to participate in a dialogue.  Spearheaded by the Hamilton Fringe Festival, this meeting was held in an effort to inspire communication in our growing community. I was lucky enough to attend personally and saw firsthand a great desire for connection from many artists and groups.

    This is where our story began, here Freiburger met with Dan Penrose of the Players Guild in a discussion that centered around several theatre groups wanting to work together while still maintaining their individuality. ‘The conversation was electric’  Freiburger tells me and only a few days later over lunch the idea of sharing space took shape.  CoBALT needed a space and the Guild wanted to better utilize social media, build new audience and create new bookings in their venue.  Although it was a leap of faith for both parties there was much to be gained.  CoBALT moved in with the Guild on October 1st, only 7 months after their first date, and things are already in motion. 

    CoBALT has started working on the Guild’s social media presence and is digitizing some of their ample archives. Having taken up residence in the library of the three story Victorian home, Freiburger now works surrounded by more than 100 years of scripts, a great source for inspiration.  Projects on the horizon for the dynamic duo include; a series of performances and interviews with local musicians, a summer craft fair with local artists and some of Hamilton’s exploding food truck scene and, as often happens when moving in together, a fresh coat of paint for the Guild’s interior. It seems as if there is much more adventure in store for our new pair and I wish them well. All we need now to complete our romantic comedy style plot is a catch-phrase and a new easy listening hit, roll the credits.

     

  • LivingArts: Am I Doing This Right?

    November 26, 2014 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

     

    There have been lots of posts on the internet of late (at least the dusty corners that I frequent) about the ‘right’ way to look at art.  As an educator, I spend time thinking about ways to help people get the most out of their gallery experiences, and thinking about what makes these experiences the most interesting, meaningful and fun.  But is there a ‘right’ way to do it?

    The short answer: that depends.

    It depends on many factors – who you are, why you are looking at art, what you want to get out of your experience of looking, what you knew before, what you want to know after, who you are with, and also what you are seeing.

    The Washington Post, in an article titled “How to view Art: Be Dead Serious About it but Don’t Expect too Much” recommends seriousness, silence and homework.  While this article may appeal to a certain audience seeking an educational and immersive experience, this smacks of museum as ivory tower – elite, aloof and exclusive. 

    Then there is the debate about museum selfies – On one hand, a Huffington Post article decries their intrusiveness and the self-centeredness of a generation that they are a symptom of – the writer asks why people can’t just enjoy the art?  On the other hand, we see Museum Selfie Day, and institutions around the world embracing new visitors, new(ish) technologies and the socializing of the museum visit.  (Google it – you’ll find droves of sites).  Again, while I have felt the irritation of people in my line of sight, I am more interested in seeing a new audience engaging with art in their own way.

    Dr. John Falk, a leading museum researcher, presents an interesting viewpoint to help us understand how and why people visit museums.  His work focuses on identity and visitor motivations and offers a really interesting perspective if you are interested in such things.  You can find a short synopsis here.

    I sometimes find that if I know a bit about an artwork or artist, I like it a little more.  For some artworks it is how it’s made or what it’s made of; for others it is about the context of the work; and in some cases it’s all about the feeling of seeing something amazing in a room full of amazing things.  When I visited MoMA, I sat in the room with two huge water lily paintings and just soaked it all in.  On that trip I also took several hundred photos to remind me of my experiences – though I did make time to see the work myself first, not just through the camera.  On different occasions, I have fit into each of Falk’s audience types, and each time I get something different out of an experience.

    Here’s what I think:

    If you are looking at art, you are doing it right. 

    There are many resources, motivations and levels of experience available to you – use what feels right.   And maybe you’ll want to try something else the next time.  Just keep doing it.

  • LivingArts: Promotion

    November 25, 2014 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

     

    This past summer I participated in the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition (TOAE), the annual art sale that congregates over three hundred artists on the hot concrete of Toronto’s Nathan Phillip Square.   I had maybe twenty works of wood assemblage with me, oddball decorative things construed specifically for sale.  They were, I reasoned, rustic, interesting, accessible, and unique when measured against the other kinds of artwork that the TOAE attracts.

    I entered TOAE because I felt I needed to be a little more entrepreneurial, needed to flex the perpetually underdeveloped muscle of self-promotion.  So I updated my business card, designed a crop of postcards, quickly revised my crudely conceived website, and posted pictures of my work via a Facebook photo album.  I even tweeted once; an accomplishment for someone fundamentally unable to grasp the function or purpose of Twitter.  I thought that was more than enough.

    As a direct result of these efforts, a buyer swooped in during the first moments of the exhibition, having seen images on-line, and purchased the most expensive piece I had for sale.  In this one sale, I was able to exactly pay off the total costs of my participation, all of my additional expenses for the weekend. For at least an hour, I felt good; the remainder of my weekend was bound to be nothing but profit.

    But good promotion needs to be thorough; it needs to extend through all of the details. Three hours after my first sale, a freak wind blew my tent canopy straight up in the air crashing it into the tent of a neighbouring artist, destroying two of his meticulously wrought, wood vases. The artist was gracious and generous in his reaction (he was a veteran of these kinds of shows, had insurance, had seen it all before, etc.) but that only intensified my shame.   Instantly I stopped feeling in charge of my practice. I didn’t bother to learn how to secure a tent in the wind; I should know those things. My work was displayed in a rushed, rudimentary way.  I was dressed like a disheveled father, not an artist.  I hadn’t thought much how to talk about my work confidently.

    Over the next few days, I came close to four more sales, but each time it felt to me that I was missing that one bit of magic energy to push a buyer into a decision.   Finally, during the last moments of the weekend, an eccentric looking man wanders in, takes a long look at my work, and then turns to me with an extremely troubled look on his face.

    “Do you mind if I say something blunt?’

    “No”

    “It looks like you’ve cooked this work up to sell it.  I don’t get the sense you really believe what you’re doing here.”

    (long pause) “I think you might be right.”

    It’d be easy for me to write off this year’s TOAE as bad luck, but I prefer to roll the experience around in my mind like a parable.  I always thought that self-promotion was this kind of used-car-salesman-like lubricant you were obliged to pour over your practice in order to make it run.  Sticky, messy, don’t pour too much on or no one will go near you, kind of thing. I now wonder if self-promotion isn’t better understood as a more meditative, truthful practice.  Maybe it’s a system where you comb over all of the details surrounding the context in which your work is shown, slowly taking ownership over them.

    I had conviction in my work, but I lost it. Next time, I will try to build a more complete edifice behind it.  That way, when the freak wind blows, I will have a better chance of recovery.

     

  • LivingArts: Writing is a Lonely Business

    November 24, 2014 by Jessica Rose

     

    When Tyler Keevil collected his 2014 Journey Prize from the Writer’s Trust of Canada earlier this month, he’s quoted as saying something that resonates with many writers. “Writing is a lonely business,” he said.“So, it means a lot to connect with the community.”

    Every writer has his or her own writing process, but for many, creativity and solitude are connected. As words, ideas, and characters percolate in a writer’s mind, a quiet workspace, isolated from people, ringing phones, and other distractions, can be essential. Personally, I like to be surrounded by the whirr of a coffee shop’s espresso machine or the hum of voices at a local pub while I work, but despite this background buzz, I still work alone. It’s not a bad form of isolation. It’s voluntary and often temporary, but it’s isolation nonetheless.

    When I jotted down Tyler Keevil’s quotation, I found myself circling what I thought to be the key word — community. I started to picture Hamilton’s writing community as a collective of individuals, each inhabiting a solitary space that can sometimes get lonely. And I started thinking about my own role in this community and how much it has changed since I moved into my first Hamilton apartment in 2008.

    Back then, I thought in order to meet people who shared my interest in the literary arts, I had to put myself out there. I had to network. And for this introvert, face-to-face networking is anything but easy. I associate networking with standing in the dimly lit corner of a book reading or launch party, doing the dance I always do, thinking to myself: I should go talk to that person. I should go introduce myself. Instead, I awkwardly nibble on the free cheese. (Yes, many book launches have free cheese). Needless to say, this form of networking didn’t get me far. However, online networking is what helped me shake the feeling of isolation I felt in the first two years I lived in Hamilton.

    You can tell a lot about a person from their social media outlet of choice. For me, my weakness is twitter. On twitter I found a social circle of writers and editors (and booksellers, reviewers, librarians, and readers). I was a skeptic, but in the quiet moments when isolation bred loneliness, tweets about what I was reading and what I was writing were welcomed breaks. Eventually, twitter became something more. It became a space to share ideas, offer encouragement to others, engage in discourse, and meet people feeling the same gnaw of isolation.

    A decade and a half ago, parents and teachers warned us that only predators lurked online. But in the past handful of years, the relationships I’ve built through networking online have grown to exist outside the world of 140-character or less tweets. Some of the Hamilton writers and editors I first met on twitter have become my close friends and my support network. And that network continues to grow, all because of a social network I almost chose to dismiss.

  • LivingArts: Call it whatever you want

    November 21, 2014 by Ciara McKeown

     

    Not everything is public art. We might want it to be, we might call it that as an 'excuse' or write it off because it is. We can often mistake something for public art or expect that it looks a certain way. I've heard people complain about public art in Hamilton many-a-time, (I won’t name names). They complain about various things…or maybe it’s not complaining so much as an attempt to figure out how everything ties together, or why there isn’t more (or less) public art. How are some things defined as public art and not others?

    I don’t know that it's a simple answer, but I can’t really think of a more important word in this case than context. It’s more than an institution or a program defining something as public art, and I think it’s more than art in public space. If we are going to redefine public art as more than a traditional bronze historical statement, we need to ensure we protect the professionalism of public art while prioritizing context in every single case (no two projects are the same, so why are our processes, programs and evaluation systems rigid?). In public art, I think we lose the artist. They become removed by public process, public dollars, spectacle and numerous other factors that really turn ‘public art’ into ‘design additions’.

    We cloud the value and potential of public art with goals to 'beautify' and 'decorate', and should be cautious to not embrace any creation in public as public art. It’s also not always a professional artist who undertakes the process either, which can be great in some ways, but detrimental in others (as trained artists are squeezed out by the likes of a fancy design firm….). When we remember that artists are creative thinkers with an approach unlike any other, and that the questioning and examination is critical to what public art is, we can shift what we call public art to be more than objects on corners.

    This is also why I believe it’s critical we have multiple voices participating in public art – on all levels. In many cities across Canada, public art is produced almost solely within municipal programs, but I think the field and those of us involved with other outlets or organizations are richer with the alternative. But most importantly, artists working in a multitude of mediums and methods, need to be able to participate in defining public art while respecting the context of its history and theoretical parameters.

    As a field, public art may be very young, but as a practice it’s ancient. And the role of the creator is arguably more vital than ever. Because if we lose public art’s history, its language and the theoretical foundation from which we have built, we will lose ourselves, our public artists and the collections we have spent so long creating, to fulfill a policy.

     

  • LivingArts: Classical music is not boring

    October 31, 2014 by Steve McKay

     

    Classical music is not boring. 

    Well…maybe it can be a bit of a yawn-fest sometimes.  Apparently that’s what people think anyway. 

    In the last few years, Hamilton has hit an all-time low in terms of attendance, engagement and support for Classical music.  Opera Hamilton finally gave up the ghost this year.  HPO continues to look for ways to cut costs and replace their dying audience.  Perhaps most telling is the fact that Payne Music closed its doors after nearly 60 years of servicing band instruments and selling me drumsticks.   

    We may have hit rock bottom, but optimists tell me that there’s only way to go from there -up! 

    Think of the Classical music scene in Hamilton in the same terms as the Royal Connaught in the early 2000s.  People are squatting in the derelict halls of the Classical music scene right now, but eventually it’s going to be all shiny and new and you can buy a 500 square foot condo for $300k in it! 

    Last weekend saw two concerts that convinced me that the Classical bus is starting to turn around:

    The burgeoning Hammer Baroque held their second installment of a 10-concert series at Church of St. John the Evangelist (Rock on Locke).   I was there and it was glorious – baroque guitar, beautiful tenor/baritone duets and surtitled translations about sagging breasts (I’m not kidding).  Picture Simon & Garfunkel if they were born in Venice in the 1620s.

    Five at the First held their 3rd annual Cello Extravaganza at Compass Point Bible Church.  Have you ever seen 82 cellists on stage at the same time playing With Or Without You?

    I have. 

    These grassroots classical initiatives are reinventing the Classical music model.  What I saw this weekend was pure entertainment, not your Grandpa’s exercise in character-building as Classical music was once seen.   

    But it’s only the beginning, and these types of initiatives will need all the support they can get in order to fully revive our Classical music tradition in Hamilton.

    Thankfully, that bunch of urban folk who hit the reset button on James St N are growing in numbers and their lifestyle lends itself to attending concerts.  What’s more, studies continue to show that Classical music will make your kid a genius (scientific fact).

    So while I wait for my tiny Mozart to grow up and start attending concerts, I’m going to take in a concert or two and see how the Classical scene is evolving.  It beats watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix…again.   

    [Next month – Steve takes in a 100-member recorder choir performing Billy Ocean’s “Get out of my dreams and into my car”]

    Steve McKay - Born-and-raised Hamiltonian, Drummer, Songwriter, Father, Mortgage Broker, Chorister and Technical Director of the new classical music venue at Church of St. John the Evangelist (Charlton & Locke).  His musical travels have taken him around the world with the likes of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Bruce Peninsula.  

    You can catch him performing locally with YerYard (Hidden Pony), High Kites and as a member of the Central Presbyterian Church choir.

    @STEVEathePMG

  • LivingArts: When “arts and crafts” is not a dirty word

    October 30, 2014 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

     

    Like many artists and educators, I used to cringe every time I heard someone refer to what I do as “arts and crafts”, reducing the work that I pour my passion and energy into to the worst of childhood time-wasters. “Arts and crafts” for me always sounds like the tired kind of activity that adults used to fill time when all the important work was done, and was usually made up of ratty bits of coloured paper, broken crayons and cheap glue.  Unfortunately in my line of work, I hear this quite often.  But lately, as I explore ways of engaging new audiences in gallery programming I am starting to reframe my own thinking. I’ve realized that maybe my visitor’s idea of “arts and crafts” can be a positive idea to build on.

    For many “arts and crafts” time was fun, and it’s a comfortable and pleasant look back to simpler times.  Even activities of little aesthetic or creative value were still times to play with art, to let the mind wander and the hands be busy.  And fun is a good place to start.  Learning and creative expression will follow.

    In creating programmes and resources for gallery audiences, there are easy groups to work with and there are more challenging ones.  Children are among the easiest - full of enthusiasm to make things and look at things.  They are happy to tell you what they think.  They are thrilled to get messy and play with new materials.  They are an educator’s dream audience.  Adults are another story.  Full of reservation and worry and a need to succeed, they often struggle to risk failure in unfamiliar activities.

    I have done a lot of work with corporate groups in recent years, and I see adults who are used to being successful in their daily pursuits undone at the sight of some paintbrushes or an abstract painting on the wall.  Many have not been in a gallery since their school days. 

    This is where I start to think about “arts and crafts”.  Fun.  Play.  Shared Experience. Success.   

    I choose a comfortable starting point – “Tell me what you see”.  No prior knowledge is required, and it’s easy to get it right.  We go from there.  Before they know it, they are analysing a painting like a pro.  Then we move to something harder.  As this point I love to bring in something that I know many of them will dislike. One of my favourites was an abstract painting that was yellow.  “My kid could do that” I say, and we all laugh.  I know they are thinking it.  And we go through the same steps again.  Often my group finishes without loving the large yellow painting, but they like that they can actually talk about it a bit.

    Drawing is probably one of the scariest tasks that I can propose.  “I can’t’ draw a straight line”, someone says, laughing but nervous.  They are quietly afraid that everyone else will see how badly they draw.  My solution – we draw a portrait where everyone will “fail” – the dreaded blind contour drawing.  The results – no one’s drawing looks like a masterpiece, but they all have fun looking at the odd results.  It is a shared experience that they struggle (or play) at together.  We laugh, we talk about seeing what is actually there, and maybe I change someone’s perception a little. 

    Often the activities that I use are the same ones I might plan for students.  The important caveat to this is that while the activities and questions are the same, the approach must always respect the experience and the intelligence of the audience.  I do children’s activities with corporate groups but I talk to them like adults.  I explain the reasoning behind the activity or the benefits of looking at art with a mind free from judgement or context.  And I fill in the grown-up information as I go, as it fits.  I focus on the fun and play of art, on ways that I can provide success and new ideas and the ways I can make my guests comfortable.  And I judge my own success on their responses.  “This was fun and I’m going to come back with my family” is the highest measure of success I can receive.

    Laurie Kilgour-Walsh is a confirmed gallery nerd who is passionate about art and believes that art-based experiences are essential for everyone.  Her experiences include working as the Educator at the Art Gallery of Hamilton since 2006 as well as work at several other galleries in the region. She spends her days thinking about ways to engage visitors in the arts through tours, classes, individual encounters and active social interactions with art.  As a visual artist, she maintains an active studio practice, working in mixed media in a studio littered with scraps of old books, rusted metal, insect wings, and carefully hoarded treasures. @lauriemkw

  • LivingArts: So, I Have This Idea For a Book

    October 28, 2014 by Jessica Rose

     

    “So, I have this idea for a book.” If you’re a writer, an editor, or a publisher, you’ve heard this one before. I’ve heard it dozens — maybe one hundred — times. It’s the common follow-up to my answer to the question “What do you do?” It doesn’t matter that I usually reply with “I work in educational publishing” or “I edit kids’ books.” Any mention of the word “publishing” and suddenly somebody is telling me his or her brilliant idea for a post-Apocalyptic zombie novel or the next (but so much better) Fifty Shades of Grey.

    I’m not complaining. I like these exchanges. I love hearing about people’s artistic aspirations and learning about the ideas that percolate in their heads. As Neil Gaiman once wrote, “You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.” I love hearing stories about how people transmit these ideas to a page.

    It’s the question that inevitably follows that I don’t look forward to. “Do you mind taking a quick look?” As an editor, I’m trained to be critical. I’m trained to dissect words and their meanings, and this is rarely a quick task. But here’s the thing. A lot of times I do the thing I know I shouldn’t do.  I say yes.

    I’m the first to chime in against unpaid internships. When WestJet solicited local musicians to play free concerts, billing it as a “performance opportunity,” I was livid. Yet, I’ve written blog posts, classified ads, copyedited menus, and taken a “quick look” at proposals, grant applications, and essays all in the name of friendship.

    This article is starting to feel like a confessional.

    As writers, editors, and publishers, for the most part, we do what we do because we love doing it. But writing and editing aren’t our hobbies. They’re our careers. And in order for them to be valued that way, we (I!) need to say no.

    A few weeks ago, a friend asked me to read a short story she had written, and I found myself apologizing for accepting her cheque. Her response was perfect.

    “I truly believe people should be paid for their work.”

    And she was right. Words have power, and being paid for writing or editing words is essential.

    Speaking of words with power, Tom Kreider perfectly summed up why we need to say no to working for free in his 2013 editorial “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!”

    “Do it for your colleagues, your fellow artists, because if we all consistently say no they might, eventually, take the hint. It shouldn’t be professionally or socially acceptable — it isn’t right — for people to tell us, over and over, that our vocation is worthless.”

    Writer and editor Jessica Rose was born and raised in Burlington, but escaped the suburbs to become a proud Hamiltonian living in the downtown core. Since earning a degree in journalism from Carleton University, she has written for a number of publications across Canada, including THIS, Ricepaper, Broken Pencil, H, and rabble.ca. She is currently a committee member of gritLIT, Hamilton’s Literary festival. She also writes the “Shelf Life” column which appears in every issue of Hamilton Magazine. Jessica edits children's books by day, and writes book reviews by night, many of which appear on her personal blog at www.notmytypewriter.com.

  • LivingArts: Space

    October 27, 2014 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

     

    One of the best things I ever learned at an artist talk happened in the late nineties at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, for an exhibition of large paintings by local artist Carolyn Samko.  She had a pragmatic, unromantic, slightly Marxist way of describing paintings that were lush, floral, and ornate.  Indeed, she even suggested that her work was nothing more than the inevitable result of the studio space she maintained.   The small room in her house, its capacity for storage, ventilation, light, etc. had a direct bearing on the size, subject, and configuration of her pieces.  Her job was to learn what a space could produce, then go about its cultivation.  Almost like gardening.

    At the time of her talk, I was very much consumed by the idea of genius, of art being about how unique and shiny an idea you can generate in the limitless interior of your own head.  I had faith that if an idea had merit, the universe would just hopefully allow it to be made, regardless how meager the production circumstances were.   I thank Samko for setting me straight.

    My first studios were small rooms or corners of small apartments set up for acrylic painting, because the clean up was easy and everything could be packed down quickly.  When I shared a part of my mother’s studio, my work became more figurative and fleshy, an echo of her own sculptural practice.   Years later, I relocated to a 2nd story 300sq. foot room that I rented from Bryce Kanbara near the corner of King and James.  The light was bad, but it had a great window that looked out upon Hamilton’s gritty, colourful epicenter.  Almost instantly the things I made became more graphic, more urban, taking in elements of public signage and city decay.

    Nearly a decade ago, I began sharing a large, leaky, dusty, low-ceilinged 2nd floor space in the Victorian textile factory know either as 270 Sherman or the Cotton Factory with two other artists.  Almost instantly, and completely unconsciously, I switched over fully to sculptures and assemblages of rough wood and weathered metal, and started doing more collaborative projects.

    The ownership has recently changed at the Cotton Factory, the new proprietor is a Torontonian named Robert Zeidler, whose family is responsible for such influential arts spaces as the Gladstone Hotel and 401 Richmond.  If you met him, he will tell you excitedly of his plans to transition the Sherman property from the modest hive of activity that it has been, into a hub of work, presentation, collaboration, and public access. 

    As part of this transition, my studio mates are considering a move into a smaller, brighter, higher-ceilinged space. The discussions we are having are about doing less construction, more outreach, and more presentation.  There is both fear and excitement in the knowledge that such a transition will alter the work we make.

    We will obviously move into a new space and modify it to suit our needs and ambitions.  At the same time, whether we will be cognizant of it or not, the new space will be always working hard at modifying us.

    Tor Lukasik-Foss has exhibited both individually and as part of TH&B, an artist collective of which he is a founding member (along with Ivan Jurakic, Simon Frank, and Dave Hind). He writes arts profiles and a regular column for “Hamilton Magazine”, is assiting the City of Hamilton’s Public Art Program, and has recently taught at the Dundas Valley School of Arts as a instructor in the full-time foundation and advanced studies program.   The artist has been awarded the 2007 K.M. Hunter Award for Visual Arts, 2008 Visual Arts Award from the City of Hamilton, a 2009 Hamilton Music Award (Best Male Artist) four Ontario Arts Council Mid Career Visual Arts Grants, and a 2014 Canada Council Visual Art Grant. @tinybillcody

    www.torlukasikfoss.com

    www.tinybillcody.com

    www.thbcollective.com

  • LivingArts: Con Text

    October 29, 2014 by Crystal Jonasso...

     

    If you grew up in Hamilton like Megan Janssen and I, then you may remember the schoolyard rhyme that that ends with an appallingly unsubtle double entendre about the murderess who puts the ‘famous’ in infamous, the one and only Evelyn Dick. This dark and beautiful woman captured the imagination of our city in 1946 and although she herself has gone missing, her story and her memory have been present ever since. It’s no wonder that such a rich story has made it to the stage more than once to thrill the audiences of our city.

    I had an opportunity to see the impact of this story on audiences first hand while performing in “How Could You, Mrs. Dick?” by Douglas Rodger in 2013 for Dundas Little Theatre. It was the type of show where the stage lights went down at intermission and the audience was immediately abuzz with conversation and speculation. 

    Recently I caught up with Janssen who wrote, directed, and starred in a one woman show in this year’s Hamilton Fringe Festival inspired by that very speculation: How could she? “Suitcase: the untold story of Evelyn Dick” played to packed houses as a part of the Fringe’s Gallery Miniseries and Janssen’s production company, Aperio Theatre, won the ‘Best of Venue’ award.

    The creation of this dark comedy came from Janssen’s desire as an artist to challenge herself to portray a character whose motives and actions she couldn’t understand. This challenge was at first quite daunting, she admits, but after burying herself in research Janssen eventually found a humanity and truth she wanted to share with her audience . “It’s forever a mystery” she says, and therein lies its unstoppable allure.  Janssen was thrilled by the process and looks forward to sharing her next project with us. I, for one, am excited to see what she does next.

    Crystal Jonasson is a writer, director, producer and actor who has appeared on stages in Toronto, Ottawa and throughout the Hamilton area. Recently she had the opportunity to work as the Assistant Director on Tribes by Nina Raine for Canadian Stage and Theatre Aquarius. Crystal was the Associate Producer of the 2014 Hamilton Fringe Festival, a mentorship position made possible through the support of Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program. In 2013 she received the Emerging Artist Award in Theatre at the Hamilton Arts Awards. Crystal is a lifelong Hamiltonian, a McMaster University Alumni and the founder of 11th Year Productions, a Hamilton based theatre company focused on working with emerging artists. @crystalinhammer

     

  • LivingArts: PUBLIC ART IS NOT A BAND-AID

    September 19, 2014 by Ciara McKeown

     

    Sometimes we ask artists to do impossible things – we demand from them things that are unrealistic and self-serving. I find this frustratingly true with public art. I am constantly reminded that as a field, it seems common practice to dictate an outcome or set ourselves up for failure.

    Why is it that we want to work with an artist, and do we know how? Because it seems obvious to me and many artists I've talked to that sometimes a call for artists is really asking for a designer, technician, graphics expert or fabricator. Public art opportunities are often crafted to resolve a problem, to add-on or make-pretty; to fit an artists' practice into an extremely defined context or site – a square peg/round hole situation. Bad park design? Throw in a sculpture. Bad architecture? Ask an artist to fix it. This type of expectation can be an impossible challenge for an artist making public art. This is not to say a challenge is not intriguing, but perhaps we need to find the ability to see the artist as an expert of their subject-matter. Often, we want what we think public art is, and the want is great because it helps the field to grow and expand, but if we use public art as a fix-all solution, we are under-valuing both the artist and the work itself. Maybe this is just me feeling frustrated with the work I have immersed myself in for years, causing me to feel bogged down by the things that are actually solveable, but I'm passionate about public art and I know there are ways we can change.

    As many readers and Hamiltonians well know, this city is full of talented, skilled artists who do and create unbelievable things, and that is not something new. But with our rapidly changing city (some things not fast enough!), how can public art – the arguably ever-democratic medium – be contextual within contemporary culture and remain grounded as a meaningful art form? I think we can help shape a public art field where artists working in all mediums, scales and with diverse experience can contribute to public art in our city, in any city. I think this means opening up the opportunities, inventing more conversations and ways in which we start to see why public art has immense value when we allow artists to question, examine and debate, to do what they do best and to trust in them. Let's rip the band-aid off and work collaboratively to set the path for public art success.

     

    Ciara McKeown is a Hamilton resident currently working with Waterfront Toronto's public art program. Ciara is a member of the Supercrawl Curatorial Committee, runs a regional public art round-table event, and previously worked in The City of Hamilton's Public Art Program. Educated at McGill and NYU, Ciara has worked in public art in Calgary, was on the Board of Directors with CAFK+A, and ran a New York-based start up public art organization. She has written for Stephen Magazine, Public Art Review, Americans for the Arts blog, and looks forward to working with HAC on the LivingArts Program. @ciaramckeown

  • LivingArts: NOT TAKEN FOR GRANTED

    September 19, 2014 by Crystal Jonasso...

     

    It happens to us all as artists, the dreaded grant application. Somewhat akin to summing up one’s entire personality in 300 words for an online dating site we are asked to sum up our passion, experience and dreams with full knowledge that we will be judged by what we write. It is stressful, confusing and time consuming, but ultimately it can be the key that unlocks the resources to make our artistic dreams possible.

    My own personal experience tackling this beast left me with questions: Are there enough resources available to support artists through the application process? Are artists in Hamilton applying for grants? What is a ‘grant seeking culture’ and do we have it here in Hamilton? If we could encourage more artists to seek grants could we help to support the growth in this community?

    In an effort to get some answers I contacted several Hamilton theatre artists and opened up a dialogue about grants, grant application and the business side of art. I spoke to ten theatre artists at various stages in their careers and here is what I learned. Half of all the artists I spoke to felt that there was support available to them, from organizations directly or from the community, to assist in the grant application process.  However only one third had ever applied for a grant and none of them had ever been successful in receiving funding. Two of the artists who had never applied said that the application process was a deterrent for them. Most of the artists who had chosen never to apply expressed a desire to create projects that were self-supporting without outside funding.

    When I asked what they felt a ‘grant seeking culture’ was and whether they thought we had it here in Hamilton I got quite a variety of interpretations. Most felt that the term ‘grant seeking’ was not a positive description.  Many artists expressed a concern that ‘grant seeking’ could lead to grant dependence and again expressed the desire to be self-supported. Only one of the artists I spoke to believed that Hamilton currently has a ‘grant seeking’ theatre culture. When I asked if having more grants in our community could help to support growth most agreed that it would. Many interesting conversations about what types of artists and artistic projects should be supported by grants resulted from these questions, with some artists wanting funding to be given to projects that were less risky and more likely to generate income for artists and create audiences while others hoped that projects that were more provocative and less likely to find other revenue streams would be funded.  One artist summed up the discussion of arts funding as simply as possible: “There are no easy answers in art”

    My discussions with these artists have left me with many new unanswered questions but a strong feeling that the Hamilton Arts community has a desire to create something strong and lasting. There is definitely a need for the support that grants can offer but this support should be the spark that ignites a creative career or project - not the fuel that sustains it.

     

    Crystal Jonasson is a writer, director, producer and actor who has appeared on stages in Toronto, Ottawa and throughout the Hamilton area. Recently she had the opportunity to work as the Assistant Director on Tribes by Nina Raine for Canadian Stage and Theatre Aquarius. Crystal was the Associate Producer of the 2014 Hamilton Fringe Festival, a mentorship position made possible through the support of Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program. In 2013 she received the Emerging Artist Award in Theatre at the Hamilton Arts Awards. Crystal is a lifelong Hamiltonian, a McMaster University Alumni and the founder of 11th Year Productions, a Hamilton based theatre company focused on working with emerging artists. @crystalinhammer

  • LivingArts: Supporting Infrastructure

    October 24, 2014 by Ciara McKeown

     

    A couple of things made me think about public art this week – one is the upcoming election, and the other is the recent announcement from the Bloomberg Foundation  to award competing American cities with funding to develop temporary public art projects. This got me thinking about awareness of public art, which in turn, got me thinking about infrastructure and the ways in which Hamilton needs more structural support.

    Many artists I've met or worked with over the years, who in some capacity work within a public context, are looking for ways to contribute to their city through this practice. But often the 'system' is unaccessible. Public art calls can entail complicated processes: lengthy submission requirements, contracts longer than a short novel, and difficult construction or installation planning. As either an experienced artist or a newcomer to public art, the process can be very isolating, which I've always found odd in one of the most collaborative arts practices.

    An ideal framework that could be built to change this (which already exists in my fantasy city built from public art dreams – idealist to a fault), would have: guides, toolkits, outlines and step-by-step explanations on how the process works – upfront - so an artist knew what they were getting into before they applied, and also because the education piece of public art is missing; contracts tailored to each artist and project with basic professional standards in place (ie. intellectual property); mentorship opportunities for artists to work with engineers, fabricators, designers, architects, etc, so it's a team in the intended sense, not the delusional sense. Budgets would be broken up and creatively managed so the artist and their team were paid when they needed money and for the work actually done. 'Community engagement' would be long-term relationship building, and the work would not be 'completed' when it was in the ground or installed onsite. It's process and structure, but it's important because it has ripples far and wide.

    These issues are universal, from my experience in North American programs anyway, so certainly not a Hamilton creation. But we need the structural systems in place which have the artist in mind, and support the basic foundations required to acheive success, for the public art program, the artist and the city. Why is this important? Because public art is part of a larger discussion about our civic spaces, our streets, and public accessibility. And its about citizens who change and develop our city and think creatively, which is the real system we need to invest in. Change.

    Ciara McKeown is a Hamilton resident currently working with Waterfront Toronto's public art program. Ciara is a member of the Supercrawl Curatorial Committee, runs a regional public art round-table event, and previously worked in The City of Hamilton's Public Art Program. Educated at McGill and NYU, Ciara has worked in public art in Calgary, was on the Board of Directors with CAFK+A, and ran a New York-based start up public art organization. She has written for Stephen Magazine, Public Art Review, Americans for the Arts blog, and looks forward to working with HAC on the LivingArts Program. @ciaramckeown

  • LivingArts: LITERARY CROWD

    September 15, 2014 by Jessica Rose

     

    You've seen Hamilton's literary crowd before. We're the ones at Mulberry, Radius, or My Dog Joe, obsessing over word counts and syntax on our laptops. We're the ones rushing off to planning meetings, racing against deadlines, and nervously getting up on stage to share our work with others. You've seen us browsing the shelves at Bryan Prince, Bookseller and J.H. Gordon Books. We're not just writers. We're editors, booksellers, festival organizers, librarians, publishers, readers, spoken word artists, and educators. The list could go on.

    Hamilton's literary scene may sometimes seem to lurk in the shadows of Toronto, but we have created our own identity, one that continues to expand to include new faces and new ideas. Some might argue that print is dead, but Hamilton's literary community proves otherwise. Besides our many talented novelists, poets, and essayists, there are literary arts organizations and festivals: gritLIT, Lit Live, Steel City Stories, the Hamilton Poetry Centre, the Hamilton Youth Poetry Slam, and Project Bookmark Canada, to name only a few.

    This Living Arts column will be a space to share my own experiences and observations living and working as a writer, editor, and festival organizer in Hamilton but, more importantly, it will be used to chronicle the ongoing conversations in literary circles. Like all artists, those in the literary arts face challenges, from navigating grant systems, finding our voice in the national scene, and capitalizing on change in the digital age.

    To steal lyrics from a favourite song, "the city loves you; it gives you oxygen." It's a great time to be an artist in Hamilton. I look forward to contributing to the ongoing dialogue and bringing to the page the conversations already being had in bookstores and coffee shops around the city. 

     

    Writer and editor Jessica Rose was born and raised in Burlington, but escaped the suburbs to become a proud Hamiltonian living in the downtown core. Since earning a degree in journalism from Carleton University, she has written for a number of publications across Canada, including THIS, Ricepaper, Broken Pencil, H, and rabble.ca. She is currently a committee member of gritLIT, Hamilton’s Literary festival. She also writes the “Shelf Life” column which appears in every issue of Hamilton Magazine. Jessica edits children's books by day, and writes book reviews by night, many of which appear on her personal blog at www.notmytypewriter.com.

  • LivingArts: THE HOST WITH THE MOST

    September 17, 2014 by Laurie Kilgour-Walsh

     

    People think I get paid to sit around and look at pictures all day.

    Well... I sort of do. Just not in the dismissive, easiest-job-in-the-world way they think. Being an arts educator means wearing many hats and few of them fit perfectly. There's the teacher hat, the writer, the artist, the budget-planner, the coach, the counsellor ... but one that I take very seriously is the host.

    One of the most important things I want to accomplish in my work is to make people feel comfortable and welcome in the gallery. For those of us who have been visiting galleries all our lives this may seem easy, but so often I see people who are coming (often reluctantly) to the gallery for the first time, as parent-chaperones, guests of friends or as part of a corporate programme. They have often decided that they are not going to enjoy their visit because "they don't know anything about art". They are afraid of looking foolish or being wrong so they just don't try to engage with the work. Especially when it's contemporary. Sometimes they want to but just don't know how.

    As a good host, I must make my guests comfortable in an unfamiliar setting. If I can’t do that, nothing else I do with them matters because they won’t enjoy their time with me and they won’t come back. People must be welcomed to art experiences on their terms and be able to have their voice heard. Even if that voice starts with "my kid could do that".

    I spend a lot of time learning about the art on display, educational theories and current trends in museum learning. But I also think about ways to make others feel as excited about that art as I am. As an educator, my job is to mediate the space between the art and the viewer, providing some interpretive content at times, but also facilitating the viewer's own independent experience, and allowing them the opportunity to develop a transformative experience for themselves. At its core, art appreciation is about seeing art and forming an opinion. Everyone can do that.

    Here's what I have learned:

    Start with something comfortable.

    Encourage engagement by asking questions that relate to the visitor.

    Make people laugh by saying something foolish.

    Don't provide more information than they want at once.

    Once, they've relaxed throw them a curve to make them think.

    Remind them of what they've learned on their own and how they succeeded.

    And always obseverve your audience to adapt to them.

    Kind of sounds like being a good party host, doesn't it?

     

    Laurie Kilgour-Walsh is a confirmed gallery nerd who is passionate about art and believes that art-based experiences are essential for everyone.  Her experiences include working as the Educator at the Art Gallery of Hamilton since 2006 as well as work at several other galleries in the region. She spends her days thinking about ways to engage visitors in the arts through tours, classes, individual encounters and active social interactions with art.  As a visual artist, she maintains an active studio practice, working in mixed media in a studio littered with scraps of old books, rusted metal, insect wings, and carefully hoarded treasures. @lauriemkw

  • LivingArts: HOW SUPERCRAWL SAVED MY BABY (AND BY 'BABY' I MEAN MY MUSIC CAREER)

    September 18, 2014 by Steve McKay

     

    SUPERCRAWL!!!  It’s the greatest thing that’s happened to downtown Hamilton since the Eaton Centre.   The greatest thing since the short-lived Hamilton Skyhawks basketball franchise played at Copps Coliseum (look it up). 

    135,000 people came downtown and they enjoyed themselves so much, that they’ll probably come downtown again.  From a musician’s perspective, this is a huge deal.  Huge, like the EUREKA moment when we realized that we have a billion waterfalls in Hamilton…

    Why?  Because downtown is where music happens.  Put simply, there is a correlation between the number of people hanging out downtown and the vibrancy of the music scene.  Imagine what the Nashville or New Orleans scene would look like if the musicians didn’t have an audience?    

    I imagine it might be like downtown Hamilton, ten years ago.  Your audience was just the sound guy and the occasional tumbleweed rolling through the bar… 

    So what happened?  Supercrawl happened.  It’s the only free festival I have ever attended that has a huge local music component.  Not only does it remind people that downtown Hamilton is a happening place on a Saturday night, but it is engaging Hamiltonians in the local music dialogue. 

    What’s more - it gives local musicians a boost.  I’ve had the good fortune to perform in some capacity at each Supercrawl since 2010 and every year, I walk away feeling like a rock star. 

    This year, I was playing an ambient electro set with Awesollator (Dylan Hudecki) at the AGH Design Annex.  The electricity of the big audience gave us a buzz that I’m still feeling days later.  That buzz is what keeps you moving, pursuing new sounds and exploring as an artist.

    The trick will be to keep up the momentum, so let’s hope at least a fraction of those 135,000 Supercrawlers will be coming back downtown this weekend to enjoy some more local music!

    [Next month – introducing the brand new Arkells’ fruit stand at the Hamilton Farmer’s Market…is there anything they can’tdo!?!]

     

    Steve McKay - Born-and-raised Hamiltonian, Drummer, Songwriter, Father, Mortgage Broker, Chorister and Technical Director of the new classical music venue at Church of St. John the Evangelist (Charlton & Locke).  His musical travels have taken him around the world with the likes of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Bruce Peninsula.  

    You can catch him performing locally with YerYard (Hidden Pony), High Kites and as a member of the Central Presbyterian Church choir.

    @STEVEathePMG

  • LivingArts: INSECURITIES

    September 12, 2014 by Tor Lukasik-Foss

     

    As a means of an introduction, let me describe my insecurities, of which I have many:

    Over twenty years ago, I got a degree in English and History because I was too chickenshit to go into an arts program.  Instead I learned by doing, making a lot of very naïve, sometimes very bad art, and by dabbling in as many different things as I could pursue.  I have always felt vulnerable because I don’t have an arts degree; but I also know that because of my education, and my constant dabbling, I can do things like write a decent grant proposal, design a postcard, effectively use a biscuit joiner and table saw, yodel, facilitate a public meeting, to list just a few things. 

    I describe myself as being an artist / writer / performer because I am legitimately passionate about all of those things, but also because I’ve never been able to figure out a way of making a living from just one of them.  In fact, I routinely have to tack on arts administrator / educator / casual laborer to my name, in order to make even a modest annual income.

    I live in mortal dread of the German/Yiddish word ‘luftmensch’ which translates as ‘dreamer with no business sense’ or more literally ‘air person’; I also dread the term ‘charlatan’, ‘jack of all trades’, and the proverb ‘bagful of knives, none of them sharp’.  In my low moments, particularly after having met someone who is my age, who is either deeply skilled in a single pursuit, wealthy, or just well organized in their affairs, these words and phrases gurgle up in my brain and haunt me.

    Being a working artist carries with it some public responsibilities. I first learned this in the mid-nineties, after taking a job with the Arts Hamilton (then called the Hamilton and Region Arts Council) and volunteering as a board member at the Hamilton Artists Inc.  It was a palpably different climate back then; art and culture was routinely described as a frill, and there was an unwritten understanding that to remain in Hamilton as an artist was to handicap one’s own potential.  Still, there was a small, angry, dedicated community of people trying to challenge those assumptions.  To be part of it felt in equal measures intoxicating, rebellious, and foolish.   Eventually I learned that fighting for the artistic soul of a mid-size post-industrial city is an absurdly beautiful pursuit, a cause worthy of devoting one’s life. 

    Insecurity is part of the fabric of creative work. Your doubts become the things you confront in order to produce your art.  You put yourself at financial or physical or professional risk in order to keep working.   And you don’t ever vanquish your insecurities; you find ways to use them to make yourself stronger.

     

    Tor Lukasik-Foss (born Hamilton, Ontario, 1967) is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice includes writing, sculpture, performance, and varied other pursuits.  A major part of his creative practice for the last decade has been a series of performances and performance-related sculptures, loosely assembled under the moniker ‘unlikely concerts’; they are attempts to reformulate the performance stage as a place that is simultaneously public and private, confident and insecure, hidden and exposed.  

    Lukasik-Foss has exhibited both individually and as part of TH&B, an artist collective of which he is a founding member (along with Ivan Jurakic, Simon Frank, and Dave Hind). He writes arts profiles and a regular column for “Hamilton Magazine”, is assiting the City of Hamilton’s Public Art Program, and has recently taught at the Dundas Valley School of Arts as a instructor in the full-time foundation and advanced studies program.   The artist has been awarded the 2007 K.M. Hunter Award for Visual Arts, 2008 Visual Arts Award from the City of Hamilton, a 2009 Hamilton Music Award (Best Male Artist) four Ontario Arts Council Mid Career Visual Arts Grants, and a 2014 Canada Council Visual Art Grant.

    www.torlukasikfoss.com

    www.tinybillcody.com

    www.thbcollective.com