Cotton Factory Residency Success Stories
Stephen Near

Earlier this year, the Hamilton Arts Council partnered with The Cotton Factory to host a series of year-round artist residencies. The Cotton Factory generously agreed to donate a studio space and the Hamilton Arts Council, would facilitate an artist-in-residence program. This partnership has providing a valuable opportunity for local artists from a wide range of disciplines and career levels, the unique residency program exists to build the practice of these artists and engage them with the flourishing hub of creative activity at the Cotton Factory. Over the past year, the Residency has hosted a handful of accomplished artists who have enriched their practice and furthered their careers in some key ways.

Hamilton-based painter Kristofir Dean remarked that "the residency was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed working outside of my home studio over the summer." Dean also spoke about the community of creative individual at the Cotton Factory as "a stimulating aspect of working in the space... socializing with other artists and creatives became part of a regular residency day". It wasn't something he consistently was able to experience when he was working at his home studio and that was definitely a plus when it came to the Cotton Factory studio.

Dean made a splash with his work on social media, too. In posting updates on Instagram, he caught the attention of a new Montreal-based gallery called Gallerie Bloom and secured a showing with them. And, he has just confirmed a featured exhibition in Vancouver at Ian Tan Gallery after posting installation shots from a recent talk he gave regarding the Residency. In this way, working at the Cotton Factory has been instrumental in Dean's outreach to curators across Canada which has been part of the goal of this initiative.

For quilter and an artist Tania Denyer, being a part of the Cotton Factory Residency was a validating and pivotal change in her career as an artist. "I can now say “career as an artist” in reference to myself," says Denyer, "without feeling like a fraud." Before the program, Denyer describes she had been defining herself as single, working mother. "Of course I made things. I have always made things but to call them art? To take that a step further and call myself an artist? That was crazy talk."

The pivotal change happened when she attended one of the Hamilton Arts Council's Art Bus Studio Tours. "Meeting Annette and visiting Albright Knox, where I had last been when I was 16 was the beginning of the shift. Annette told me about the [Cotton Factory Residency] program and encouraged me to apply. In fact her last word as I left the bus was "Apply!" Her daughter added fuel to fire when, on the way home, she said to Denier "you're are going to apply right?"

Denier stresses the importance of having a "dedicated space to create". Calling it transformative, Denier says, "To be somewhere that I was known as an artist, that I did not have to explain that yes I make art, was the key.  If others saw me as an artist then it was only a matter of time before I did too."

The Cotton Factory Residency hasn't just opened doors at other galleries or inspired artists to dig deeper into their practice. Indeed, for visual artists Danielle Roberts, the Residency has been key to accessing additional funding and opportunities that might never have been possible before. During her time at the Cotton Factory, Roberts was selected as one of the recipients of the Dean Collection 20 Award.

The Dean Collection was founded by Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean and Alicia Keys as a contemporary, family art collection focused on the support of living artists. Supporting artists and cultural visionaries around the globe, the Dean Collection gives 20 artists from anywhere in the world $5,000 each to pursue their art however they wanted. The grants are unrestricted but there’s incentive for the winners to do something ambitious with their money. Roberts recalls there were "over 5000 applicants and a team of curators choosing the candidates"

She says, "the grant is funding for me to complete the work I had proposed to do during my Residency and to host an exhibition of that work upon completion." Local audiences will get a chance to see this work in November when it opens at HAVN on Barton Street. "Right now", she says, "I'm in the process of contacting media outlets to get the word out."

With space is now becoming a commodity in Hamilton, especially for artists, the establishment of a consistent and supportive residency for Hamilton artists speaks to the core of the HAC’s mission statement. With success stories like these, we’re confident that the Cotton Factory Residency is the kind of winning partnership that will continue and should be pursued by other arts organizations in this community.