• An Arts Advocacy Trilogy

    February 12, 2016 by Stephanie Vegh

    The start of a new year is often a busy one for arts advocates across the country as governments at all levels work to develop their budgets, including their allocations for investing in arts and culture. With a new federal government in power and promising change, a provincial funding agency in dire financial need, and momentum to be maintained at the local level, it became readily apparent that the Hamilton Arts Council needed to score a hat trick on the advocacy front to encourage all three levels of government to make more resources available to the arts in Hamilton and other communities.

    I was fortuante to receive an invitation from Filomena Tassi, MP for the new Hamilton riding of Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, to participate in a pre-budget consultation session with François-Philippe Champagne, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance. With a significant increase already projected for the Canada Council for the Arts, our remarks at that meeting included much positive reinforcement of the government's intentions for arts and culture, as well as calls to support job creation, adaptive reuse of industrial space, and an echo of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce's call for a national urban policy to support under-resourced municipalities. You can read the full text of our recommendations here.

    A similar invitation received to participate in the Province of Ontario's pre-budget consultations with the Associate Minister of Finance, Mitzie Hunter, prompted a more concerned and focused response specific to the diminished funding capacity of the Ontario Arts Council. After a long period of receiving no funding increases from the Province, the OAC was forced last year to reduce all its granting envelopes by 5% in an effort to release some funds for the many emerging artists and organizations seeking support. While the rationale for these cuts was respectfully communicated to and sympathetically received by the arts community, we also recognize that such measures are not a sustainable solution to the provincial government's lack of attention to this critical part of Ontario's economy. Our call for increased support to the OAC can be read here.

    As a community arts council, our greatest advocacy advocate rests in our local context and the City of Hamilton, where budget deliberations are currently underway (for an added dose of reality, I am writing this blog post from Council Chambers while observing discussions of budget enhancements). We have come into this year's budget process on the success of having secured $500,000 in new arts funding through the City Enrichment Fund in 2015 - the first of three phased increases proposed to increase the City's investment in the arts to $1 million by 2017. This year's recommended increase of $300,000, as well as a further $150,000 for additional City Enrichment Fund programs included Culture and Heritage, is included among the budget enhancements currently under discussion.

    I presented the Hamilton Arts Council's favourable call for this increase during public delegations on February 9, which can be read in its entirety here. While the Mayor and members of Council warmly received this presentation, we will remain watchful during budget meetings of the General Issues Committee during which Council will be reviewing budget enhancements with a goal of either rejecting or advancing these funds through a process that is more colloquially understood as Budget Survivor.

    Today is the first day of this process and we will be keeping our community updated on the fate of this year's City Enrichment Fund increase through Twitter, Facebook and email notices. Each of these meetings of Budget Survivor also present the opportunity for the arts community to observe in Council Chambers and show their visible support of increased arts investment - the calendar of Budget GIC meetings can be found here if you wish to show your support in person, which we have found does have a tangible impact on members of Council.

    Advocacy is one of the most important roles we play as an arts council to ensure that Hamilton is the best possible city in which artists and their organizations can sustain creative activity in this city. You can continue to support this work and add your voice to our efforts by becoming a member of the Hamilton Arts Council or making a charitable donation.

  • What and Why Site-Specific?

    January 28, 2016 by Claire Calnan

    (Rose Hopkins is a Hamilton playwright and performer. She is a founding member of Mooncalf Theatre and a member of the Hamilton Fringe Festival'ALERT Program )

    By Rose Hopkins

    Hamilton’s first winter performance festival, Frost Bites, will be kicking off this February 11th to 14th at the Cotton Factory (270 Sherman St.) This is good news. With one ticket you have access to the work of seven different Hamilton companies and over thirty site-specific performances a night. So, what is site-specific theatre? It’s performance that engages a space typically not used for performance. And it’s become a bit of a “thing.”

    A quick Google search pulls up companies across North America and Europe who specialize in this work. Consider Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play, produced in 2013 by Outside the March, Convergence Theatre & Sheep No Wool. Performed in Toronto’s Withrow Park and Eastminster United Church, it examines a group of actors putting on a passion play in three distinct eras, utilizing outdoor spaces and the Church’s architecture to contextualize the story.

    Passion Play by Outside the March Theatre Company

    Okay, so right now some of you may be thinking, “That’s great, but why do I want to pull myself out of my warm house to hang out in an old cotton factory in the middle of February to see Frost Bites?” Because site-specific theatre is the new black. Here’s why.



    Site-specific theatre offers creative options that other performance doesn’t. As part of Mooncalf Theatre, a company participating in Frost Bites, my imagination ran wild when we chose the parking lot as our performance space. Did we want to use the space literally as a parking lot, or could we transform it to take on a new meaning? Would the whole piece take place in a car? Would we build a completely different set within the lot? How many audience members would watch the piece at once? In a proscenium theatre, these choices aren’t always available.

    Flip side: Big dreams require work to become a reality. There were some realities of the parking lot that had to take some creative problem solving to make work. For example, how would we get power to the playing space so we could have some lighting? What would we do if a car drove through during performance? How would we keep the actors warm while performing outdoors in the middle of February? What happens if it snows? These were all things that had to be taken into consideration.



    Site-specific performance can take you to some pretty unexpected places. Abandoned churches, backyard sheds, strangers’ cars, and shipping containers have all served as venues for this kind of performance, and they all lend themselves to create a very specific experience for the audience.  Mooncalf Theatre’s piece, The Distance Between Us and the Sun, has the audience looking down into the parking lot from a second story window. Only eight people can watch the piece at a time, so there is a sense of intimacy even though the audience is fifty-something feet away from the performers. This contrast of distance and closeness creates a feeling for the audience that perfectly serves the story we are trying to tell.

    The flip-side: It’s not for everyone. British company Blast Theory ran a piece in 1998 called Kidnap. In Kidnap, two lottery winners were taken prisoner (literally snatched in broad daylight) and held for 48 hours while their kidnapping experience was broadcasted online for others to watch. Definitely a specific participant experience, but not one that everyone might enjoy.

    Kidnap by Blast Theory

    **they have a pretty cool archival website, you can tour the safe house and stuff: BLAST THEORY


    Site-specific theatre can be more affordable. If a piece calls for a specific set, going to an existing living room can be less expensive than building one onstage. And often, found performance spaces can be less expensive to rent than traditional venues. This is great for new artists without a ton of resources, and even better for audience members whose ticket price will be lower because of it.

    The flip side: It can also be more expensive. Sleep No Moreby U.K. company Punchdrunk, has had a long run in New York. The film-noir re-imagining of Macbeth has masked audience members exploring the fictitious McKittrick Hotel - actually three adjoining warehouses in Chelsea that span over 100,000 square feet. One can assume their rent isn’t pocket change.

    Sleep No More by Punchdrunk


    We all love Hamilton. From Gore Park to Albion Falls, the vintage shops on Ottawa Street to the waterfront trail by Cootes Paradise, this is the place where we work, play, and create. The architecture of our buildings, the history of our parks all serve as valuable inspiration for performances about the place we call home.

    This is exactly the type of work that the growing ‘indie-theatre’ community in Hamilton is producing, at festivals like Frost Bites and the Fringe. Performance that breaks convention, and isn’t contained inside the walls of the Players Guild or Theatre Aquarius, but meets the audience in the communities where they live. Performance that speaks to our identity as Hamiltonians. What more could you want?


  • Lit Love and the Hamilton Literary Awards

    December 17, 2015 by Stephen Near

    On Tuesday, December 8th, a packed house at the Norman and Louise Haac Studio Theatre of Theatre Aquarius celebrated the literary arts and the accomplishments of local authors at the 22nd Annual Hamilton Literary Awards. The Literary Awards are a signature event for the Hamilton Arts Council and every year we are humbled and proud to present this event; humbled by the amount of literary talent that call this city home and proud that we can celebrate their achievements every year at the Awards.

    This year, we had the fortune to welcome Jeff Goodes as our Master of Ceremonies. Jeff is well known to listeners of CBC Radio for his work on Overnight as well as Tapestry and White Coat/Black Art. In his opening remarks, Jeff remarked upon the plethora of stories that make up Hamilton’s past and how those stories have impacted this city’s authors.

    Master of Ceremonies Jeff Goodes

    We also welcomed Lorna Zaremba, General Manager of Theatre Aquarius, to the podium where she ardently encouraged Hamilton writers to continue the tradition of storytelling not just on the page but also on the stage. Lorna’s remarks reminded us all that writing, no matter the genre, is often a solitary practice which sees true fruition only when it is shared with an audience.

    Lorna Zaremba of Theatre Aquarius

    The ceremony presented Awards to four outstanding authors writing in categories including Poetry, Non-Fiction and Fiction. This year’s prizes went to Gary Barwin for his most recent collection Moon Baboon Canoe (Poetry Award), John Terpstra for his lyrical memoir The House With the Parapet Wall (Non-Fiction Award), and Krista Foss for her debut novel Smoke River (Fiction Award).

    Krista Foss accepts the Literary Award for Fiction

    We also featured several notable presenters who read from the winning books and offered their own reflections on the importance of the written word in Hamilton. Those presenting this year’s Awards included Judy Marsales (Judy Marsales Real Estate Ltd), Ian Elliot (Different Drummer Books), and Kerry Cranston-Reimer (Bryan Prince Bookseller).

    Jane Allison of the Hamilton Spectator

    We also presented the Kerry Schooley Award for the book that best captures the spirit of Hamilton. Named in honour of the late author Kerry Schooley, the Award celebrates the indelible mark that Kerry made on the writing community here in Hamilton. Sponsored by The Hamilton Spectator, and presented by the Manager of Community Partnerships, Jane Allison, this year's Kerry Schooley Award went to author Chris Laing for his noir-infused detective book A Deadly Venture. Chris’ book is a sequel to his first Hamilton-set crime novel, A Private Man.

    Chris Laing accepts the Kerry Schooley Book Award

    The Literary Awards are over for 2015 but the call for the 23rd Annual Literary Awards will be going out early in the New Year. That means the Hamilton Arts Council can look forward to another crop of books sent to our offices from writers across the region. Storytelling is such an indelible part of what makes this city so unique that I can’t wait to see those stories, and hear those voices, coming our way in 2016.

    22nd Annual Literary Award Winners and the Sponsor Presenters

    If you want to learn more about the winners and the finalists from this year's Lit Awards, scroll back through our blog and you'll find individual highlights for the different categories along with summaries of the books. And as you head out looking for that perfect gift this season, be sure to check out our sponsors at Bryan Prince Bookseller, A Different Drummer Books, and Epic Books to pick up a copy of the nominated and winning books just in time for the holidays!

  • 22nd Annual Hamilton Literary Awards: Kerry Schooley Award Finalists

    December 4, 2015 by Stephen Near

    This is the fourth, and final, part of our four part blog series showcasing the finalists of this year's 22nd Annual Hamilton Literary Awards. Find out which authors will take home the prizes by attending the gala celebration on Dec. 08, 2015 at Theatre Aquarius.

    For the third consecutive year, the Hamilton Literary Awards are proud to present the Kerry Schooley Book Award. In honour of the passion and legacy of its namesake, this award seeks to recognize literary works most evocative of the Hamilton region. Kerry Schooley, who passed away in 2010, was a poet, writer, and teacher devoted to supporting the city’s artistic community. This year, the Hamilton Arts Council is pleased to continue this tradition by introducing our three shortlisted titles for the award, each of which explores Hamilton’s rich and resilient past.

    Novelist Chris Laing returns with his second installment of the Max Dexter Mystery Series, A Deadly Venture. Set in Hamilton during the 1940’s, this latest thriller once again details the exploits of private detective and veteran Max Dexter and his assistant Isabel – this time as they investigate the arrest of Max’s friend Roger Bruce after one of his wealthy clients is found dead. Their adventures will take them deep into the city’s mobster scene, and with Laing’s trademark craftsmanship and wit, the stakes have never been higher.

    In Revenge on the Fly, Sylvia McNicoll brings us back to 1912, a year ravaged by disease and the efforts to control it. Her story centres around Will Alton, a twelve-year-old Irish immigrant who moves to Hamilton with his father after losing the rest of his family to widespread sickness. When Will hears of the local fly-catching contest, he sees an opportunity to not only support his father but to take revenge on the very thing that killed his mother and sister. Filled with historical insight and imagination, this is a novel for all ages about fear, prejudice, and the triumph of compassion. 

    John Terpstra’s latest work, The House with the Parapet Wall, describes the author’s wanderings, both physical and emotional, following the loss of his mother. As he walks through the streets of his childhood home in Hamilton, he imagines the lives of the nineteenth-century inhabitants and their own experiences of grief. With beautifully styled prose, Terpstra explores the connections between past and present, life and death, brick and bone, and the power of place to define family.

    This year's Kerry Schooley Award is sponsored by:

    Tune in to #HamLitAwards to follow the 22nd Hamilton Literary Awards via Twitter and we'll see you Tuesday, Dec. 04, 2015.

  • Show Your #HamArts Love on #GivingTuesday

    November 30, 2015 by Stephanie Vegh

    #GivingTuesday is a day when we are all encouraged to give to our favourite not-for-profit organizations and charities. This year on Tuesday, December 1st, we are asking you to consider giving to the Hamilton Arts Council. We’re so proud of all the work the HAC has accomplished in 2015 and with your help we look forward to supporting, advocating and celebrating the arts in Hamilton in 2016.

    Here are a few of our highlights from 2015:

    •  Successfully advocating for a $500,000 increase in the City of Hamilton’s funding for the arts
    •  First Annual Hamilton Arts Week in June with our Arts Awards After Party!
    •  The LivingArts Hamilton project and its first Symposium this past October was an important artistic professional development initiative for local artists

    How can you help?

    • Make a donation on #GivingTuesday to the Hamilton Arts Council and let others know you made a gift by using the #GivingTuesday hashtag and tagging @HamArtsCouncil
    • Help us spread the word about the Hamilton Arts Council over social media: #GivingTuesday @HamArtsCouncil
    • Renew your membership or become a member today and join us at our annual HAC Holiday Party on Giving Tuesday December 1 at the Gasworks.
    • Support Hamilton’s artists by attending the 22nd Annual Literary Awards on December 8 at Theatre Aquarius.

    We invite you to join the #GivingTuesday movement and to help get out the give this December 1st. Thank you to all of our members, partners, donors and sponsors for ongoing support. Together we will continue to strengthen the role of the arts in the City of Hamilton by making the arts accessible to our entire community.