• When flatlining leads to decline in arts funding

    January 23, 2015 by Stephanie Vegh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  • Trending Ham Lit Awards

    January 9, 2015 by Stephen Near

    On Monday January 5th a packed house at the Studio Theatre of Theatre Aquarius celebrated the literary arts and the accomplishments of local authors at the 21st Annual Hamilton Literary Awards. The literary tradition of this city is a vital phenomenon and Monday's ceremony showed the rich diversity of voices telling stories that matter and that are coming from the experience of living and writing in Hamilton. Our Master of Ceremonies for the Awards was the ever-indelible Robert Howard who has hosted the Awards for the last four years with true aplomb.

    Robert Howard, Master of Ceremonies

    This year's Awards ceremony saw recognition given to outstanding authors writing in a variety of categories including Poetry, Fiction and Non-Fiction. Taking home the prizes in these categories were local poet John Terpstra for his most recent collection Brilliant Falls (Poetry Award), children's author Caroline Stellings for her young adult novel The Manager (Fiction Award), and iconic author Lawrence Hill for his noted Massey Lectures book Blood: the Stuff of Life (Non-Fiction Award). This year, the Awards also featured several noted presenters who read from the winning books and offered their own reflections on the importance of the written word in Hamilton. Those presenting the Award included Judy Marsales (Judy Marsales Real Estate Ltd), Diana Walsh (Winner, 2013 Non-fiction Award), and Ian Elliot (Different Drummer Books).

    Also recognized was the recipient of the Kerry Schooley Award for the book that best captures the spirit of Hamilton. First introduced last year, the award is named in honour of Kerry Schooley, a prolific author and mentor who passed away in 2010 yet made an indelible mark on the Hamilton writing community that he called home. Sponsored by The Hamilton Spectator, and presented by the Manager of Community Partnerships, Jane Allison, this year's Award went to poet Chris Pannell for his recent poetry collection, A Nervous City. A close friend of Kerry Schooley, Chris remarked how pleased he was that Kerry's legacy would live on as part of the Awards.

    John Terpstra, winner of the Literary Award for Poetry

    As one of the principle organizers of the Literary Awards at the Hamilton Arts Council, I was deeply impressed not only with the calibre of the nominated books but also with the increasing profile of the Awards. This year, more than any other, it really seemed as if a lot more people were talking about and getting excited about the Hamilton Literary Awards. Indeed, the amount of social media activity leading up to and during the ceremony itself was astonishing. To see for yourself simply check out the tweets coming from #HamLitAwards.

    The Literary Awards are over for another year but before you know it the call will be going out for the 22nd Annual Literary Awards and that means another crop of books submitted to our offices from authors all around the region. I'm looking forward to seeing the stories, and hearing from the Hamilton voices, that come our way this year!

    Chris Pannell, winner of the Kerry Schooley Award

    If you want to learn more about 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. As well, many of our sponsors were local bookstores who will be stocking the nominated and winning books so we encourage you to check them out the next time you're shopping for something to read.

  • The Sensations of the Season

    December 17, 2014 by Sheri Crawford

    It’s that time of year; twinkling lights reflecting in our eyes, the smell of pine and cinnamon, and the sounds of bells and bustle that the holiday season infuses into our spirits as we travel down our streets, enter public spaces and seek comfort in our homes.

    Maybe you’ve never realized the power of your senses and how they create an experience within your surroundings.  Think about what you see, smell and hear every day and how some of those simple elements enhance the experience within that environment.  As a designer, I love to walk through our city streets and look at the many talents that local artists and designers have played on my daily experience within this city.

    I think of these experiences, such as heading into our public library and smelling the pages of a book, or walking through my local grocery store and being drawn to the freshly baked goods that make me want to ditch my diet.  At this time of year, I especially appreciate the enhanced beauty of artistic gestures that adorn our streets representing what the holiday season means to each of us culturally or even traditionally.  The beauty of art and design is the ability to change someone’s life through experience; creativity infused not only in the aesthetics of the space, but strategically placed elements ensuring the experience captures a moment in time.  In Hamilton, we are especially blessed as our city is infused with artistic influences that are embraced as we transpose our identity from Steel Town to Art Community.

    Our worlds are based on stimulating our internal senses to enhance our journey through life.  This holiday season, I encourage you to take a moment to really appreciate the beauty around you.  Infuse your life with the sparkle, smell and message that only this holiday season can bring.

  • The 21st Hamilton Literary Awards: The Kerry Schooley Award Shortlist

    December 16, 2014 by Stephen Near

    Once again, this year's Hamilton Literary Awards will feature the presentation of the Kerry Schooley Book Award. Named in honor of the late Kerry Schooley, this Award recognizes those books that celebrate and are most evocative of the city of Hamilton. Although he passed away in 2010, Schooley was a well-known writer, poet, teacher, publisher, and editor heartened by the growth of Hamilton's arts community especially the vibrant literary scene. This year, the Hamilton Arts Council is pleased to feature four intriguing publications that capture the spirit of this great city.

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

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

    Chris Pannell's A Nervous City reads like a synthesis of many urban environments, including Hamilton, and looks at how some people embrace change as a way of getting ahead while others fear change as the cause of their falling behind. Pannell captures the hum and energy that animates these urban spaces with an eye for the unexpected and a genuine understanding of the common man. An acknowledgment of urban anxiety as a natural yet modern state, the book walks readers down streets they thought they knew to show them in a completely different light.

    Ross Pennie's Up In Smoke is the third instalment of his medical thriller series featuring the exploits of Hamilton-based epidemic investigator Dr. Zol Szabo. As in previous books, Pennie combines his passion as a writer with his expertise as a medical professional and weaves real science with crackling suspense. This time, Dr. Szabo tackles an epidemic of high school deaths in Ontario’s tobacco country linked with contaminated, cut-price cigarettes and the clandestine tobacco trade. A slickly plotted medical thriller with lots of action, Pennie is a master of the genre in this intellectual page-turner.

    Kerry Schooley (1949-2010)

    ABOUT THE AWARD: First awarded last year at the 20th Annual Hamilton Literary Awards, the Kerry Schooley Award was named after the late Kerry Schooley, the well-known Hamilton poet, teacher, publisher, editor and writer who passed away in 2010. Hamilton born, Schooley was a tireless advocate for writers and writing in the city and was involved in numerous committees and organizations to establish and advance the thriving literary scene that Hamilton now enjoys. Schooley deeply believed in the writers that called Hamilton home, and in the stories that fill this city. Now a key part of the Hamilton Arts Council Literary Awards, the Kerry Schooley Award is awarded to the book from any genre that is “most evocative of the Hamilton region.”


    Coming Next: The 21st Annual Hamilton Literary Awards! RSVP your ticket and we'll see you on January 5th, 2015!

  • Your Hamilton Arts Holiday Gift Guide

    December 5, 2014 by Stephanie Vegh

    Ever since December turned the corner, I’ve been seeing a lot of interest in our gift-giving season, from the international scale of generosity on #GivingTuesday (and thank you to all of you who chose to donate to the Hamilton Arts Council this week!) to many of our local businesses enticing Hamiltonians to buy local this holiday season.

    Of course, you could go one step further by buying local and buying local art at the same time. A lot of our members and friends in the Hamilton arts community have been shouting out some great gift-giving options – I’ve seen so many this week that it only makes sense to bring them all together for your shopping convenience.

    GritLit took to Twitter today to announce some amazing writers coming to town for next year’s festival taking place April 16-19, 2015 at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Starting next week, you can purchase advance weekend passes at Bryan Prince Bookseller for the bookworm in your life who would no doubt be thrilled to rub elbows with the likes of Ian Hamilton, Heather O’Neill, Russell Wangersky and Richard Wagamese.

    Speaking of books, we’ve been rolling out the shortlists for the 21st Annual Hamilton Literary Awards these last couple weeks and there’s plenty of great local authors waiting to be enjoyed. Have a look at our recent blog posts on the Fiction, Non-Fiction and Poetry short lists – many of these titles will be available at one of our fantastic local booksellers like Bryan Prince, J.H. Gordon Books, Epic Books and A Different Drummer Books.

    Hamilton has no shortage of talented ceramicists and you’ll find many of them plus a wealth of all things artist-made in the Small Works Christmas show at Dundas’ Carnegie Gallery, which will be open seven days a week starting this Monday December 8 to give you extra time for shopping.

    For a different sort of art buying experience, Cobalt Connects has brought back Community Supported Art for its second year. The 2014 Collection features works by local artists Greg Voisin, Andrea Carvalho, Lisa Pijuan-Nomura, Jesse Senko and Chris Farias, with a small number of 2013 Collections also available for purchase. The 2014 Collection will be available for a full year, but buying in the next few days will also get you and four friends free admission to the CSA Pick-Up Party at the Players Guild on December 10.

    The Hamilton Children's Choir has been busy travelling around the world this past year but you can also listen to this internationally acclaimed youth ensemble in your own home. Until December 12, the choir is offering all three of their CD recordings for the price of two, including a number of holiday-friendly tracks.

    We’re partway through the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2014-2015 season, but you still have the chance to customize a 3-concert subscription for your favourite classical music fan starting from $61. Those purchasing subscriptions at A-, B- and C-level will also receive a single complementary ticket for themselves.

    Or if someone on your list would rather make music than watch, Sheepdog Studios has a great holiday offering in the form of a gift package to record, mix and master your own acoustic single using standard singer/songwriter instrumentation.

    All these offerings barely scratch the surface of all the arts you could be enjoying in Hamilton over the holidays - don't forget to keep an eye on our Events page or subscribe to our Hamilton Arts Events newsletter to find out about the shows and concerts coming up this season!