• Hamilton Literary Awards Update

    October 27, 2014 by Stephen Near

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

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

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

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

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

  • Your Vote and the Arts: The 2014 Hamilton Municipal Election Survey

    October 20, 2014 by Stephanie Vegh

    That palpable anticipation hanging in the air a week ahead of Hamilton’s next municipal election is riding in the wake of a cultural shift that has been seen, felt and written about more so than ever these last few years. Now more than ever, Hamilton is taking pride in its potential and daring to defy expectations of what this steel town can become.

    Here at the Hamilton Arts Council, we firmly believe that arts and culture have played a pivotal role in shifting perceptions towards a more optimistic way of life in our city. Our artists have reclaimed abandoned space, contributed to neighbourhood associations and landed Hamilton on the pages of national newspapers as an exciting cultural destination. We already have a claimed our place in Hamilton’s civic conversation and participating in the democracy of electing our next City Council is an essential part of that process.

    In Cobalt Connects, we found a ready and able partner who understood the need for swift action. We drew upon our collective experience in the arts, creative industries, culture and heritage to formulate questions that speak to the most urgent issues in our community, from funding to adaptive reuse of space for artistic purposes, and jointly reached out to candidates to encourage their responses by a set deadline.

    The survey responses made available on our website are posted exactly as we received them from the candidates so that you can hear them speak in their own voices and from their own experiences. In turn, we call upon you to read what they have to say and use this information to make your own informed voting decisions. As a not-for-profit charitable arts organization and advocate, the Hamilton Arts Council is not seeking to influence decisions or endorse particular candidates, but rather to ensure that candidates’ positions on the arts are made known as widely as possible.

    In addition to sharing the perspectives and ideas of these candidates, the following should be kept in mind when reviewing the survey results:

    • The survey had an overall response rate of about 36%, with the most responses being received from wards where the incumbent is not running for re-election (these being Wards 1, 3, 9 and 13). We received no responses from any candidates in Wards 8, 10, 11 and 15.
    • In the interests of providing voters with the most complete information available, the Hamilton Arts Council has included responses from candidates who submitted their answers past the deadline date we set with Cobalt Connects. We will also update the survey results with any further responses received between now and Friday October 24.
    • The City of Hamilton’s Cultural Plan was adopted by Council in 2013 and includes 8 Transformational Goals, 12 Recommendations and 78 Actions; the use of numbers in candidate responses (for example, 1.2 or 2.4) are direct citations of the actions outlined in the Cultural Plan.

    Finally, we would remind all our friends in the arts community that the City Council we elect next week will be charged with approving a proposed increase in funding for the arts through the City Enrichment Fund several short months from now. The choices we make as voters can and will have a direct impact on the outcome of that decision for the arts, and all other decisions that will impact our ability to make, share and access the arts in the four years to come.

    This city has benefitted greatly from friends and allies on City Council who have recognized the boundless benefits and value that the arts bring to bear on Hamilton’s future. Recognizing in turn the candidates who will help us continue that journey – and demonstrating that recognition with an informed vote on October 27th – is one of the most significant steps we can take as individual artists and cultural workers to protect our investments in this city.  

  • New Arts Funding Framework Approved for Hamilton

    September 19, 2014 by Stephanie Vegh

    After four years of intense research, consultation and advocacy by many artists and organizations, Councillors unanimously approved a new City Enrichment Fund at the September 17 meeting of the General Issues Committee. This represents a long-awaited overhaul of grants programs for many stagnant community and cultural programs and the introduction of a new arts funding framework that promises a more streamlined and transparent means of funding artistic activity in this city.

    The Arts Program Guidelines approved at GIC preserve the eight new funding categories recommended by the Arts Funding Task Force as a result of their research and consultations since 2010. While funding is not yet secured to deliver grants for individual artists or the other new programs for capacity building and equipment purchases, the approval of the framework clears a significant hurdle towards delivering future support to both artists and organizations.

    In the short term, existing arts funding redirected from Boards & Agencies and the now defunct Community Partnership Program’s Culture stream will be applied to the delivery of two priority granting categories: Operating Grants for Arts Organizations, and Arts Festivals. With this first year’s intake being treated as a transitional year for the new grant process, the City has expressed its commitment to maintain all funding levels for current B&A and CPP recipients unless an organization reports significant changes in its operations.

    What Current Grant Recipients Need to Know

    City staff are anticipating a deadline of Monday December 1 for 2015 applications to the new program. As with previous CPP applications, these applications are expected to have a 4:30pm deadline to be received at City Hall so arts organizations should plan accordingly to mail or hand-deliver their applications by that time.

    Arts organizations and festivals currently receiving municipal funding will be allocated to one of six potential application forms depending on the nature of their operations. By the program’s definitions, an organization is emerging in its first five years of operation, and “semi-professional” organizations are defined by the inclusion of participants who are not generally paid for their artistic work, whereas “professional” organizations are required to pay the artists involved in their activities.

    Operating Stream for Emerging Professional and Semi-Professional Organizations

    Operating Stream for Established Semi-Professional Organizations

    Operating Stream for Established Professional Organizations

    Operating Stream for Organizations Requesting Less Than $5000

    Arts Festivals Stream for Emerging Arts Festivals

    Arts Festivals Stream for Established Arts Festivals

    Each of the above categories will link to you a DRAFT version of that program’s application form as presented to GIC this week. The fact that these are DRAFT application forms cannot be understated, as these are still being revised and edited by the City’s Arts, Events and Grants staff; in the meantime, they offer a useful overview of the new process and requirements. All the grant writers out there will no doubt find it useful to review the new questions posed in the various sections in anticipation of responding to these themes in their upcoming applications.

    Next Step: Securing Additional Funding

    While additional funding for these new arts grants was not up for debate at this week’s meeting, the approved framework includes the go-ahead for City staff to request increased arts funding over the next three years, starting with an increase of $500,000 in the 2015 budget. Additional requests of $300,000 in 2016 and $200,000 in 2017, if approved, would increase overall arts funding by the key $1 million proposed by the Arts Funding Task Force as the minimum amount needed to bring Hamilton’s arts investment up to par after over a decade of stagnation.

    The decision to increase arts funding in Hamilton by that crucial first step won’t be deliberated until the 2015 budget process is underway in January and February – notably, after the municipal election with a new Council that will include at least four new faces.  While this arts community and its allies will need to throw its collective support behind this request when the time comes, we all have the ability to make our voices heard much sooner through the votes we cast on October 27.  Deciding who will make that decision on Hamilton's behalf is the next, most immediate step we can take to secure stronger investment in this city's arts and cultural sector.


  • Culture Days Coming

    August 22, 2014 by Stephen Near

    Five years ago, when I first started at the Hamilton Arts Council I was a newly arrived resident to the city of Hamilton. I was excited about the promise I saw in the arts here and eager to get started in a role that would see me working with so many in Hamilton's culture scene. One of the first programs I became aware of was a new initiative called Culture Days. Envisioned as a cross-Canada celebration of the arts, Culture Days was set to take place over the last weekend of September.

    Though I wasn't sure how our organization could best be involved, I did think it was an exciting prospect. Back then, Culture Days was entirely new and the idea of a national weekend of arts events largely organized at the grass-roots level seemed like an innovative if somewhat daunting proposal. But what excited me the most was that any artist or group could participate with just about any sort of event. So long as the event was free and engaged the public in a direct or participatory way with the culture of their community it was viable for Culture Days. Now, five years on, that still holds true and the initiative that started at the grass roots is growing into a celebrated part of Canada's culture landscape.

    But Culture Days is a bit of a curious thing in Hamilton. Set at the end of September, the Culture Days weekend takes place in the wake of large-scale festivals like Locke Street and Supercrawl and around the time that many local arts groups have already begun their fall programming. Perhaps because of this proximity, Hamilton has never fully embraced Culture Days with the same drive as other similarly-sized cities. Is it a bit of festival or community fatigue? Or is it simply that many artists and organizations still aren't sure how they can participate in this national event?

    As the community organizer for Culture Days in Hamilton, this year I was determined to get more artists aware of and interested in the array of possibilities open to them with this event. And given the growth of this city's culture sector, along with the influx of new artists, I think there's a greater appetite for Culture Days activities to take root. And if you're an arts and culture maker, it's incredibly easy to plan an activity in time for the end of September.

    Just about ANY arts or cultural activity can be promoted as part of Culture Days. Be it professional, community, amateur or educational, all it takes is for the activity to meet the following criteria:

    • FREE to the public
    • Takes place during the Culture Days weekend (Sept. 26, 27, 28, 2014)
    • Involves audience participation or reveals a behind-the-scenes aspect to the public

    It's really that simple. So, if you've got something that fits these criteria go to the Culture Days website and Register Your Activity. This will allow Culture Days to promote your activity and include it in their upcoming national ad campaign. The website is also a veritable trove of handy tips and tools to make your activity shine, from marketing resources and PR toolkits to useful advice on how to publicise and promote your arts event in the community and to the media. You can even print a customized hand-book of Culture Days events in your area!

    Last year, attendance at Culture Days activities topped 1.7 million with over 800 communities participating across the provinces and territories. This year, they're predicting an even bigger and better turnout so let's put Hamilton on the map for this national celebration.


    TWITTER: @culturedays

    FACEBOOK: Culture Days | Fête de la culture

  • Introducing LivingArts Hamilton

    August 22, 2014 by Stephanie Vegh

    For all that Hamilton’s arts scene is growing and flourishing, people working in all avenues of the arts in this town tend to agree that this community’s human energy is rapidly outpacing the growth of infrastructure, audiences and mindsets needed to support a strong arts landscape. Hamilton is extraordinarily gifted with new plays lacking venues, with new works of art lacking a local market – in short, plenty of art but few opportunities to make a sustainable living as an artist.

    We tackled this conversation about the working lives of artists when we presented Market Value last March at the Hamilton Farmer’s Market. We were thrilled to see everyone from market regulars to local media openly embracing the message that art is work, and something worth compensating. So you can clearly imagine our frustration as well as that of Hamilton artists of all disciplines when just last month we saw a major local corporation pitch an unpaid “opportunity” to Hamilton musicians. We clearly have a long way to go.

    LivingArts Hamilton is our next step towards advancing this dialogue by drawing back the curtain on artistic labour while providing individual practitioners in various disciplines with the tools they need to build their careers. We have been busily at work behind the scenes laying the foundations for a professional development project that will play out over the next eighteen months under the exceptional guidance of our newly hired Community Outreach Officer, Lesley Loksi Chan. As a practicing artist herself, Lesley brings her first-hand experience of these issues to LivingArts Hamilton as well as a passion for the storytelling needed to raise awareness among artists and audiences alike.

    Several of the first stages of LivingArts are set to launch in the coming months, from new writing about the arts in Hamilton to our first round of community consultations. Things to look out for include:

    LivingArts Blog – We’ve been recruiting some of the best local experts on Theatre, Visual Arts, Literary Arts, Music, Arts Education and Public Art to contribute monthly articles on the issues that impact working artists in these sectors. Stay tuned for the first round of blog posts coming to our website starting in September.

    LivingArts Podcast  - Later this fall, we begin production of a new podcast series interviewing local artists of all disciplines about both their challenges and successes working in Hamilton. We’re still accepting expressions of interest from Hamilton artists interested in being interviewed until September 26.

    Public Consultations – Before we can develop our professional development resources and workshops, we need to know what local artists need. To find out, we’ll be holding six consultations to learn more about the challenges faced by Hamilton artists and the support they need to thrive. Online registrations will be available soon but save the date now to make sure your voice is heard (all consultations will take place in the evening in downtown Hamilton):

    Visual Arts – Monday September 29

    Theatre – Wednesday October 1

    Music – Monday October 6

    Literary Arts – Thursday October 9

    Public Arts – Tuesday October 14

    Arts Education – Thursday October 16

    To stay informed of the latest on LivingArts Hamilton, make sure you’re subscribed to our e-newsletters (easily done from the bottom of our home page) and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. We look forward to sharing more about this exciting new project as it develops and wouldn’t want you to miss out!

    Endnote: The header image for this post was photographed in the studio of Hamilton artist John Haney as part of our ongoing effort to document artists' work spaces for LivingArts Hamilton. Contact Lesley if you would be interested in having your work space photographed as part of this growing archive.


    Thank You!

    LivingArts Hamilton has been made possible with the generous financial support of the Government of Ontario through their new Culture Development Fund. In addition to our two-year grant, we were delighted to see the Culture Development Fund support four additional arts organizations here in Hamilton. Congratulations to the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Centre3 for Print and Media Arts, Culture for Kids in the Arts and the Workers Arts & Heritage Centre – we’re wishing you all the best in your own efforts to create a stronger cultural landscape here in Hamilton!