Is Hamilton’s Art Scene Really Poised for Growth?

Envision a fresh sapling; the trademark characteristics include a few branches about to burst out and a tiny network of spidery roots reaching out to take hold. I see myself as this tree to be. Over the past month and a half, I have settled into my role as the Apprentice Producer for HCADT. In order to strengthen not only my connection within the community but to represent HCADT as well, I contacted Annette Paiement who is the Executive Director of the Hamilton Arts Council (HAC). My aim was to learn more about her vision and HAC’s interest in working to strengthen the art scene in Hamilton. HAC has been a part of the community for many years, even holding the record as the longest running arts council in Ontario.

A multi-faceted individual, Annette brings a lot to the table. She has a degree in art, but has also explored the closely related fields of music and theatre. Her tie to the city of Hamilton stems back 12 years to when she first moved here. Since then she has worked at both the Art Gallery of Hamilton and The Cotton Factory. In her new position with HAC, Annette has been striving to strengthen the culture of art in the city from the most stable way possible, rebuilding the foundation from the ground up.

Mander: What are some of your personal goals for HAC in the coming years?

Paiement: Right now I just came from a meeting at Art Aggregate with Kathleen Wynne, the MP for Ontario and one of the conversations that we had was that arts education is really important and specifically, teaching artists about the business of art at early levels in education. Currently the Ontario curriculum doesn’t include business for arts. So I think it’s really important as an Arts Council to help artists locate opportunities to increase their professional development skills. Our goal is to identify areas or places where artists can learn to further their skills so that they can actually make a professional income. The other thing is to provide them with the resources to search for opportunities to be paid proper fees for the work that they do.

Mander: That is really reassuring to hear, especially as an emerging, young artist, to know that there is that support from your community if you need it.

Paiement: Yes, definitely. So that’s part of what I would like to do and it’s something the Arts Council has been doing with our Living Arts Workshops and Echo Artist Talks. We’ve also been looking at micro granting and we’ve recently had a consulting firm look into how to implement providing small grants to artists in the future. That’s something that isn’t going to happen today, but it’s within reach. In regards to dance specifically, I feel that it is underrepresented in Hamilton, how do you feel about it?

Mander: The more I speak with different artists, I find one issue brought up frequently which is, “oh everyone is telling us we have to go to Toronto to get work” but I think everyone is on the same page of wanting to try to build a dance scene in Hamilton. Part of the reason I was interested in speaking with you was to get a perspective from the city on these issues. It’s exciting that we can show our artists that we are here to support them and that there are resources that are becoming more and more available to them.

Paiement: Another thing that was brought up at the meeting today is that Hamilton does have a Small Business Enterprise Center that is underutilized by artists. This is a place that can teach them how to write a business plan or to operate a full business. Going back to education, it’s so important to teach dancers and artists how to build their skills as someone would build a business. That is, to create a business model for what they do and brand themselves as a viable product with the proper marketing materials. We go to art school and are not taught how to move from being creative content makers into selling, promoting and marketing what we do in order to create a sustainable income from that. I think having that professional edge would really change the representation of dance in Hamilton.

To quote Annette’s closing statement, “My goal today is to take a broad snapshot of where we have been, what we’re currently doing and where we’re going.” I can see a more vivid photograph for Hamilton’s future, can you?

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for HCADT’s upcoming Living Arts Workshop partnership event with the Hamilton Arts Council featuring Aaron Bell of The White Pine Dancers on Dec. 12!

Picture: Hamilton Arts Council

By: Jasmine Mander

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