Living Arts: Why Arts Coverage Matters

Friday 29 May 2015
This post originally appeared as part of Hamilton Arts Council's Living Arts series. 

What's the first word that springs to mind when you think of the Hamilton Spectator? Chances are your adjective of choice isn't "adorable." But on April 23, the cover of the Spectator's GO Section was adorable. Boasting the headline "Cats in hats: It doesn't get much cuter than this," it was slathered with images of felines in knitted hats. Cute, right? I inevitably held it up to show my better half, and immediately we gave a collective, "Awww." We're predictable like that.

After the initial overdose of cuteness, something struck me. I couldn't help but think of the dozens of artists and local arts organizations who would have killed for the front page of the GO Section. I couldn't help but think of the many authors, musicians, visual artists, arts advocates, arts events, and arts issues that could have taken precedent over an Associated Press article about cats wearing hats. (Surely there's a local artisan making hats for local cats who could have been highlighted). But in a world of tight budgets, local arts coverage is often the first to go.

In Transforming Hamilton Through Culture, the City of Hamilton's Cultural Plan, which was approved by Council on October 23, 2013, cultural leaders identified three major opportunities. Communication was one of them, the plan stating "Increasing arts coverage will raise the caliber of public dialogue around the arts."

Arts coverage matters, and it isn't only crucial because it helps artists and arts organizations fill seats at events or sell copies of their books. Though creating interest is one important function of arts reporting, there are many other reasons that arts coverage is crucial to Hamilton.

Local arts coverage tells artists and arts organizations that their work is valid and valued. It celebrates the achievements of local artists, giving voice to crucial members of the community.

Local arts coverage raises awareness about the value and impact the arts have on Hamilton.

Local arts coverage helps to inspire a new generation of artists, giving children and youth the artistic role models they need.

Local arts coverage builds social capital. It helps to create and sustain a sense of community and shared identity.

If done correctly, local arts coverage reflects the diversity of our community and the diversity of the artists within our community.

Local arts coverage creates a dialogue about issues important to artists.

Local arts coverage leads to economic growth within the arts community.

Local arts coverage celebrates creative expression. In a world of bad news, celebrating the arts can be a bright spot in the constant news cycle of doom and gloom.

This, of course, is just a selection of why arts coverage is crucial in Hamilton. So, what do we do? As artists, we need to demand more from our mainstream local media. We also need to support the independent journalists and bloggers and publications that work tirelessly to promote the arts. The local literary community is lucky to have many local advocates in its corner, among them literary reviews (Hamilton Arts and Letters), bloggers (Dead Letter Birds), and reviewers who are dedicated to increasing awareness of the literary arts in Hamilton. I like to think it's our job as artists to support them in the same way they support us.

gritLIT 2015: The good, the great, and the even better

Tuesday 19 May 2015

I've had a lot of incredible opportunities as a committee member of gritLIT: Hamilton's Readers and Writers Festival, but sitting in Richard Wagamese's literary salon (and introducing him) is now firmly planted at the top of that list. The intimate crowd was captivated from the second he started sharing his experiences, among them having money for food but not shelter and devouring the wealth of material at the St. Catherines library. 

"Every book I ever opened had a thousand doorways in it," he said. 

The intimacy of a literary festival, especially one that is small in comparison to the International Festival of Authors and others, presents opportunities for book lovers and aspiring writers to share experiences with favourite authors that happen off the page. Richard's workshop (He hugged me, which in my mind gives me permission to call him Richard from now on) was just one highlight in a weekend full of memorable encounters with authors and books at gritLIT, which ran from April 16-19 at the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

As always, gritLIT caused my to-read list to swell and my book budget to shrink thanks to our resident booksellers Bryan Prince, Booksellers. Here are just a few of the many highlights of gritLIT 2015. Regretably I missed Day One of the festival becuase it conflicted with YWCA Hamilton's Women of Distinction gala, but from what I've heard, Heather O'Neill is one of the most endearing humans who has ever graced the earth, and one day I will hear her read for myself.

gritLIT: Day Two

When my better half arrived at the hospitality suite where authors gather after their readings, I cornered him, and pointed out Kathleen Winter. "That's Kathleen Winter!" I said excitedly, and though he's not much of a literary type he immediately recognized her name. I had read him passage after passage in the weeks that I was reading Annabel. It's still a book that haunts me. One of Kathleen Winter's latest books (she has two) is Boundless, a memoir about her time in the North. 

Kathleen Winter was only one of the incredible readers from gritLIT Day Two. Among the others was James Raffan, who later in the weekend made us paint and burn things in a workshop (more on that later!), Tasneem Jamal, Krista Foss, and Richard Wagamese. 

Recent winner of the Mayor's Poetry Challenge, John Terpstra, took on hosting duty.

gritLIT Day Three

gritLIT Day Three began (for me) with Richard Wagamese's literary salon at the Sheraton Hotel, but at the same time across the street at the AGH, a sold-out crowd of festival-goers were chatting with Alison Pick about character development.

James Raffan's Circling the Midnight Sun relied heavily on his own travel journals. His journaling workshop was as hands-on as hands-on gets. Instead of bringing paint, he asked us to make our own with the help of egg whites and the remnants of burned paper. My "art" may look like it was done by a toddler, but as someone who hasn't picked up a paintbrush (unless you count to paint a room) in the better part of two decades, this workshop forced me outside of my comfort zone, and I loved that. 

Full disclosure, you don't eat a lot when you're helping to organize a festival, and you ignore your family, so I snuck out during the afternoon of Day Three to meet my dad at the Hamilton Food and Drink Show. I came back to wonderful readings by Claire Cameron, Andrew Pyper, and Russell Wangersky. You might expect a reading called Monsters: Humans and Otherwise would be dark and disturbing, but the banter between these three writers was anything but, bordering on hilarious for the most part. 

gritLIT Day Four

gritLIT Day Four began for me with a workshop by Alison Wearing, author of Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter, on performing one's art. Authors today aren't asked only to deliver publishable material that is highly engaging. They're also expected to present their work in a highly engaging fashion, which isn't easy for the introverts among us.

As arts organizers know, the final day of a festival can be a blur, so after a day of readings, which included authors Christine Fischer Guy, Stephen Marche, Ian Hamilton, and David Rotenberg, giving the reins to Steel City Stories for a partner closing event was the best way to give the gritLIT team a break and enjoy our turn as audience members. 

"I was taught to regard the story as a living thing," said Richard Wagamese in his literary salon. Steel City Stories, and the many other storytellers who joined us at gritLIT 2015, proved this to be true.

To learn more about gritLIT, find us at Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop about year-round programming and writing workshops. 

Christine Fischer-Guy and Stephen Marche

Masters of Mystery Ian Hamilton and David Rotenberg

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