It’s hard to believe that Beyond James has been in existence for only six months. As we’ve worked to become a steady and reliable source for year-round information on Hamilton’s live performing arts scene, we would define this period as a success. What started as a small blog where we hoped for occasional readership exploded almost immediately to a local favourite with some articles receiving thousands of views. We are so grateful for your support and readership and look forward to continuing to provide you with information throughout 2020. 

As 2019 draws to a close, we’re reflecting on some of the themes and successes in the arts community over the past twelve months. This article, the first of a two-part series, looks back on some of the trends that shaped the conversations of artists, arts organizations and arts workers over this past year and how these themes may take shape in 2020.

The Continued Momentum of the Dance Community

While contemporary dancers, companies and audiences have been growing steadily over the past several years, this became glaringly apparent at The Socrates Project’s presentation of Peggy Baker Dance Projects‘ Who We Are in the Dark. There was no problem filling the main floor of the First Ontario Concert Hall with every attendee paying a ticket price of $15 each, proving that there is demand for high quality dance in this city. Also noticeable was the diversity of the audience at this event. 

Soon after, #DanceHamOnt emerged with their first public event, a choreographic showcase. And later this fall, local dance company Aeris Korper presented Collapsing the Night; one of the most innovative performance pieces this city has seen in a long time. The conclusion? Dance is alive and well in this city, and in 2019, announced that it was a force to be reckoned with. 

Rise of Diverse Voices

If artists are often the first to respond to social injustices, it’s no surprise that 2019 became a year when artists’ voices rose to the top of the conversation and louder than ever before. The city’s response to Pride, and protests at City Hall, gave rise to the Love in the Hammer Choir (still meeting weekly). Queer on Stage packed the Staircase at their summer fundraiser and again in the fall for their second annual theatre festival in support of local queer talent. At this year’s Hamilton Arts Awards, a higher number of diverse artists were nominated than ever before, with many citing the continuing work of COBRA (Coalition of Black and Racialized Artists) as a supporting force in their work.

Look to these voices to grow in size and scale over the next twelve months, with companies like the Hamilton Fringe including separate categories for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and/or Person of Colour) and Disability Justice artists, to ensure more diverse voices continue to be heard. In 2020, also expect the conversation to shift to who is holding leadership roles in institutions and what evolution might need to incur in order to ensure diverse artists feel seen and heard.

The Nomadic Lifestyle

To many Hamilton artists, 2019 will be the year that many venues closed, or announced their impending closure or uncertain future. From Artword Artbar to The Pearl Company, This Ain’t Hollywood and The Zoetic, performance options for artists shrunk this year, forcing many to lament the lack of supportive and purpose-built, affordable spaces in the city to practice their craft.

For artists and organizations looking to develop their skills on a larger or more professional scale, this places them at a disadvantage, as spaces with the proper infrastructure for a professional quality production are either unavailable due to demand, or are unaffordable, leaving artists to leave the city in order to mount productions elsewhere. 

Those who choose to produce work in Hamilton are increasingly required to modify their artistic vision or technical requirements- often by scaling down their work, or by making it “site specific.” And while this has led to some incredible performances, artists themselves are quick to point out that this leaves them with a lack of experience in traditional spaces- something that puts them at a disadvantage as they look to build their professional practice in the city or find supplemental work elsewhere. 

Film work pays off

While many venues continued to close in 2019, two new ones opened, much to the delight of Hamilton audiences. The renovated and restored Westdale Theatre opened in February, and the Playhouse Cinema in the east end opened shortly after in March. Demonstrating that they are not just for film screenings, both venues have hosted an array of other events, from theatre productions to lectures and concerts.

Film work itself also continued to grow in Hamilton in 2019. The city announced that it has over 900 film businesses and over 9,000 film workers in the city, making Hamilton the third largest cluster of film businesses in the country. Infrastructure is on its way to support this growing industry, with an ongoing plan to turn the Tiffany-Barton lands into a live-play-work development that will include a film-focus.   

Let’s Talk About Salary (And Lack Thereof)

It has been the worst kept secret for a number of years that arts workers are underpaid. While many find joy in their work and love the mission of their respective organizations, these great feelings don’t pay rent or keep a family fed. 

In 2019, after hearing this feedback for years, WorkinCulture made it mandatory for job postings to include salary ranges, so we could all see who expected someone with 5+ years of experience and a Master’s degree to work for $30K a year. This has led to meaningful conversations on a variety of levels about what time is worth, how individuals are meaningfully compensated in the sector, and an increasing comfortableness with talking about finances as artists in general. We’re looking forward to seeing this movement shift in 2020 into a conversation about how we place financial value in artists and arts workers by ensuring a living wage.

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