Friday, September 22, 2023

Near and Now: PIVOT at the Cotton Factory

For over a decade, the Cotton Factory has become synonymous with the Hamilton arts and culture scene. A historic industrial complex in the north end of the city, the site is home to a myriad of arts and crafts studios alongside office space for creative professionals. In many ways, the Cotton Factory has become a symbol of the kind of innovation that typifies the resilience of Hamilton. So, it’s fitting that this week, the Cotton Factory will host a live event called the PIVOT Symposium, to discuss what the future holds for creating community through the innovative lens of art and technology. Annette Paiement, the Managing Director at CoWork @ Cotton Factory and Curator of the facility, has been helping to spearhead PIVOT and I had the chance to speak with her to find out more information about this event. 

Stephen: Where did the idea of PIVOT as a place to explore how to create change come from?

Annette: Rob Zeidler, Managing Partner at the Dabbert Group, is the visionary behind PIVOT.  He invited both Richard Allen, a community engagement consultant at McMaster University, and myself to work with him to develop this symposium. During the pandemic, we were unable to launch PIVOT, so the three of us hosted a roundtable inviting key stakeholders from Hamilton. During our discussions, there were a number of challenges identified in Hamilton which also affect other mid-sized cities in North America. Upon reviewing feedback from the roundtable, it was decided that for the inaugural year of the Symposium, three topics would become the focus: housing, mobility and culture within an overarching theme of belonging. The event is designed to highlight how technology is driving those solutions while also highlighting the role Hamilton businesses, education institutions and municipal programs are playing to turn these ideas into reality on a global stage. Equally important, the program will highlight the role that creativity and the arts can play in building communities, something just as critical to finding solutions as the technologies used.

Stephen: PIVOT is billed as an event to “Create Community Through Technology and The Arts”. Can you tell me more about what that means?

Annette: I think creativity is defined as the ability to make or otherwise bring into existence something new – whether a new solution to a problem, a new method or device or a new artistic object or form. And the symposium is an opportunity to investigate real-world challenges and how we can infuse creativity and the use of technology and the arts to address complex challenges and build a better world. In order to help frame the day, we’ve invited Dr. Robert Fleisig, Professor of Engineering Design at McMaster University, to present an interactive segment at the top of the day to focus on Design Thinking.

Stephen: What is the objective PIVOT and what sorts of people are you hoping will attend?

Annette: This symposium will be of particular interest to leaders, practitioners, and scholars in technology, engineering, science, arts and entertainment, design, and community building. But they don’t have to be part of any community. Anyone who wants to attend is welcome.

Stephen: What sorts of challenges, specifically in Hamilton, do you think a collusion between creativity and technology are best suited to tackling?

Annette: Climate change and the environment, shelter, housing, belonging and mobility are real-world challenges all specific to Hamilton and beyond. The collusion of creativity and technology through design thinking is a proven method being used in a number of applications to address these challenges. There will be a number of examples throughout the day at PIVOT. We hope people will come to learn about some of the work being done and this will inspire others to implement some of what is learned in their own work.

Stephen: What role do you think the arts and the artists of Hamilton can play in helping to solve these challenges?

Annette: Artists inherently think differently when finding solutions. They intuitively work using a design thinking model. Other sectors are now using design thinking as a human-centered model in creating solutions to human problems.  

Stephen: You’ve stated that part of the impetus for PIVOT is to find a way towards “rebuilding better” from the pandemic. What does that mean and why is it so important?

Annette: The pandemic forced Hamilton and the world around us into a pause. For some, it was a time of reflection which resulted in a pivot to new attitudes and directions. Businesses shifted to hybrid work, and Zoom has become an integral part of both the business community and how people connect. Pollution levels decreased for a period of time and people became more aware of the environment, climate change and the importance of connection and belonging. So, the idea is to encourage discussion on how we can build back better with more awareness and understanding around the need for that sense of community and belonging. 

Stephen: What sort of actionable results are you hoping will come out this symposium? 

Annette: We can’t say we’ll have solutions, but at the end of the day people will have a new lens to look through to solve problems and build relationships that may move Hamilton forward in a new direction.

The PIVOT Symposium: Creating Community Through Technology and the Arts takes place Thursday, Nov. 17th at the Cotton Factory in Hamilton from 7:30 AM – 5:00 PM.

General and Student Admission Tickets are available through EventBrite. Student tickets are $27.54, General Admission is $80.59.

Writer’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Stephen Near
Stephen Near
Stephen Near is a freelance writer and educator living in Hamilton. He is a graduate of York University (BFA), the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (B. Ed) and the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Guelph. He works at Mohawk and Humber College and is a member of the Playwright’s Guild of Canada and an alumnus of both the Sage Hill Writing Experience and the Banff Centre. Stephen's plays have been produced at the Hamilton Fringe Festival and Theatre Aquarius and he is completing his first fiction novel.

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