Wednesday, August 10, 2022

20 Questions with Hamilton Arts Council Executive Director Sheila Whaley

Sheila Whaley is stepping into her new role as the Executive Director of Hamilton Arts Council at a significant moment in the organization’s history.

The Arts Council, like many other arts organizations around the world, has spent the past eighteen months shifting their strategy. In the case of Hamilton Arts Council, much of their work has been in finding and providing supports for artists who suddenly found themselves unable to produce art in a traditional way. As reopening slowly occurs, Whaley is optimistic that the Arts Council will be able to continue its work to help the artistic community grow.

Whaley joins Hamilton Arts Council after over eight years with the Bay Area Restoration Council with experiences in administration, standards accreditation, fundraising and events planning.

Beyond James posed 20 questions to Sheila Whaley, and asked her to pick and choose which questions she wished to answer (minimum of 15). The unedited responses formulate the interview below.

1. What name do you like to go by?
My given name, Sheila, which is a nod to by Celtic ancestry. I also go by the pronouns she/her.

2. Where were you born?
I was born here in Hamilton. My parents had immigrated from Britain. When I was nine, they fulfilled a dream of buying a house, so we moved to Burlington.

3. How did you end up in Hamilton?
I returned to Hamilton 15 years ago. I had lived in a condo apartment in Oakville, got a dog, and decided she needed a backyard. So I bought a house in the east end, long before the prices skyrocketed as they have recently.

4. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
That I was a cheerleader in high school. I lobbied the Principal to let us wear leggings rather than short skirts, but. he was having none of that. Much to his chagrin, we did start cheering at the girls’ basketball games despite that requiring us to miss the second half of the boys’ football games.

5. What’s been your favourite year and why?
The current one. Always the current one. I’m always grateful for another year.

6. What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
Sought help for addiction to alcohol. And I’m so very glad I did. I enjoy my life and all the opportunities I’m able to experience.

7. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?
Getting sober. I went from a place of despair to one of hope. Nothing changed and, at the same time, everything changed.

8. Who do you follow on social media?
Friends, artists and art organizations, Hamilton Spectator, CBC, and the Bay Area Restoration Council.

9. What three people would join you for your dream dinner party?
To have a dinner party again would be something! I miss people who have passed from this life, so I would choose my dad, my friend John Willard (who was a quilter who lived in Burlington), and any number of other friends; so I’ll go with another John who died far too soon as the result of addiction.

10. Name a Hamilton-based artist that inspires you, and why.
I have works in my home from a number of local artists who inspire me. But I’ll mention David Hudson who is a dancer and choreographer, in addition to being a HAC colleague. I am deeply stirred by the creativity and movement of the pieces he creates and performs.

11. Are you a practicing artist? How have you been maintaining your practice during the pandemic?
I have come to realize some artistic talent later in life and during the pandemic, as it were. I repurpose glass items into art pieces for people’s homes and backyards. A favourite piece called “Pride” was bought by a friend here in Hamilton.

12. What do you like to listen to?
CBC radio. Various podcasts. And I love cello music, so I listen to Spotify a lot. I find the cello to be both peaceful and evocative.

13. What play, performance or piece of art have you recently enjoyed?
I miss live Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra performances, along with 5 At The First and Hammer Baroque. I was fortunate to attend a recent screening of the film “The Father” at The Westdale; so good to be back there!

14. What did you do before joining the Hamilton Arts Council?
Most recently I worked in administration and events planning with the Bay Area Restoration Council here in Hamilton. Prior to that I worked in the private sector as a vice-president in human resources and public relations. I’m enjoying the move from corporate to non-profit.

15. What is the role of Hamilton Arts Council?
HAC envisions a Greater Hamilton arts community that is professionally sustainable, innovative, diverse, and impactful. We facilitate relationships between artists of all genres, business, and government in the areas of research, planning, skills development, and advocacy. Currently, we are partnering with the City of Hamilton on their “Resilience in the Arts” initiative for artists to share their stories of coping during the pandemic. We will be partnering with the Art Gallery of Hamilton for their exhibition of our Building Cultural Legacies initiative in the fall of 2022. Closer on the calendar, we will also be offering a Professional Development Series this fall. Additionally, we offer a number of opportunities for artists to build audience capacity including: Artist Residency, European Artist Exchange, and Literary Awards. You can connect with these programs at

16. How have the priorities of Hamilton Arts Council shifted during the course of the pandemic?
Like other organizations, HAC had to rethink and deliver results in a vastly different environment resulting from sudden upheaval. HAC managed to deliver excellent programming online, including Hamilton Arts Week. We are committed to continuous improvement through an ongoing process of evaluation and adaptation, and we will continue to reimagine our role in meeting the changing needs of the arts sector. Effective communication and collaborative planning are essential tools in rebuilding from the pandemic effects on the sector.

17. What role does the Executive Director of Hamilton Arts Council play and what does your position entail?
HAC is built upon a 50+ years legacy of artists and supporters who have championed our arts community as an integral part of a healthy society. My job as ED is to lead the HAC team envisioning the way forward. I have the honour of joining HAC when we are in the process of developing a digital hub that will provide a solid foundation for fulfilling our vision and mission. Check out “The Arty Crowd” by signing up for our monthly newsletter.

18. What are some of your goals as Executive Director of Hamilton Arts Council?
I am looking for additional ways to sustain HAC, and to expand the inclusivity of our operations and programs by reaching for artists and audiences from diverse backgrounds. As you’re reading this, we will have just completed our August BIPOC hART Music Series. Curated and hosted by DeShaun Jones, the series features four talented artists: James N. Wilson, LifeAndTheTribe, Mer, and Neeraj Prem. You can find links to their performances on our website. We’re already planning another BIPOC music series for February 2022, so if the Call for Artists hasn’t already gone out, it will be shortly!

19. What are you most excited about in this new position?
Bringing my passion for the arts and my business skills together to be useful in the arts community in my hometown. And attending more arts events!

20. What do you see as the role of the arts in Hamilton?
To be an expression in of itself, and to offer artists and our community soulful ways of connecting with life and each other.

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