Columnist Sarah Jessica hosts Hotshots on her website Sarah’s Hotspot: a regular podcast series for musicians, artists and professionals within the scene to discuss the ups and downs of working within the Canadian entertainment industry.
In June’s podcast, Sarah Jessica speaks with Dawn Cattapan; the founder and editor of Beyond James; a Hamilton-based independent media source that focuses exclusively on the city’s arts and entertainment scene. Originally started as a one-person casual blog, the site now features several columnists that write about different arts disciplines and attracts several thousand readers each month.
True to style, Sarah Jessica hosts a timely, honest and straightforward look at her experiences in arts management, the origins and evolution of Beyond James and how it intersects with her professional life. A condensed version of the conversation is below, with the full podcast available at the end, or directly from Sarah’s Hotspot.
Sarah Jessica: Did you create art on your own or are you mainly a consumer and reporter of art?
Dawn: I used to practice all kinds of art. And when I was growing up and doing it, I was always told that it was natural to be nervous. And I think that’s something we all say- that if it’s worth doing, you get the butterflies in your stomach and channel that into excitement and it’s a good thing. But for me, it never turned into excitement. It was always this paralyzing, crippling fear and this panic while I was doing whatever I was doing. And I never felt good about it afterwards. There was never the positive reinforcement of “I enjoyed this experience. I should do this more often. I really like this.” It was always anxiety. It took me a really long time to recognize that in myself. That the act of being onstage, or the act of putting artwork out there was not something I enjoyed. And I’ve written music that other people have performed- and I love that experience a lot more! And I love sharing it in that way. But now I’m just a consumer, but it gives me this newfound appreciation that I don’t know I would necessarily have, because I recognize how challenging it can be, and how much effort goes into not just the rehearsal process, not just the practice process, and putting it all together. But even to set a foot on that stage or set a foot in that arena. To make yourself vulnerable and put yourself out there with your work.
Sarah Jessica: What did you attend school for?
Dawn: I went to school for Arts Management, which is just the management of not-for-profit organizations, and Musicology, which is a fancy way of saying music history.
Sarah Jessica: What came first for you- did Beyond James start first, or did your career start first?
Dawn: My career definitely started first. If I think about my past, I was doing the non-profit management stuff back when I was a teenager. I just may not have realized it. . .I started working well before the blog. Beyond James came about when I moved to Hamilton and I was looking for ways to be connected in the arts scene and at the same time, had heard a couple of things and then had my own experiences and thought- as everybody does- “I could probably do that better!” and so I decided to give it a shot. And here we are!
Sarah Jessica: What were you blogging about at first?
Dawn: It’s always run the gamut of arts and culture in Hamilton. And that hasn’t changed. Some of the early pieces were preview pieces of shows that were happening in Hamilton- like, independent theatre shows. I started doing Q&As with local artists. I did some nerdy arts advocacy articles that I personally love writing. . .there were elections at the time, so I wrote about government, budgets and the arts, how to be an arts advocate and questions to ask if somebody knocks on your door and you want to be advocating for the arts scene. . .I was writing about local shows and local artists. It’s still very similar to what I’m doing now. It’s just a little bigger now.
Sarah Jessica: How would you say Beyond James has changed as a platform since it started in 2019?
Dawn: I don’t know that I can call it a blog anymore! Outside of this interview, where I realize I’ve said ‘blog’ every second word, I’ve taken to calling it a media website, because I think that’s more of what it is. It’s no longer just me writing when I have time. I don’t know if that’s the definition of a blog, but that’s what it feels like- or at least, what it felt like when it started. It’s now a community. And there’s people who come daily whether there’s new articles or not and people that I don’t know who are sharing and advocating and interested and relying on it. And so to me, one of the things is that it feels bigger than me. . .the website is in its third or fourth iteration? It’s grown as topics have grown. It used to just be the top ten most recent articles in no particular order. And now there’s a music section, a theatre section, it has reviews. . .and the other big thing that has changed is. . .and event page where people can submit events or just look for events.