Columnist Sarah Jessica hosts Hotshots on her website Sarah’s Hotspot: a monthly podcast series for musicians, artists and professionals within the scene to discuss the ups and downs of working within the Canadian entertainment industry.
In February’s podcast, Sarah Jessica speaks with Kristin Archer; creator of iHeartHamilton, journalist, blogger, radio host and arts promoter.
True to style, Sarah Jessica hosts a timely, honest and straightforward look as to what the COVID-19 pandemic means for the local arts and music scene in Hamilton, as well as the beginnings of her #HamOnt famous blog, and trying to make it as a writer in Canada. A condensed version of the conversation is below, with the full podcast available at the end, or directly from Sarah’s Hotspot.
Sarah Jessica: When did the idea for IHeartHamilton begin? And how long has IHeartHamilton been a thing?
Kristin: This May, it’ll be eleven years, which is so crazy. It was May of 2011, and there were a few girls that I became friends with at McMaster. We initially started it together in May of 2011. It was initially just a summer project between us before we all went our separate ways, they all had different career goals and things like that, and we had such a good time with it and then they all moved on to different things and I saw the potential to keep going and it just sparked so much passion in me that I wanted to continue it and I think for me, I thought of, the tagline is “be a tourist in your own city,” so it was just that idea of from Hamilton, but how much do I even know about my own hometown and wanting to become reinvested in this city and see it with fresh eyes and make a list of places that I had never been to- or even that I had been to- and see it again.
And that’s kinda how it started, and especially being stuck in the school mode for so long, just really wanted to do something fun and it also gave that outlet to keep writing and it just snowballed from there. It made sense to document the adventures as we go, and it really grew from there. It was great to connect with Hamilton, too. I didn’t know I would be met with such enthusiasm and people who loved the city so much, so that was a really great surprise.
Sarah Jessica: What do you think is so special about social media and creating communities? IHeartHamilton is very social media based, and as a social media marketer and blogger, it’s kind of your specialty. What do you think it is about it that helps connect people, helps create communities?
Kristin: . . .In 2011, I think that was a real turning point in the arts and culture scene in Hamilton. I attended my first art crawl then and Hamilton was really starting to be on the map, so social media was such a great way to connect and Hamilton Twitter was really emerging then. You had someone like Joey Coleman– a fantastic freelance journalist with his own platform– and he was really behind that #Hamont hashtag, and it was such a great little community. You could just hop on and be like ‘Hey Hamont, who is heading to art crawl tonight?’ and people would reply to you. It was such a nice little community, and it was a great way to document things along with the blog [IHeartHamilton], just getting to show things in real time, whether it was being at a show and tweeting out a clip of what was going on, or something like Supercrawl was so fun to be able to share things in real time.
People really responded to that and it was also such a great way to find out about what was going on in Hamilton. That was the primary source- Twitter and Instagram- to find new businesses popping up in the city, new bands. It’s still my go-to to see what’s going on in this city and people of Hamilton are just so supportive, so when they see something new pop up, they really rally behind it, which is great. And then also, from a critical perspective too, people can really hold people accountable, whether that’s local politicians and keeping an eye on what’s going on. I think social media is such a great tool for that in real time. We can really keep track of what’s going on.
Sarah Jessica: Correct me if I’m wrong, but do you make a living from IHeartHamilton and all of the work that you do?
Kristin: The blog and social media presence, that’s never made any money. That’s always been for the love of it. After I had that job at The Generator doing social media, I had transitioned into independently doing social media kind of freelance for different people. So at that point, any work that I did I put under the IHeartHamilton banner, whether that was a freelance writing article or a social media client. So that was interesting, where I was able to pivot the brand- like the blog- but the social media was still the enjoyment of it, but I was able to use that name as my freelance person that could do different things, whether it was for a public speaking thing or writing or social media. So that was a neat thing.
But as of now, in 2022 actually, I have a full-time job, still in the music realm. I work with a local company, Auteur Research that are a music/PR/digital marketing and project management company. So that stemmed from one of those opportunities going from social media into getting to work with these guys now.
Sarah Jessica: What exactly do you think has been damaged since the beginning of the pandemic? What effects do you think it has had on the music and arts scene, and what do you think is going to be the long-lasting damage from the restrictions and the nature of the pandemic and crowds? Obviously, it has hurt the music industry as a whole around the world, but what do you think it means specifically for Hamilton?
Kristin: Even before the pandemic, we lost some venues and continued to lose some spaces throughout the pandemic, which is such a shame to see. That might be something we need to rebuild. Going forward and making sure that bands always have that opportunity to play live. I know it’s been hard, being back-and-forth with the restrictions and things. I think really fostering that live music scene is going to be so important, especially after bands not being able to play for so long and that being such a main source of income for musicians, for touring and playing live is so important to make money and also to have that experience. So I think we’re going to have to rebuild that live aspect and community. It’s a hard thing to navigate, with indoor shows and everything like that and making sure people feel comfortable going into shows again. So that’s something that will probably take some time, just because it is still so unpredictable. The pandemic isn’t over, so having to navigate that. Hopefully we can get back to some outdoor things, and see maybe a festival happen like a Supercrawl again, and be outside so it’s safer. It’s going to be hard, and I think making sure bands have those opportunities is going to be the main thing.
Sarah Jessica: What do you hope for the future of the Hamilton music and arts scene?
Kristin: I hope to see a continued- or even more support- for music and the arts even from the highest levels in the city. I know there’s HamontMusic, and something like that that is coming from the City of Hamilton. I hope they really continue and step up and invest in music and the arts, whether that’s providing more resources or support. Maybe more grants or things like that; relief, during the pandemic especially; maybe helping to provide opportunities to support the music community and making sure that musicians can continue to live and work in Hamilton. I mean, Hamilton needs to be an affordable city, which it increasingly isn’t, which is such a sad thing. We want to make sure that artists and musicians can continue to live and work here.
Artists are what put Hamilton on the map and made it cool. They made James Street North this go-to place and artcrawl and everything. So we need to remember that, and keep those artists here and make sure no one gets pushed out. I think having an infrastructure to help support musicians is such an important thing.
Featured image by Christopher Arndt.