Hamilton Artists Inc is setting up permanently in the former Jerry's Man Shop at James and Cannon.
By Amy Kenny
Published November 27, 2007
At 32 years of age, Hamilton Artists Inc. is finally ready to settle down, but don't worry - that doesn't mean they won't continue to shake things up.
The publicly-funded, member-run arts association has been a bit of a transient since its inception in 1976. Inc. couch-surfed the city's streets for years, renting space on Bay, Barton, Vine and Colbourne, but this year, it's growing up and setting up permanently in the former Jerry's Man Shop at James and Cannon.
When Jerry's went on the market after closing down this past winter, Inc. immediately saw it for what it was - the perfect place to put down roots and promote their presence in the thriving James North arts community.
Since Jerry's carried a hefty price tag, Inc. turned to Hamilton City Council in the hopes of securing an early release of the $750,000 Future Fund grant for which they had been approved in September of 2006.
When their request was denied, an anonymous buyer purchased the building in trust for the organization until Inc. could afford to buy the building back outright.
Located at the very corner where James Street's glut of galleries begins, Jerry's serves as a gateway to Hamilton's most vibrant arts hub and Inc. is the ideal sentinel.
Inc. focuses on the Canadian artistic experience as seen through the eyes of emerging, established and aspiring artists.
The organization aims to support and expose innovative and forward-thinking Canadian art. One of the ways they do this is by hosting regular workshops, events and talks on relevant topics including where artists can find grant information and how to write professional grant proposals.
A nominal membership fee grants artists unlimited access to these events and gives them a voice when it comes to programming.
Each year the organization receives more than 125 submissions from Canadian artists vying for one of the gallery's six to eight main space shows.
These exhibitions come in formats as varied as film, music, video and offsite installations. The only criteria is that the work must fulfill Inc.'s mandate of promoting contemporary work, bringing attention to new ideas, inspiring discussion and offering patrons something outside of the average art experience.
In 2004, for example, BC-based artist Marianne Corless exhibited Further, a collection of iconic Canadian images made entirely from fur. It was a review board, comprised entirely of Inc. members, that decided to include this show in the year's programming.
This kind of hands-on experience is part of what makes Inc. such a fantastic training ground for upcoming artists. You can't just walk into the Art Gallery of Hamilton and ask for a show. Even in the art world you need to go through the proper channels, cross your T's and dot your I's.
The close-knit community at Inc. makes for a rich, practical learning environment. Sasha Klein, a third-year fine arts student at McMaster University, is currently on a co-op placement with Inc. Not only has her involvement with the organization given her a much better idea of how the local arts scene works, it's taught her basic art industry protocol including how to submit proper proposals.
It's also given her marketable gallery skills. While most of her day-to-day work with Inc. is administrative, Klein was recently asked to curate her own small show for their front wall space.
From the West was a collection of experimental art pieces by her fellow McMaster classmates. "Inc. affords artists who would not typically be able to show their work through commercial galleries an opportunity to show that work," she says.
"They're more focused on community and at working hard to build the local arts scene."
"Arts communities are very complex and Hamilton is also truly that," says Donna Lee MacDonald, the administrative director and one of only three paid staff members at Inc.
"I think what is happening in the arts, not only on James Street, but in the arts in the city in general is a critical mass of partnerships and the understanding that together we are a stronger more vital source of activity in the city."
Case in point is the current relationship between Inc. and the Threshold School of Building, which is helping with renovations to Jerry's 7,000 square feet of retail space.
Some of their more major projects include converting basement space into an apartment for a brand new artist-in-residence program and slicing the former clothing shop up into a large main gallery and a smaller members' gallery.
The remaining indoor space will be converted into offices while the outdoor courtyard behind the building will become a sculpture garden.
Renovations are expected to cost over $1 million and the move will happen in three separate stages over the course of this coming year, but Inc. hopes to be operating completely out of Jerry's by the fall of 2008.
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