An Interesting Start to Hamilton Cultural Industries Strategy

By Adrian Duyzer
Published May 26, 2009

factor[e] design initiative, the company I work for, was invited to participate in the Cultural Industries Cluster Strategy Session at the Crowne Plaza hotel tonight.

This was a city-run focus group designed to pick the brains of people in Hamilton-based creative industries, to determine how to increase arts- and culture-based economic activity here. I attended on behalf of our company.

The first interesting thing about the session is that this type of consultation is happening at all. The city expressed their desire to hear directly from the people who know the creative "cluster", or sector, best - the people who work in it - rather than hiring a consultant. Fantastic!

The event was facilitated by Steve Howse from Millington & Associates. He ran into early opposition to his somewhat corporate style and his use of the words "customer" and "consumer" to describe what an artist later called the "audience". To his credit, he did manage to cover the entire agenda and he also ended on time.

The city is focusing economic development efforts on six clusters: manufacturing, agribusiness, biosciences, cultural industries (which apparently employ approximately 10,000 people), goods movement, and clean & green technologies.

The city's draft strategy for this cluster is currently called "Film and Culture", and takes a very film- and television centric viewpoint, with an eye towards continuing to promote the city as a destination for film shoots, but also adding pre- and post-production facilities to try and attract more business.

Session participants, however, made it clear that this focus is much too narrow, and a city representative promised that a broader focus would be adopted. The updated strategy will, I expect, include a much broader range of cultural industries, including music, other performing arts, drawing, painting, pottery, etc.

The definition of cultural industries itself is in flux. Jeremy Freiburger from the Cotton Centre noted that Richard Florida, who was referenced several times during the session by representatives of the city and by attendees, has defined the "creative class" differently at different times, sometimes encompassing a very wide range of professionals.

I knew what he meant, because I felt a bit like the black sheep at the focus group, a fact I pointed out. Our company employs creative individuals and artists, but we also have a strong focus on technology, and I am not an artist at all (I'm a web developer). I argued for a broader focus that included technology, especially Internet technologies, when creating strategies for the cluster.

Rapid technological change online represents a clear threat to cultural industries but also an excellent opportunity for Hamilton to distinguish itself. The threat is from the destruction of traditional media advertising revenue in the print and television industries. This has a broadly negative effect on cultural industries - the loss of corporate sponsors - and also a specific negative effect on film and television producers, as television networks go out of business or cut back.

The opportunity is to focus on the future of video content: digital provision, in niche markets. Recent CRTC hearings have focused on the provision of video content online and on mobile devices. It's evident that the future of video content lies here, not with traditional television broadcasting, and that means trying to create a cluster that revolves around television show filming and production is risky.

Many other ideas were presented that my sparse notes don't do justice to, so you'll have to wait until the city releases something more comprehensive to learn more (I'll post something when the city sends it out). I'm also very curious about what's come out of the focus groups for the other clusters.

The session ended with some ideas for a vision for the city from the participants. One in particular struck me: "The city as a collection of dreams." Exactly the sort of vision you'd expect from an artist, and one that I think has great value.

(Another thing I noticed, that the facilitator, Howse, also pointed out: the quality of the doodling that goes on when you have a big meeting of artists is unparalleled!)

All in all, a good start. If the city broadens the focus, gets feedback from some groups that were not represented (e.g. architects), and follows through on the strategy when the planning is done, I think artistic and cultural industries in Hamilton will continue to grow rapidly.

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz


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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 27, 2009 at 08:45:15

I like the list of 6 focus points for the city's economic development... A good list.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 27, 2009 at 20:39:34

The writer has a point about traditional broadcasting(TV) and the new emerging technology that allows people to view content online. Besides, online, one can find stuff that interests them instead of flipping through endless channels of nothing.

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By imperial (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2009 at 09:27:10

Adrian is right on the mark.

The session was decent but brought to the forefront our need to define what the 'creative' or 'cultural' industry is for Hamilton. We should feel free to ignore the definition of others cities and theorists, and simply come up with something that will help shape Hamilton's future.

Adrian noted that I wanted to make a distinction between Florida's definition and what I see at "creative". I would certainly include the work Adrian and Factor-e are as creative as it is focused on the creation of cultural content (websites, especially those that are for communication portals, distribution of content, are definitely in my definition). That's exactly why I suggested tyler Cowie be interviewed as part of the Building a Creative Catalyst process.

We've charted a few hundred organizations and business in the creative industry in Hamilton on a timeline. One of our major gaps came with the internet. Hamilton led beautifully in the age of radio, television, but when it came to hop online we fell flat - we're were naively satisfied that our existing radio, tv and print distribution channels would serve us well into the future.

Enbracing digital content creators will certainly play a large role in our future, and hopefully the City if Hamilton plan for 'cultural' indsutries supports that.

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By Yesseno (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2009 at 14:15:36

I see the imperialist's point about Hamilton not embracing the internet. Then again, that doesn't credit the work of people like Wayne McPhail and others at the Spec's infolab. I think that failed largely because, in marketing terms, the technology was ahead of its time, or ahead of anyone knowing how to make money from this medium. Though advances have been made in this area, I'd have to say the economy still has not caught up with the technology. Part of the economic problems we face now is that advertisers are still tenuous about grasping the internet even as they abandon mass media.

Another thing that affects this perception is that the internet is so open. A possible analogy may be the relationship between industry and the arts. The economic contribution of the arts is difficult to pin down because each artist is his/her own manufactory. There are exceptions (film and television) and there are loose affiliations and collaborations, but it is difficult for individual artists to be creators and marketers etc. at the same time. Similarly, it is difficult for individual bloggers and site-creators to market their work to advertisers. Fortunately the internet itself has sites for designers and advertisers to find one another, but progress is, relatively, slow.

And, of course, internet communities do not necessarily revolve around local or political interests. The low costs of internet advertising should be attractive to local advertisers, but how do you build links to sites that will build traffic to your internet advertising, and then to your local business? And advertisers are often afraid to be associated with what they see as controversy which is often what drives locally oriented web and blogging sites, while the site administrators fear that accepting local advertising would compromise their perceived integrity.

I guess what I'm wondering, specifically, is whether it wouldn't address imperialist's point if sites like RTH accepted paid advertising.

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