Over the past few years the immense potential of Hamilton’s creative and cultural industry has been heralded by researchers and thinkers like Glen Murray and Richard Florida, which has gained the attention of local and national media, and has quickly become a “hot topic” of local discussion.
Numerous factors have led to revitalizing the conversation about the power of the creative industries as an economic and social engine. Within many cities around the globe, we have witnessed the birth of the “creative economy” and the shift towards a knowledge-based economy – a stark contrast from our industrial heritage. Nations, Regions, Provinces, States, and municipalities, including Hamilton, have made creative industries part of their economic development strategies and have begun fostering a greater understanding and more support systems for these industries.
Although the turn towards creative city building and “place making” where creativity is at the core seems to be a recent development, Hamilton is no stranger to creative industries and has been a leader in many ways since its inception. From the early beginnings of the Players’ Guild of Hamilton in the 1840s (North America’s oldest community theatre group), the Hamilton Philharmonic in the late 1880’s, Hamilton Musician’s Guild in 1903, and the establishment of the Art Gallery of Hamilton in 1914, our early creative foundation was set firm.
Between the 1920s and 1950s Hamilton proved its ability as an early creative engine by the founding of CKOC in 1922, the first radio station in English in Canada, and CHML arising shortly after in 1927. Following the seed of technology, CHCH emerged as Canada’s first independent television station in 1954, and the Skyway Drive-In attracted young and old, being the first of its kind in 1946. Clearly an entrepreneurial spirit was at work here.
Moving into the publicly-funded arts boom of the 1970s, the founding of Hamilton Place, Arts Hamilton, Theatre Aquarius, Creative Arts, Hamilton Artists Inc., and numerous other organizations cemented the base of Hamilton’s non-profit arts infrastructure. This wave of grassroots development would ensure that Hamilton consistently makes cultural development part of its identity for decades to come.
Also in the 1970’s, Grant Avenue Studios opened its doors and quickly became a big name in the Canadian recording scene, a reputation which continues today.
Through the 1990s Hamilton’s creative industry has diversified and matured as individuals and collectives began to distinguish themselves from the traditional and founding institutions. This brought Hamilton the Boris Brott Festival, Workers Arts and Heritage, Sonic Unyon Records, Gallery on the Bay, and the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts.
Currently, Hamilton is approaching the 10-year mark on yet another string of entrepreneurial steps and progressive development in the creative community. The major difference this time is that over the past decade we have seen a more balanced development of both non-profit and for profit operations.
This thread has brought Hamilton the creative clusters such as James Street North that has attracted many groups and businesses such as You Me Gallery, The Print Studio, the relocation of the Hamilton Artists Inc., Mixed Media, The Factory: Media Arts Centre, Loose Canon Gallery, and Hamilton City Ballet and the Hamilton Ballet Youth Ensemble.
Almost simultaneously in other parts of the city, the Imperial Cotton Centre for the Arts has emerged and begun developing in the east end, and westward, Transit Gallery, Fenian Films and Factor[e] Design Initiative joined the growing scene on Locke Street. In addition, new creative pockets have emerged with the Pearl Company, Artword, Hammertheatre, BlackBox Fire, the Hamilton Fringe Festival and the Westside Theatre leading a theatrical revival, and This Ain’t Hollywood, the Casbah, International Tour and Tech Academy, Key Music Group, Hamilton Music Collective, and Hamilton Music Awards adding to the already legendary music scene.
Also within the last decade, the Film and Television Industry in Canada and the United States has wholeheartedly adopted Hamilton as the place to film in Ontario next to Toronto. Filming in Hamilton has more than doubled year over year. This activity brings other types of growth and opportunities that can be exploited.
Clearly Hamilton has had a strong cultural and creative industry since its inception. Its consistent and entrepreneurial drive has enabled it to thrive through depression and recession, to lead during times of technological change, and to make bold steps to define itself. With the appropriate stimulus, continued investment, and increased infrastructure, the cultural and creative community will continue to grow and prove its strength as a consistent driver in Hamilton’s economic and social fabric.
Hamilton as a Creative Magnet
The growth of Hamilton’s creative cluster has been a noticeable trend over the past few years. Beyond local press coverage, it has caught the eye of the regional and national press a number of times and has garnered strong support in the community. The Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Star, Toronto Life, CBC Radio, among others, have focused new interest on the growing arts and culture scene in Hamilton: