C/O Factory Media Centre

Hamilton Artists Inc., Factory Media Centre and Centre[3] for Artistic + Social Practice continue to bring creativity to the community during COVID-19

By: Sharang Sharma, Contributor

James Street North is known as the hub for Hamilton’s arts scene. Artist-run centres such as Hamilton Artists Inc., Factory Media Centre and Centre[3] for Artistic + Social Practice have made it their mission to make art accessible to everyone in the local community. However, this has become a more difficult task due to the COVID-19 pandemic and physical distancing protocols. Nonetheless, these three centres have found ways to push forward.

In March, Hamilton Artists Inc., Factory Media Centre and Centre[3] had to close their physical locations and cancel planned in-person exhibitions and workshops due to the Stage 1 lockdown. The first few months were especially difficult because some of the centres experienced a decrease in funding.

In March, Hamilton Artists Inc., Factory Media Centre and Centre[3] had to close their physical locations and cancel planned in-person exhibitions and workshops due to the stage one lockdown. The first few months were especially difficult because some of the centres experienced a decrease in funding.

“Our rentals don’t really make up a big amount of our revenue . . .  For that reason, we didn’t lose enough funding to qualify for any of the grants that were available. But our membership is also mostly comprised of emerging artists and working-class artists, including myself before I worked there. So we noticed a decline in membership renewals and obviously equipment rentals because people either weren’t get[ting] paid to make work for people . . . or they were anticipat[ing] having to tighten their budgets and save money . . . So the first months from an organizational standpoint were really a little bit worrisome,” explained Kristina Durka, the operations coordinator at the Factory Media Centre.

Despite these initial challenges, these artist-run centres have found ways to move their workshops, exhibitions and other programming online. In June, Centre[3] presented the work of the students who would have been involved in its annual Art Education and Community Arts Exhibition on their website. In July, Hamilton Artists’ Inc. moved its annual outdoor summer screening series to a Facebook livestream. Centre[3] and Factory Media Centre have continued to host Artist Talks, the most recent one at Factory Media Centre being livestreamed on Facebook on Oct. 8.

Despite these initial challenges, these artist-run centres have found ways to move their workshops, exhibitions and other programming online.

“For example, we have a program called 360[4]Youth . . . and we teach soft skills to the youth using arts-based programming . . . [O]ne of our programs is to do filmmaking and that wasn’t possible but we translated it to stop motion animation. So we actually dropped supplies off to the youth . . . [and] we could still have the same lesson, the same workshop . . . because a lot of our work, a lot of lessons are about collaboration . . . You could still have a group working on a collaborative project,” said Julie Shea, the operations director of Centre[3].

The centres also found new ways to use their physical spaces. Hamilton Artists’ Inc. is currently hosting the Hamilton-based contemporary dance company Aeris Korper as their performers-in-residence. They have also continued to activate the exterior of their space, such as billboards on Cannon Street and the two exterior walls of their building. Factory Media Centre is hosting a video series on a screen inside their street-level window. By using their space in new ways, the centres are giving artists a space to engage with their art in these trying times.

At the same time, this challenging year has also enabled the creativity of the artists at these centres to flourish in a new way as they explore possibilities outside of what they traditionally have done. For example, Factory Media Centre ended up with around 500 people watching one of their Cell Phone Film Festival screenings, many more than they could fit in their 42-person capacity gallery. Hamilton Artists’ Inc. is also hosting new special projects, which are activities that are not regular exhibitions and instead can be one-off or off-site projects.

“[T]he [special project] that we did most recently was our colouring book that was derived from a program that we had called Incoming. So we are able to print colouring books, with different artists’ drawings in them and then we get those out for free to the public with some art supplies. So that was a creative way that we engaged with our community but it wasn’t about physically attending an exhibition in our space,” explained Julie Dring, executive director at Hamilton Artists Inc.

As the second wave of the pandemic hits Ontario, each of these centres is preparing to continue their new and modified programs. Factory Media Centre is planning to continue with remote residencies such as the one they currently have with artist and McMaster PhD student, Luis Navarro Del Angel. Centre[3] is currently working on an audio booth to make it more accessible for artists to record podcasts and engage with audiences virtually.

Art and community are two facets of everyday life that have been hit hard by the pandemic. However, Hamilton’s artist-run centres have demonstrated the benefit of working with a group of creative people in this strange time. These artists have found ways to turn this strange moment into artistic community events that they otherwise would not have imagined.

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