The first time Hamilton saw HAVN (Hamilton Audio Visual Node) was at June’s art crawl, but the collaboration began many months before that, even before the founders moved into the studio/gallery space at 26 Barton St E. The members of HAVN – Aaron Hutchinson, Amy MacIntosh, Andrew O’Connor, Ariel Bader-Shamai, Chris Ferguson, Connor Bennett and Kearon Roy Taylor — came from diverse backgrounds at McMaster, with interests in new media, music and fine art. Despite these differences, they founded HAVN with the goal of creating a sustainable collaborative space with events involving interactive installation art and performance pieces.
People often come to Hamilton only for university and leave after graduating, but four of the seven HAVN members are Mac grads that have decided to stay. They’re all energized by Hamilton’s up-and-coming art scene.
“I just noticed there was this incredible rate of change taking place in the downtown community, and it was just a really inviting and supportive place to start out as a young artist,” said Taylor.
He emphasized the broader context for art in Hamilton and pointed to the city’s industrial past and more recent industrial decline.
“For this art scene to kind of come out as a really sincere cultural revival of the city, I think that there’s this general attitude of people downtown that this is something really special that has to be fostered and encouraged,” said Taylor.
Ferguson continued this idea, and said that Hamilton is “a good community because it’s supportive without being insular,” and that the way to help a community develop is not by being competitive or exclusive.
The members of HAVN readily made comparisons to Toronto, whose reputation as a cultural hub often overshadows Hamilton. Hutchinson agreed that entering the Toronto scene “seems super daunting,” and that in Hamilton “as long as you are saying something honest, people will dig it.” Bader-Shamai added, “It’s not competitive here like in Toronto.” Bennett nodded and continued, “It’s way harder to do what we’re doing in a more saturated environment like Toronto. I think that’s a really unique thing about the Hamilton art scene.”
Though James Street North is lined with galleries, getting to HAVN, which is located just off the street, is a bit like looking for a diamond in the rough. “Barton Street has this notion of being, like, the bad side of the tracks in Hamilton… It gives us some grittiness,” said MacIntosh.
All founders of HAVN feel that they are part of a big change downtown. “We’ve been here for four months and a print business across the street is opening and a ceramic studio is opening right beside us,” said MacIntosh. “I hear people talking about Barton Street like it’s like Parkdale, like it’s going to be the next hip place,” said Bader-Shamai. “So, maybe we’re just ahead of everybody else?” she added. “I kind of like that idea of being a pivotal space in Hamilon, like in terms of being at this crossing point… you’re starting to see spread off James Street North,” said Taylor.
Being so close to James Street has certainly provided opportunities for HAVN, with art crawls and Supercrawl attracting crowds. But the HAVN crew avoided the idea of being an art crawl-oriented space, and had lots of their own ideas for the future. “A community-based meditative painting practice that could happen any weeknight,” said Bennett. “Maybe lectures, maybe movie screenings,” he added.
HAVN is also going to be the new practice location for the Cybernetic Orchestra, who use live computer coding to make music. “[We’re going to] open it to the community… for participation as opposed to just being affiliated with McMaster,” MacIntosh explained.
But the biggest step for HAVN is their call for submissions, an open invitation to anyone who wants to do a project there.
“They can essentially have free reign as long as they don’t destroy it,” said Taylor. It all seems very fitting with the intended meaning of the word “node” in HAVN’s name. “It’s supposed to be like the intersection of a lot of different mediums, the intersection of ideas and art forms,” said Ferguson. The lines all come together but at the other ends they’re also going off in their own directions.”
If you are interested in checking out their work or submitting a project idea, go to havnode.com.