Supercrawl 2017 was the first time in five years that I felt that the event wasn’t for me.
This came with the fairly obvious, but important realization that the festival is not for people like me — those who live, work and spend their free time in the downtown core.
Supercrawl 2017 did a lot of things really well this year.
There was a good balance of big Canadian acts while still emphasizing local performers. The event introduced live theatre performers for the first time. Local vendors were of even better quality and diversity this year. Circus Orange may have put on one of their best Saturday performances to date. But I still left the event with mixed feelings.
I’ve always enjoyed Supercrawl. I’ve been going to the festival since I was in Grade 11, back when journeys to Mulberry Street Café and Pho Dui Bo were still novelties tied into some newfound independence. Supercrawl was a fun way to finally explore a central part of my own city and to get away from the monotony of the West Mountain.
I’m 21 now. Supercrawl has lost some of that novelty, but it has always been an event that I consistently recommend to locals who have never been and McMaster first year students who are looking for an introduction to the city that they will call home for the next few years. But in 2017, Supercrawl has a rightfully harsher crowd.
Even those who wildly supported the city’s “revitalization” are now increasingly wary about their new neighbours. Toronto is moving in.
Although it has been happening for some time now, the sudden sight of many downtown buildings being torn down for condos was finally making an impression.
Stuart Berman’s now infamous Toronto Life article “The New Hamiltonians” was published in June, openly bashing the city’s working-class heritage while selling as a land of opportunity for young families who can’t afford Toronto anymore.
Toronto real estate agent Brad J. Lamb stated that Hamilton was a “dying city” unless it accepted its fate as the next Toronto suburb.
A two-day event in Toronto called the Hamilton Consulate featuring Mayor Fred Eisenberger himself tried to sell our “ambitious city” as the next big market for tech, fashion and real estate. The Hamilton Economic Development office was selling the success stories of James Street fashion boutiques and restaurateurs to Torontonians.
Then to end the consulate’s pitch, Supercrawl announced their music line up on Queen Street West.
While locals were a bit miffed by the mostly symbolic reinforcement of Hamilton’s subservience to a potentially larger Toronto audience, some sobering reminders are important.
Supercrawl has always been a festival that aims to attract outsiders. It is a tourist-oriented festival first, and growing the audience and the amount of sponsors is a necessary part of that expansion, especially if it is to continue as a free festival. And Supercrawl was selling itself to Toronto and other cities long before Hamilton got its problematic rebranding of “Toronto’s Brooklyn”.
But we all knew this was coming.
Yes, the Toyota product placement in front of the largest central street art installation titled “Sense First, Reflect Later” was unfortunate, but the arts community has always known that the commercialization of the original crawl event was going to lead to this.
For many that’s okay. They can tolerate the uncomfortable crowds and product placement in exchange for their largest audience of the year.
The festival has also never shut down dissonant voices that share the street. “Hamilton is Homeless” shirts drew lots of attention at this year’s crawl, and local concert venues proudly supported acts that didn’t make the big stages.
Supercrawl takes over one of Hamilton’s beloved neighbourhoods for a weekend. That is going to make James Street North residents critical about how the festival brands one street as a representation of the larger city.
I also know that as much as it is important to critique some of the unfortunate messaging of this year’s crawl, this is still how many first years and McMaster students get introduced to their new city. I still think the festival provides an exciting way to do that.
Our critique and disappointment with Supercrawl is another way we express our care for our city. And while Supercrawl may not be for me anymore, who am I to ruin others’ enjoyment of it?