C/O Stephanie Montani

Supercrawl may look a bit different this year, but the important pieces remain the same.

Since it began in 2009, Supercrawl has become an integral part of not only Hamilton’s arts and culture community, but the city’s larger community as well. The festival showcases local talent in a range of areas from music and theatre to visual art and fashion, and also offers space to vendors and food trucks. One of Hamilton’s signature events, the multi-arts festival truly offers something for everyone, bringing together people from across the city and featuring the treasured memories and traditions of many.

“[Supercrawl] started as a small grassroots experiment on James Street North, putting local people together—artists, vendors and businesses—and seeing if we could potentially draw some more people than were at the time coming to the local area. And from there it grew,” explained Tim Potocic, the festival director, in an interview with CFMU. 

For many students, Supercrawl’s mid-September timing lends itself to being the perfect introduction to the Hamilton arts and culture community.

“[T]he timing of Supercrawl has always worked out really nicely with new students . . .  it ends up being an amazing time for new students moving in and we’ve seen them come to the event. It’s like their first weekend in Hamilton and this huge thing is going on and there’s a massive circus in the middle of downtown,” said Lisa La Rocca, the festival’s vendor coordinator.

Typically, Supercrawl takes place during the second weekend of September. Planning for each weekend is a year-long affair, with the team starting to think about the next year almost immediately after the festival wraps up. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Potocic, La Rocca and their team to pivot quickly and search for new ways to continue to present and promote local artists—not only for those in the music industry, but also for those in visual arts, fashion and theatre.

We are ones to try to push through anything,” said La Rocca.

With the available funding, they launched several virtual events while keeping a close eye on the latest developments and changes to provincial regulations. They have offered livestream events, including a fashion and drag showcase, talk conferences, theatre and music concerts, and their murals have also continued to be displayed on James Street North. 

“We’ve been utilizing the options that are available to us and have shifted to livestreams when we couldn’t do shows in-person, and when we could do in-person, we’re doing socially distanced hybrid performances with a livestream component—it’s been challenging with lots of cancellations, rebookings and attempts at execution, but we’re still going strong!” explained Potocic in a statement.

When small outdoor gatherings were finally possible in Sept. 2020, Supercrawl launched its Skytop Live Concert Series with a cap of 100 physically distanced attendees. Visitors were provided a face mask and screened for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure upon entry to the venue. La Rocca noted all the protocols worked well and the events ran smoothly.

“I’m really proud of how [the Skytop Live Concert Series] was managed and done. I think that people that came felt safe and felt like it was appropriately managed for the situation we were in. The bands felt great to have a performance opportunity in front of an audience,” said La Rocca.

The organizers of Supercrawl have also opened a venue of their own, Bridgeworks, on Caroline and Barton Street, to continue hosting small live concerts. Their latest free live concert series kicked off this year’s Supercrawl and lasted from Aug. 20 to Sept. 26. It ran both in-person, for up to 50 attendees at Bridgeworks, and as a livestream online. The 50 live audience members were chosen through a lottery from a list of those who had signed up to see the show. 

So far, the reception to the Bridgeworks concert series has been filled with excitement and positivity. The artists were also overjoyed to see the live reactions of audience members. To cater to everyone’s comfort levels, Supercrawl will continue to offer opportunities for both on-site and online viewing of the events, public health guidelines permitting.

“We’re going to continue also offering live streams, even when we can have more audience, to make sure that everybody who wants to see it, with their different comfort levels, that our programming is available to them. We’re going to do that for as long as we can still offer it. And we did see, offering the audience tickets [for our events these past few weeks], some people were more comfortable still watching it at home. And that’s totally fine,” said La Rocca.

Part of Supercrawl’s success in maintaining its large presence during the past year can be attributed to its mature and rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic. From their online events to smaller in-person concerts, none of it would have been possible without timely decision making and attentiveness to public health guidelines. 

In a continuous effort to protect the health and safety of the artists, staff, volunteers and audience members, this year, following its announcement that as of Sept. 1, Supercrawl and Sonic Unyon mandated a proof of full COVID-19 vaccination with Government of Canada approved vaccines or an official documentation of a negative COVID-19 test conducted within 48 hours prior to entry to the event. 

The vaccination mandate came into effect after much deliberation with other arts organizations about how to best approach the coming months as restrictions continue to be lifted in Ontario. They examined other businesses’ responses to changing guidelines and worked closely to develop new policies. Shortly after Supercrawl’s vaccine policy update, the Government of Ontario also released its statement on COVID-19 vaccination mandates. 

“There’s been a lot of really good examples of the community, the artistic community and music community working together to figure out what’s going on to make sure everybody is informed and on the same side,” explained La Rocca.

While there has been a great deal of change in the format of Supercrawl and how the festival operates over the last two years, the most important pieces have remained the same. The festival continues to showcase a range of remarkable local talent, while offering the community a number of opportunities to come together and connect, whether it’s in person or virtually.

Another core piece of the festival, and part of its particular appeal to students in the past, is the opportunities it offers for exploration and discovery and those opportunities are something the festival organizers have also strived to carry forward.

“We really just want everybody to feel like they can be involved and are involved in and can enjoy Supercrawl programming. I think that is the most important thing; we try to find something for everyone. That’s in music genres, but also in representing as many different artistic genres as we can . . . we really want everybody to feel like there’s something for them to see and something for them to do,” said La Rocca.

Supercrawl has become an important part of the Hamilton community and the student experience over the years and even throughout the pandemic they have continued to offer opportunities for people to come together, explore and enjoy themselves. Moving forward, the festival will continue to showcase local talent and offer these crucial community events in any way they can and in the upcoming months Supercrawl fans still have much to look forward to, including more music series, two new murals and an exciting outdoor event to be revealed in the upcoming weeks.

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