For 45 years, Hamilton Artists Inc. (affectionately known as The Inc.) has made Hamilton artists a priority, providing them with a space to display their work and helping them find a wider audience.
The artist-run centre that began in 1975 is showing no signs of slowing down as they look to make Hamilton a better place for artists in 2019 and beyond.
“We started as a grassroots organization about 45 years ago; since then we’ve become a not for profit charity and registered charity,” said Julie Dring, executive director of Hamilton Artists Inc. “Essentially what we do as an artist-run centre is we pay artists to exhibit or do different programming in our space. We pay them to use our space in that way.”
In 2018, they helped over 150 paid artists display their work in The Inc.’s two galleries. In 2019, The Inc. has put on multiple programs and exhibitions that reflect the needs and desires of the Hamilton arts community.
Included amongst them was “Incoming”, a pilot program that introduced refugee, immigrant, and newcomer artists to the local art scene. There was also “Pressure Points”, which was a gentrification symposium where everyone was welcome to share their thoughts and ideas on the changing landscape of downtown Hamilton.
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“Pressure Points was us creating a space in the gallery to invite people from the community to come and talk about issues surrounding gentrification and the artist’s role in the gentrification process,” Dring said. “That was an opening and welcoming space for everyone to have a conversation about these issues that everyone in downtown Hamilton is facing, no matter if you’re new to Hamilton or if you’ve been in Hamilton for a while.”
Anyone living or working downtown is aware of the gentrification that has taken place over the past few years and continues today. Artists are one of the many groups that are seeing the impact of gentrification.
“I think there are issues of gentrification that are impacting the artists for sure, you can see the galleries are closing and artists being pushed out,” Dring said. “But it’s also important to see that there were people living in downtown Hamilton before the artists were using the space and that all of us are being affected by increasing rent and different developers coming in and spaces changing.”
It’s hard to say what the future of The Inc. will look like, but Dring says that it’s important that the direction Hamilton Artists Inc. takes will reflect Hamilton’s unique artistic community.
“We’re working hard to develop ways in which our organization can reflect the diverse community of Hamilton by programming and bringing in artwork and different kinds of things into the gallery that interest equity-seeking communities specifically, but also reflecting the diverse makeup of Hamilton,” Dring said.
She added that “We’re really looking to work and mould ourselves based on what the community is asking for. That’s part of our current strategic plan.”
Dring said that the call for submissions for both galleries usually goes out in December. From there, the upcoming year’s projects are decided upon by the artists and art administrators who make up the selections committee. They vote based on the strategic plan and mandate.