Festival Fatigue | Keeping up with Hamilton culture festivals

For Hamilton, September is an exciting month, and doubly so for Hamiltonian artists. On September 6th, the city hosts the Locke Street Festival, which brings in an onslaught of live concerts, entertainment, and a diverse array of food. Next up on the docket is Supercrawl, arguably the most anticipated event of the year. The three day event, from September 11-14th, fills the streets once again with the best of what Hamilton has to offer. But, the final festival of the month, to date, hasn’t seen the same exuberance as the two that precede it.

Culture Days is a nationwide celebration of everything culture. Commandeering the final week of September, Culture Days seeks to raise “the awareness, accessibility, participation and engagement of Canadians in the arts and cultural life of their communities” according to the Culture Days official website. It seems to be an all too perfect fit for a city that boasts of its culture oriented communities. And yet, despite being held for five years already, the festival is one that hasn’t been wholly embraced by the city. All the while, the success of Supercrawl and the Locke Street Festival give us a clear perspective of the city’s capacity to engage in similar events.

Though The Culture Days festival is not unsuccessful by any means, it begs the question asked by the Hamilton Arts Council’s Operations Officer, Stephen Near: By the time Culture Days comes around, is Hamilton experiencing a festival hangover, or are artists and organizations simply unsure of how they can participate? It’s a question Stephen faces as he works to organize the event.

“Culture day is a not for profit organization. It doesn’t operate at the same sort of level as other cultural events have at their disposal,” Stephen said. One of the contributing factors that held the festival back the previous years was the lack of diversity and collaboration amongst participating artists and studios. This year, that’s about to change.

“There seems to be more involvement from different levels that shows Culture Days branching out from hub activity to show more diversity in the organizations that are participating in the events. And larger organizations partnering with other organizations.”

As an example, Stephen points to the partnership between Bryan Price Bookseller and the Library, which will host the Short Works Prize for the first time, this year. The contest distributes awards to published and lesser-known Hamilton writers. Other events include: A workshop for exploring your family history, an open jam session with the Hamilton Blues Society, and demonstrations and talks with award-winning artists.

“The grass roots spirit here is very strong. The sense that artists can stretch and experiment here and go off the beaten path, the entrepreneurial spirit hear, in a way, is very much supported.”

While on the topic, I posed the following question to Stephen: Will we ever see a Culture Days similar to the size of Toronto or Montreal?

Stephen exclaimed that to compare Hamilton to other major cities would be a mistake.

This, above all, rings true for the spirit of the city. Hamilton is not a city that lends itself to grandeur. We cannot wrap our culture neatly within gilded paper and a tightly wrapped bow. Toronto is a different city, with a different culture. Not to say that Hamilton art is any better or any worse than other cities, but rather it’s not necessarily attuned to dressing up. To appreciate the rich culture in Hamilton, you need to appreciate its unpolished charm. The beauty of Hamilton culture is in its presentation—or lack of it. To boldly and unyieldingly display its meaning—raw and unashamedly characterized by its grassy roots. This is how I view Hamilton culture.

Stephen is convinced that Culture Days will grow to the same affection as the other festivals in the eyes of Hamiltonians, and to the same effect as the festivals of which it shares the month. After all, a grassroots cultural initiative is right in Hamilton’s wheelhouse.

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