By Jamie Tennant
Downtown renewal is exciting in concept, but watching it happen is like watching the proverbial paint dry. The pace is steady, but the movements are often so tiny they are barely perceptible.
Supercrawl, on the other hand, is like the skyscraper that went up overnight – one day the property was fenced, the next there was a foundation, and then suddenly it towered above us.
Supercrawl is the big momma of art crawls, now its third year. Streets are closed, vendors are open, and artists of all colours show us what they’ve got. In its first year, 3000 people braved the cold, rainy streets to make the event an official success. Last year, with better weather, the attendance rose by seven times – read that again, seven times – with an estimated 20,000 people on the street over the course of the day. Supercrawl 2011 stands to draw between 30,000 and 40,000 people, based on the quality slate of art, dance, theatre, and especially music. The musical talent is preposterous – Junior Boys are local heroes, J Mascis and Frank Black are legends, and Broken Social Scene are, somewhat oxymoronically, international indie superstars.
Tim Potocic, Sonic Unyon founder and unofficial leader of the Supercrawl committee, suggests the enthusiasm is borne of momentum. “That’s what motivates all of us – me and the whole group that’s involved in the event,” he says.
In its first year, Supercrawl was organized by one amorphous mass of like-minded people. Today, there are committees to address specific disciplines – art, dance, and for the first time this year, theatre. The growth has meant that those presenting performances and installations have “stepped it up” as it were, in both commitment and quality.
“Everybody understands that there are going to be tens of thousands of eyes on the street,” Potocic says, “and that breeds a will to do greater, bigger, more spectacular things. The Beehive Collective is going to be knitting an entire storefront, which has never happened in Canada before. Two of our art installations will be hanging off the roofs of buildings and be lit. The music is definitely a calling card, but the art is a calling card, the dance – everything.”
Despite the increase in scope, the original vision of Supercrawl has not changed. Art is still its new steel, so to speak, and its organizers strive to bridge the gap between commercial and fringe. “As much as I like Tragically Hip or something, I don’t think it really should be that,” says Potocic. “This thing is so much more meaningful now than just an art and music festival on the street. It’s at the point where it’s one of many things that are game-changers for downtown Hamilton. When was the last time there were 40,000 people in downtown Hamilton for one event? I can’t remember. The Santa Claus Parade, perhaps.”
Supercrawl was designed to bring new faces to James North, and it certainly succeeded in that. Potocic hopes that those faces will appear more than once a year, though – at other art crawls, or perhaps
just on a random Saturday afternoon.
“I live and breathe in this neighbourhood, as do most of the artists in town, and we would like nothing more than to see it revitalized and brought up to a College Street or Queen Street where it’s going 24/7 every day, there are constantly people walking the streets, people are excited, people can open up businesses and be successful, and yet maintain this coolness with having a great art scene.”
JAMIE TENNANT is the Program Director at 93.3 CFMU FM, the campus-based community station at McMaster University.