By Letter to the Editor
Published September 20, 2013
I am one of the members of the band "Bill and the Art Crawlers." Perhaps you have visited with us during a Spring, Summer, or Autumn James North Art Crawl. We are the band that plays in front of the Christ Church Anglican Cathedral on James North near Colbourne.
Our experience over the past couple of years playing at the Art Crawls has been terrific - wonderful audiences of people who dance and sing along with us or simply visit and listen. The ambiance is engaging, the police are polite and patient, and our relationship with Matt Thompson and the staff of Cathedral Place, as well as the business people who make up the makers' market entrepreneurs, is solid and grows better with each Art Crawl.
I've met many great people, whom I will dub The Art Crawlers. I walk around the community before and after our time playing at Cathedral Place. During the course of Art Crawl I've never seen so many smiles, happy faces, and cameras in one place, in one block, in one community, flashing photos of the variety of performance and visual art on display. We wish we could play outside the Cathedral at each Art Crawl year-round, but we'd get a little chilled strumming guitars and beating drums in subzero temperatures.
Art Crawl is a great idea, and its great strength is in its organic nature. We are very fortunate to be able to experience a truly open celebration of art and humanity, the people who make it, those who appreciate it, those who work hard to make a living in the arts, and those who drop by to enjoy the unplanned, unorganized, and ad hoc nature of each Art Crawl.
Everyone is welcome, from tourists to Hamiltonians, to members of the immediate downtown community, and I often find celebrants from afar to be as engaged as much as the locals and artists are. Art Crawl's people-focused nature means that it cannot go stale, and the challenge brought by the creativity present will always surprise and enlighten minds to thought and possibilities without fear and barriers, demands and denigration.
Through playing the Art Crawl, I have been witness to Hamilton at its best - I have not yet seen (and hopefully never will see) an ugly incident of violence nor a serious accident. The police are almost invisible and the amount of trust that people have in each other to attend, create, present at, and socialize in an unplanned celebratory format while producing an atmosphere of mutual respect is more that admirable.
It is a sign of the civility with which the people of Hamilton can carry themselves and extend to each other. It is our city's monthly party and a source of open and engaging discourse and discussion, without anger, frustration, or outrage.
I understand Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr wants to introduce a motion to the General Issues Committee to close off a large portion of James North during the Art Crawls of May to November. Presumably this would begin in 2014.
I have no doubt that it is not the intention of Councillor Farr to explicitly or implicitly choke off the organic nature of Art Crawl, nor to claim a safety issue as a means implying that some manner of "control" over Art Crawl should be exercised. Yet I am concerned that such a move could be the beginning of the institutionalization of a great idea, and therein its death.
A few points to illustrate these concerns:
I wonder if, at some future point in time, we'd reach a condition where Art Crawl would formally be deemed in some way a city cultural event in need of more formalized event policing as result of its status changing due to the closure. I would ask James North business owners, and those artists who realize commercial gains important to their careers, if they could carry the extra costs should they be asked to do so - business owners and event promoters in other areas of the city have had a few things to say about such costs, some of which are not endearing. These costs could prove insurmountable to an arts community that has struggled for so long to establish itself.
The City would stand to lose parking revenue, and those parking spaces are important to businesses, artists, and Art Crawl participants alike. The practical need of getting in and out with bulky items and equipment would be more problematic.
I wonder if we would reach a stage where Art Crawl would be seen in a formalized perspective - inviting the unsolicited formation of "steering committees", "cultural committees" "safety committees", and attempts at proprietary control of the structure and participation of artistic presentations and the behavior of all who visit. Art Crawl is an event that occurs by the means and efforts of people and for people - an almost purely organic event that does not need, nor has ever needed formal control structures, does not need committees, and has never needed either.
I understand that potential good could be realized from closing off James North during Art Crawl, but let's tread carefully on this one - I wonder if this is the first step towards institutionalization of a great idea, and the beginning of its decline into a programmed, planned, mediocre, innocuous and uninspiring street event like any other anywhere.
Art Crawl is Hamilton's chance to have its say to others and to itself about its own reality and its own state of affairs while displaying it creativity, diversity, and civility to itself and those communities around it. Let's not let it be killed off for the sake of a safety issue that, up to this point, is non-existent. Fair enough Councillor - but let the Art Crawl evolve as organically as it already has, on its own, as it has through time, to find its own way forward.
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