Culture

Arts Advisory Commission - The Big Picture

Celebrating Resilience in the Arts

Celebrating Resilience in the Arts

The COVID -19 pandemic has affected us all, including the arts community, in unique ways. Each of us has survived this historical period of sickness and healing, loss and life, struggles and accomplishments.

In the summer of 2021 the Arts Advisory Commission (AAC), in partnership with Hamilton Arts Council and as part of the Celebrating Resilience in the Arts project, issued an open call to collect art works and stories from Hamilton artists that showcase how they have responded to the pandemic.

The following artworks were selected by AAC members from 39 submissions. They include written, visual and performance works that showcase the different ways in which artists in Hamilton have found hope, strength and courage to pivot, adapt and find healing through their work during these challenging times.

The Big Picture 2022 – Arts Recovery Survey

The Celebrating Resilience the Art survey was conducted from October 28 to November 21, 2021 and 107 local artists responded sharing how they have been affected by the pandemic. Review the survey results.

Celebrating Resilience in the Arts - Art Works and Stories

Artist Bio
Michael Allgoewer is a Hamilton visual artist, exhibiting extensively for thirty-five years.

Artist Statement
The “Devices” are small, mixed media sculptures, produced during the first stage of the pandemic. They function as metaphors for the states of mind of the artist. They deal with empathy, mendacity, fear and ultimately, transformation and hope.

AAC Michael Allgoewer Device 1

AAC Michael Allgoewer Device 2

AAC Michael Allgoewer Device 3

AAC Michael Allgoewer Device 4

AAC Michael Allgoewer Device 5

AAC Michael Allgoewer Device 6

Artist Bio
Lived in Hamilton all my life. I am Oneida, Turtle clan. A mother of two girls and a grandmother of 4. I learned to bead about 7 years ago. I do all kinds of crafts, but beading is relaxing for me. It is my medicine and meditation.

Michelle Dent Healing is beautiful beaded art piece

Artist Bio
Darrell Doxtdator is Tuscarora, part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. He grew up on the Haudenosaunee territory of the Grand River. Darrell is a self-taught artist who enjoys writing short stories and singing karaoke. His interest in art began in his elementary school years.

Darrell Doxtdator - Don't give up 'til yer completely given outShort Story - "Don't give up 'til yer completely given out."
Yes, Totah had an expression for everything. She always knew what to say. And usually said it in her own unique fashion.

(For those not familiar with Kanyen'kéha (also known as the Mohawk language), Totah is a term of affection for grandmother.)

Totah was not one for formal English. She never was taught that. Not at Residential school. It didn't teach her much. Except how to hit. And to hate.

Fortunately, she never was much of a student. Those negative lessons never took root.

Totah was a child of nature. She took her lessons from the wild. How to read the signs. Watch for patterns. Remain calm, despite the panic that may be rising from within. These life lessons made her the strong person that I knew.

"Watch dem partridges. You'll never see dem. But, they see you. They don't move 'til you nearly step on dem. Dat's how they live to see another day."

Yes, she knew nature. She knew it well enough not to fear it. Respect it. Follow its example. Don't be so arrogant as to believe you can conquer it. Live in a manner so that everything will get by.

"Take only whatcha need. No more." Very early, we were taught the lesson: "the dish with one spoon". Leave enough for others. Leave enough to maintain a sustainable environment. Take only what you need. Share.

"Mother Earth don't need us. We ain't no more than fleas on a dog. But we need Mother Earth. Take care of her. Show gratitude for her gifts."

Yes, Totah lived a contented life. She was happy. She never owned a lot. Nor did she have a great fortune. But, she had a wealth of knowledge. And the life skills to manage.

"Always give what you can. People already know you're poor. They can see that. They will also see that you're willing to share. They will see that too. When you lead by example, others will follow."

Giving what you can. It may not always be much, but it helps twice. It helps the person

receiving your contribution. And it helps the person giving. The wounds to the soul are healed with such acts of generosity. And, it may help out a third time. Sometime in the future, you may need help. It will be easier to ask -- and accept -- when you have helped in the past.

Pandemics are also a part of nature. Every hundred years or so, a global pandemic grips the population. This time around, it started in China. It spread quickly. It hit Europe hard. Hospitals were quickly over-run. Then, the morgues. Effective medical treatments were evasive. Best efforts were not sufficient. Many died.

Until an effective treatment could be developed, older measures were needed. Quarantine. Isolation. Sanitation.

"Follow the example of the partridge. Hunker down. That's how one will survive." So I did.

During this period, I was asked to illustrate a children's book. Not being a professional artist, I cautioned her that I might not be able to meet her expectations. Having seen my work, she knew that I could do the job. She had greater belief in my emerging abilities than I had in myself.

She runs a program to provide housing for homeless veterans. In appreciation for her work, I gave her a gift. It was her portrait done in colour. It was a mixed media of coloured pencil and soft pastel. It was roughly 18" x 12". She loved it.

Just before everything was shut down, I purchased my supplies. Then, I got down to work. The snow swirled by the windows when I started. Daffodils emerged as I completed the project. Due to the isolation, we had to be creative in the consultation process. I learned the capacities (and limitations) of my digital camera, laptop computer, and my modest internet connection.

She was amazed with the drafts. We discussed revisions. And compromised on the edits.

Illustrating the children's book paid the bills. It also gave me purpose. Not wanting to disappoint my friend drove me to higher levels.

"Plant corn, expect corn." The love you share will be the love you yield.

And the strength of the individual can be traced through the generations. And the path will lead from one strong totah to another.

Artist Statement
Before the pandemic, this self-taught Hammer Girl painted portraits, landscapes, churches and music. Pretty ones, they made me happy, and that was enough.  But.... I had always been struck by something that I had heard in an interview with the Russian-born (moved to Canada) artist, Paraskeva Clark.   In it, she said, “I have too much respect for painting.  It’s a serious business…..It has to have guts, some sort of guts and strength.”.... since then, I have been haunted by this...where were my “guts”?  What was I trying to say?  I have struggled with this for a long time. 

March 2020 found me paralyzed artistically.    At best, I could create abstracts but they were too busy and frenetic and I felt compelled to set them aside.  My Father on the other hand, a retired Surgeon, and my stepmother Wendy, both in their mid eighties,  responded to the call for retired health-care professionals and registered their names  on a reserve list to be called back into action should the need arise as covid started taking off.  I was so touched by that.  Sadly, Dad was never called, he suffered a massive stroke in June (a delay to go to the hospital due to fear of covid no doubt made this worse) and died on a sunny December morning on 5W at the General Hospital, the covid ward.  Losing someone at a time when the need for human touch and connection were so strong was difficult.  My family was  incredibly grateful for the strangers we met along the way...Maria at Baskin-Robbins in Westdale who made Dad’s strawberry shakes with love, the screeners at the HGH who offered prayers, Dad’s roommate Mike who prepared colourful art for us at every visit, and “Sam” whose quiet sacrifices offered our family the privacy we needed and the respect Dad deserved.  We were blanketed in support and love. 

Although a doctor’s daughter, it had never become more clear to me than then, the power of the “healers”, their self-sacrifice and courage, their ability to push past the exhaustion and fear, to care for each patient with grace and dignity. 

After having witnessed Dad and Wendy’s own willingness to sacrifice, and Dad’s subsequent death, I sensed a change within me, I think that it was then, that I began to feel  that I had found Clark’s “some sort of strength”, what I had to say, in sometimes subtle and not-so subtle ways. 

AAC Debbie Finn The Healers

“The Healers” is for my Dad, and for all health-care workers.  There are three, walking through the four seasons of covid.  St. Raphael, the patron saint of Healers, pilgrims and happy endings, walks in the middle with both his staff and his fish.  To his right, is a modern day doctor, and to his left, a plague doctor, marking time with the banging of the drum.

AAC Debbie Finn The Maker

“The Maker” is based on a song by Daniel Lanois.  In this painting, an old couple gaze upon the deep waters, “cold and dark as the night”...this couple represents all of those who were lost, our elders, either in long term care homes, or alone, in their own homes…..they are being called to, and I hope comforted, by Jean Baptiste, who is standing in the light with the maker.

AAC Debbie Finn Marking Time

Winter seems to have been the most challenging for us during covid. “Marking Time” represents a bit of levity, a Mi-Careme of sorts, and depicts three minstrels or tricksters to lift the spirits.

AAC Debbie Finn Marking Time

Finally, “Weeping Man”, although really quite an ugly painting, is perhaps my favourite.  I pulled out one of my earlier frenetic paintings, the ones that made no sense, and found a face in the chaos.  In my “healing” I was finally able to face those cast-offs and create something digestible, to me at least.  He is weeping for all of those who lost loved ones during this time, either directly or indirectly because of covid.

How does this fit in with resilience?  I’m not exactly sure, but I feel that through covid, I was able to not only find something that I felt was lacking, but was able to salvage or to at least create something meaningful out of the chaos of covid times.

Artist Bio
Will Gillespie is a songwriter, guitarist and entertainer, described as an ever-evolving musical chameleon, known for his eclectic songwriting, evocative guitar playing and entertaining live show. He is also the author, composer and director of the award-winning musicals “Swingin’ in St. John’s” “Diamond in the Rough” and "Martians & Martinis."

Artist Bio
Rob Green is a former Drama teacher and now in retirement he wears the hat of singer/songwriter, musician, professional actor and Lecture re: Black History. He has released two CDS, Soul Dancing and Every Love Song and Three Videos My Hometown, Soul Dancing and Look to the Light.

Artist Statement
I was a drama teacher with the Hamilton-Wentworth District school Board for 37 years. In my retirement, I am writing songs, making videos, and doing professional acting.

The song, Look to the Light is a message of Hope in times of distress and despair. I applied that song top the video to encourage others in this time of uncertainty and fear over this pandemic.

I had a great deal of help producing and performing the video from friends, family and former students form Nova Scotia, Texas, Memphis, British Columbia, Toronto, and our beloved Hamilton.

My son, Aaron, who was living in Florida at the time appears at the end of the video. Tragically his Mother passed away after the video was released, so the video was dedicated to Jacqueline Green.

Look to the light is a message that we will get through the pain and suffering if we keep Love at the forefront.

Artist Bio
Miranda Haley Kett is a Graphic Designer and Screenwriter (earning diplomas in Advertising & Communications Media, Multimedia Journalism, and Screenwriting) She is also a passionate artist whose work primarily focuses on city details and the environment, presented with contrast and pattern.

I’ve faced many challenges throughout my life, but the pandemic has brought new obstacles with the diagnosis of my father’s end stage kidney failure/ kidney cancer and my own advanced stage breast cancer. Although a shock, these experiences have given me new insight and perspective.

 During the pandemic I’ve reached deep and set personal goals and have accomplishments to celebrate. I’ve graduated from the Screenwriting extension course this spring at UCLA with distinction and have completed a feature film screenplay that echoes the theme of survival. I’ve also been published for both my mixed media piece “Celestial” and short fiction piece “Citrus” in Riddle Fence magazine.  I’ve pushed myself and dared myself to live my life to the fullest no matter how hard things are. Struggle is nature’s way of strengthening us and with that struggle comes inspiration.

Celestial Miked Media - Miranda Haley Kett

Resiliency Essay - Citrus
“Are you ready, Gemma?” she whispered. Harper threw me a playful grin while passing the tips of her fingers over my hand like the wing of a sparrow. I looked into her hazel eyes and gave a shy nod as a shiver ran up my arm.

“I’m ready.”

She had a secret. Just an hour earlier we had been sitting cross-legged and barefoot, sipping orange vodka and passing a loosely rolled joint between us beneath a white flowering dogwood. Harper always laughed with her entire body when she was tipsy, causing her to now spill her drink all over my right arm. She laid her head in my lap, covering her face with her hands as she tried to collect herself, her violet mascara smeared against the side of her eyelid. I choked back the smoke.

This life left me broken and numb. I stood in a daze when I first arrived back at the group home, my belongings tossed into yet another black garbage bag; my memories had been reduced to mere trash. I didn’t want to see anyone or anything until the moment I saw Harper. She was seventeen now and appeared like a vision of everything I wanted to be: a young woman stepping out of a Sofia Coppola movie, the personification of the dramatic female experience.

As much as this place had stood stagnant in my absence, two years couldn’t stop the metamorphosis of a teenage girl. It was as if Harper had secretly curled into a silk cocoon, hanging herself upside down; her fragile frame had transformed into a vivid and vibrant landscape, the full curves of a scenic mountain skyline blooming at dawn. The curves of which all the men now wanted to travel through, without boundaries. How could I blame them? She wanted to catch me up on all her stories: what she had done to the older boys and what she let them do to her. It was past curfew, but we didn’t care. What was there to care about? We were still able to sneak back into the group home without anyone ever catching us.

After final night check, we pushed our twin beds together in the centre of the room while the other girls were asleep. I yanked open the window, letting in the buzz of the amber streetlamps and the soft light from the sky. Harper kneeled in front of me, her socks up to her knees and her light pink hair dangling loosely in front of her face. She took me by the hand and intertwined her fingers into mine, looking up at me with longing.

I hadn’t anticipated her leaning against me, taking my lips into hers so softly below the glow of the warm summer stars. The trees moved with an invisible magnetic force and the moon dipped down, watching our clumsy display – a forbidden lust. She tasted sweet and nothing like the boys I’d kissed.

"You taste so good,” I purred, her warm breath on my face pushing a wave of heat throughout my body. I couldn’t believe what I was doing and how much I secretly craved her. There was no ignoring it now.

“Your lips are so soft. How can they be this soft?” she asked in a whisper before kissing me again.

I hadn’t even realized that I’d been resting my hand on her thigh as we laughed. Maybe that’s why she kissed me. She knew I had that unmerciful want, that uncontrollable need to touch her. I passed my fingers through her hair, watching it fade into a ghost blonde in the light. Her body shivered as I passed the tip of my nose along her neck, making a trail to her ear.

Holding my cheek against her soft face, I breathed her in like floating smoke from pink incense. It made me dizzy. Her scent, a mixture of wildflowers dipped in honey, a sacred witch’s brew. She unlaced my shirt and laid me down softly beneath her, pressing her body against mine and leading me somewhere else, somewhere better. She touched every part of me, pulling down the bricks one by one to expose my inner truth.

We left the candle burning all night. The wick burned down to the base and wax spread out like an octopus on the wooden table. I awoke to find her still asleep, a phoenix tattoo exposed on her back like a map of her arduous journey. We were like two twin flames burning in unison, she and I.

“Why do we always have to be so strong, Harper?” I whispered so as to not wake her.

My eyes were holding back oceans. I walked over to the kitchen in a daze, pulling out a carton of orange juice and filling my glass to the brim, letting it overflow and drip down the sides. I closed my eyes and took a sip. I was overflowing.

Artist Bio
A native of Kitchener Waterloo Cheryl has been living and working in Hamilton for over 25 years. Deeply curious about the natural world, Cheryl creates work that reflects her love of nature. Today, she spends most of her time creating fine art; en plein air and in her home studio.

Artist Statement - An Introvert in Front of the Camera
As an emerging artist and a self professed introvert, I experienced many new challenges over the past 2 years. The pandemic created major hurdles for my art practice. I’d only begun to promote my work professionally in 2018 and these past 18 months felt like a chasm that I was unable to navigate to reach the other side. I had started to experience some growth in my art business at the end of 2019 but that came to an end as live events were cancelled, and we were told to isolate indoors. All opportunities to show my work in public spaces were cancelled. Survival mode kicked in and I found myself needing to move all my buying decisions online as in-person shopping was closed. I was also forced to move my art business online.

I was lucky in that I already had a website and modest social media following. However, I wasn’t getting much engagement from either, most of the connections I made to prospective clients had come through live shows and events. For a few months I felt frozen in time unable to continue to offer classes to my students and show my work in person. I began to research online options and decided to learn how to create workshops that I could offer to my students online. While many of my peers were offering Zoom classes I wanted to provide my students with experiences that gave them the most value and were suited to their own schedules. So, I developed pre-recorded workshops. The pre-recorded format provided flexibility to my students as they could do the workshops when they had time and they could pause/replay the workshops to increase their learning. It also provided flexibility to me as I wasn’t tied to a teaching schedule and could produce workshops on my own time.

Alone in my studio, I setup my phone as my camera and began filming myself painting and talking as if there were students there in the room with me. This setup allowed me to alleviate my social anxieties and introverted tendencies because I was able to edit the video until I was comfortable with the results. I found an online video editor that I liked and paid a subscription so I could use it without limitations. I used YouTube, Eventbrite, and my website to present the workshops and I used my social media and newsletter to promote them. The financial benefits of my efforts were minimal. However, the greater benefit was my increased courage and self confidence that I was able to push through my initial fears and produce work that was being enjoyed by others.

I also used my new knowledge, confidence, and skills to move forward in 2020 with a special project that involved interviewing other visual artists in a park setting. The development of my web series, “Artists in the Park” came from an idea that was sparked by watching Seinfeld’s, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. My own spin on this idea was talking to other visual artists in person who were also going through the same things. Sharing our conversation on my YouTube channel was a wonderful experience. I have learned so much from these great artists. In 2021 I began Season Two of this project and was able to provide more organizational tools for both myself and the participating artists. Season One in 2020 featured 8 artists while Season Two in 2021 has 12 artists. At this time, this project is completely volunteer, I am not paid financially in any way for the work I am doing on the Artists in the Park web series. However, I do this project because I love it; I love meeting these artists and I love sharing our conversations with others so they may learn about art, artists and grow in their appreciation of the work that we do.

Fuelled with confidence from my new video skills I decided to try something new and scary. On February 2nd, 2021, I took to Facebook Live for my “7 minutes at 7 am” series. For over a month I painted live on Facebook at 7 am every weekday. This activity challenged me to be my authentic self every day in front of an audience. I was able to double my Facebook page following in a short time.

My new skills and confidence in video-making also provided me the opportunity to participate in other online events such as the Hamilton Arts Council’s “Hamilton Arts Week”. During the 2020 online presentations I was able to provide live online painting events to participants across the Hamilton Area. This opportunity helped me to reach new art lovers and grow my following. In 2020, I had applied to a Call for Artists presented by the City of Pickering for their banner project. Unknown to me, organizer of the banner project was also looking for an artist to provide an online presentation for another event. They saw my art workshops on my website, and I was offered the opportunity by the City of Pickering to provide pre recorded workshops for their online 2021 New Years celebrations which resulted in receiving a commission for both the artwork I created and the workshops themselves.

While I am still an introvert, I now have more courage and have learned new skills that have helped me to use new ways to promote my work. This fall and winter I plan to revive my 7 minutes at 7am on Facebook live; probably moving it to a 7pm slot as many said it was too early for them!  I have also found the courage to teach in person to larger groups and have begun teaching classes through two area arts organizations in addition to my own studio.

I continue to explore my new skills in video creation, and I have plans for more projects that will integrate my painting activities with video both live and recorded.  I’m grateful that my personal determination and perseverance provided me opportunities to grow and learn during difficult times and I look forward to new challenges in the coming years.

Cheryl-Ann Youtube Channel

Artist Statement
Students from all over the city of Hamilton who attend this specialized program created multidisciplinary arts works from home as part of their course work. They proved that young artists can accomplish anything when motivated. Their work fuelled by people and media saying the arts in school couldn’t Rise Up.

Rise Up – A Pandemic Concert of Hope

Artist Bio
Kelly is a dance/environmental educator. She is artistically passionate about depicting hope for a future where decolonized understandings of land may heal broken connections Western society holds with the natural world. The pandemic has illuminated our interconnections - including our connection to environments. Her work aims to represent this.

Artist Bio
Stephen is a playwright, author and educator living in Hamilton. He is a graduate of York University, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Guelph. Stephen is co-founder of Same Boat Theatre and the Writer-in-Residence at the Cotton Factory.

Hawk Haven by Stephen Near
The hawks first appeared two years before the world stopped.

My daughter and I walked up the street. I picked her up from daycare. The same daycare that would shutter in March of 2020.

She spotted it first. She’s always had an eye for nature.

“What’s that bird, daddy?”

The single red-tail was perched on the central pillar of a fence line. So close to the porch of an adjoining house that the owners might be able to stare into the great bird’s eye.

Its hooked beak was picking away at the carcass of unknown and now unrecognizable bird. As strings of flesh were pulled away, slight tufts off feathers floated away from the perch and onto the nearby gravel road.

I was unprepared for its size. The silent and stoic power. As if to say to my daughter and I, “yes, I grant you an audience. Gaze at my grandeur.”

I pulled out my iPhone and recorded a minute of the feast.

-Does it live here, dad?

-Not far away, I’m sure.

***

One month into lockdown, the world feels cold and still but anxious and on edge. Schools are closed. Restaurants are closed. Everything is closed.

Except for grocery stores. My wife does the shopping. Venturing out while an unseen and unknown virus rips through our society. Going feels like a threat. Like taking your life into your hands.

I stay home and keep the kids occupied. But trying to do that from the inside of our home gets harder every day. They know something is deeply wrong. Rebecca knows the name coronavirus. Brenden just misses his now canceled daycare.

Late April brings increasing pockets of sunshine amidst the days of grey and rain. The 2019 dual Christmas presents of AppleTV and Disney+ has transferred the childhood love of Star Wars from my wife and I to our kids. So our field trips are explorations to the nearby dog park at St. Clair Boulevard. They swing fallen tree branches like lightsabers while the massive bush in the centre of the park is a Wampa cave. Brenden pretends to be Kylo Ren while Becca tries her best British accent to be Rey. I nod at the random quotes from the new trilogy of films. But I wonder when, if ever, my wife and I will ever set foot in a multiplex.

“Dad, hawk!”

It’s an angle of attack from the east. A single flap from high up, then the wings lock. A delta shape for minimum drag. Gravity pulls it steep towards an unknown target to the west.

It lets out a plaintive cry as it drops. I’m shocked that it sounds like the call of seagull. But more desperate. More angry.

No, not angry. Focused.

It disappears behind the roof of a three story house. I wonder how many people live there and if any of them are sick.

Another cry. A dark shape is silhouetted against the grey sky. The wings don’t move as it rides thermals. It seems to float.

-There’s another one, Boo.

-Cool. Maybe they're a family.

Maybe.

***

Rebecca graduates Grade 4 today. It was virtual. The ceremony in her school gym replaced by a conference call over Zoom. Am I a bad parent for not making a custom mortarboard cap? Shoppers Drug Mart has since opened to the public. I could’ve bought a sheet of cardboard. But I still feel unsafe. Even with the mask.

The sun is dipping low in the sky. It’s not too hot. The easy warmth of June has yet to concede to the oppressive heat of July. My daughter has since learned to ride a bike without training wheels. It happened on a Tuesday afternoon in May. One of the rare achievements I’ve been able to witness because of lockdown.

She’s practicing on her bike. The purple frame is stylized with images of Tinkerbell. But the Disney Fairies Tink who’s rebellious and volatile. Just like my daughter. A far cry from Peter Pan’s Girl Friday.

I’m nestled on my porch, reworking a monologue from a play script I haven’t touched in over a year. She spots the first one and calls for me. Again, her eyes are sharp.

“Hawk, dad!”

I bolt from the deck chair and rush down to the sidewalk. She’s pointing to the top of our neighbour’s house. Is it the same bird of prey I saw at the dog park? It’s impossible to tell. It sits motionless atop tiles of black roof. It makes no sound. But all around the angry calls of sparrows and robins. It turns its head to face them. Body still. Like a statue.

-Is that the girl or boy, dad?

-Can’t tell.

I’ve read that hawks are monogamous. They pick one mate. Build a nest together and return to it year after year.

-This is their territory.

On cue, a great shape flies overhead of the other on its perch. Bigger or simply more confident in flight. Our neighbours, who have also gathered to stare in wonder, gasp as the second red-tail casts a shadow over their lawn before settling on top of a phone pole adjacent to their house. A handful of passers by have now stopped, as well.

-It’s a hawk up there!

Rebecca dutifully guides others to where her fingers are pointing.

-They’re birds of prey.

The first unfolds and folds its wings. Then does it once more. Then, with two flaps, it’s in the air and gliding over our heads. A bleating screech and it settles on a lower rung of the same pole as the first. Rebecca is hopping up and down.

-Can I scream dad?

-You don’t want to disturb them.

-You planned this. It’s my graduation and you planned this!

-I didn’t plan this, Boo.

-You’re Mother Nature but a dad. That’s what I think.

One of the hawks rears its butt in the air and ejects a blob of stark white poop. It falls to the ground and covers a patch of grass in the same hue of the eggshell paint on my son’s bedroom walls. Rebecca is glowing.

-Best. Day. Ever.

I take her hand. Around us, over a dozen people are smiling at the sight of a hawk defecating. It’s the most people I’ve seen in over four months.

***

Zen is dead.

Rebecca has been inconsolable. I am still processing. Grief is mixed with relief. He was over twenty years old and I knew the end was coming. I am thankful that he went now, in the summer, when COVID cases are down and I didn’t feel paranoid about going to vet.

I’m on the porch. Rebecca is inside watching a New Zealand show about a dog named Bluey. I hope it won’t remind her of Zen but then, of course, just about everything probably does because he’s not here.

I look out over the line of houses along Cumberland. Behind the rooftops, the green of the Escarpment is like giant in a ghillie suit. I sometimes think I see it breathing. Moving up and down and flush with life.

I hear the cry of the hawk. I scan the horizon and see it emerge from the dense layers of trees along the mountainside. It flies an oblong figure eight before settling atop the smoke stack of the abandoned Lifesaver Factory on Burris. It cries out as a lone jay swoops in for a feeble show of strength.

-There you are, my friend.

I should get up and tell Rebecca. But the bird takes off again and flies towards me. I jump out of the chair and rush down to the street. It arcs a flight path taking it past the pooping telephone poll and past the mealtime fence post and settles on top of a small garage. I’m still wearing the socks from the night before as I quickly cross the street, craning my head to find it.

It cries out. Again and again. Looking for its mate or establish its territory.

This is my home. This is my haven. Keep out.

My footfalls become slower and softer. The garage is within sight. Within reach, even. And there it is. I can finally see this magnificent animal as close as I ever will in the wild. Red and brown feathers. A proud, mottled chest of white. A bright yellow beak. And yellow eyes deep set within its head.

I stand still. Breathe in. Breathe out. The raptor unfurls its wings and then folds them again. It’s about to take off. I want to absorb this moment. I want to remember the strength and the stoicism of this animal. In the face of so much crisis, I want to flap my wings and cry out and be heard.

And then it flies off. Towards the Escarpment. To meet its mate.

This is my haven. This my home.

Artist Bio
Award winner Pip writes distinctive and melodic vocal songs with world and jazz elements -
He has lived in and performed across South East Asia, Europe, and Korea.
He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

This song was written about the lockdown during the lockdown here in Hamilton.

Artist Bio
Alex Schmaltz is a Canadian artist, born in Toronto and now living and working in Hamilton. Her paintings and greeting cards provide a glimpse into her world; she often creates works of her favourite foods, animals and pop culture figures, as well as pieces that celebrate the beauty of womanhood.

A Pandemic Story by Alex Schmaltz
I have struggled with depression and anxiety for about 15 years. In the past couple of years, this has grown to include social anxiety which that has been intensified with the COVID-19 lockdowns. This is an ongoing battle I fight that is generally managed through medication and exercise.

I was 9 months pregnant when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada. I was scared that my three-year-old daughter or my husband would get COVID, that I would get it and pass it on to my baby, or that my baby would get it once he was born. On top of that, I had an extremely traumatic delivery with my daughter. I didn’t even realize how much it had affected me until I was a few weeks away from giving birth again.

At the time, it was uncertain if you could bring a support person with you to the hospital. Everything was changing so quickly that you had to call the hospital daily for an update. It was extremely hard to cope. I couldn’t exercise and my medication only took me so far. I had plenty of baths and a couple of intense crying sessions with my husband.

I was so scared.

In the end, I was fortunate to have my husband with me - some hospitals did not allow partners in for the birth of their child. The delivery went well, my son was born healthy, happy and we went home the next day. Once home though, things didn’t get much easier. Caring for a newborn brings its own anxieties and stresses. Don’t get me wrong, being a mother is wonderful, but it is HARD. I was not getting much sleep, I was healing from my c-section, my daughter was home from daycare due to lockdown and was practically climbing the walls, and did I mention we were in the midst of a global pandemic?!

In the very little spare time that I had, I started painting, a hobby I hadn’t had any time for since high school. It became my way to escape being “Mom” and to become “Alex” again. As many mothers come to find out, motherhood makes you lose a sense of who you are as an individual. You get so wrapped up in this tiny person who was once physically part of you that it becomes hard to identify where the baby ends, and you begin. Painting became a way for me to channel my thoughts and creativity and to create something positive from the negative. It was an outlet that I was in desperate need of. Whenever I had a spare minute, I was painting. I was churning out a picture a day, so I decided to start sharing my art online.  I am a very private person, so this was a big step for me. At first, it was hard to put myself out there; I posted all my works under an alias to protect myself from any negative feedback. Fortunately, I was lucky to have such a positive reaction to my work. People began reaching out to me, telling me how they also used to paint or draw and how I have inspired them to pick up their brushes again.

Over a year later, I realize that through painting I have finally found my voice. I am no longer just a mother, a wife, daughter, sister, employee, etc. I am so much more confident, and most important, happy. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my struggles with depression and anxiety, but I have found a new way to take something ugly, scary or horrible and turn it into something that is beautiful of inspiring.

Artist Bio
I am a photographer by hobby. My name is Dhara Shah and I reside in Hamilton, Ontario. I am an immigrant to this country and I am passionate about capturing stories through my lens. I am particularly passionate about highlighting on topics of oppression & discrimination against South-Asian women.

Pandemic Friends
Like all, I was forced by the pandemic to stay at home. It was lonely and depressing. The adjustment from being able to have a social life to being home isolated, has been full of challenges. Being an immigrant there is already some level of isolation that comes due to limited connections in the community and being away from family & friends. COVID-19 & the lockdowns were just the top up for me!

I was forced to slow down. And that made me look around me. When I did that, I found HOPE in the midst of loss, pandemic anxiety and global crisis! Despite all the death and sorrow that engulfed us, I found my strength in the nature around me. I used to look forward to watch a sunrise or a sunset, listen to different bird songs and try to name them or even simply watch tiny insects crawl on leaves! I started seeing life through the wild-life around me. I could hear the birds sing, look for food, feed themselves, fly away and come back again. I could never tell if the same bird came back on my tree but days passed and seasons changed in a global crisis and life still kept moving on.

Through the pandemic I have learnt to see life through a different perspective. I have learnt that life is all emotions and not just one. There is joy, sorrow, life, death and in that what is inevitable is CHANGE.

My love for finding stories and capturing them through my lens, kept me going even in the pandemic. With the endless lockdowns in Ontario, I would take walks around my house in Binbrook. Oceans away from my family in India, while I was sick to my stomach for the safety of my family and feared constantly about not being able to see them if anything were to happen, I found my resilience in my art. I found strength and hope to live through a global crisis by simply slowing down and looking around in nature. Taking these pictures was my highlight of the pandemic, my story of resilience!

Black bird on white fence

Blue bird on feeder

Grass hopper

Grey bird on branch

Yellow birds on chain link fence

Bee on a pedal

Dhara Shah
www.breakingstereotypes.ca

Artist Bio
Marie is a Hamilton artist. Her art is an expression of her joy & spirituality. Her work today focuses on conveying messages of hope, gratitude, and empowerment. Through significant challenges with mental health and addiction Marie’s affinity for creativity has always found, fueled and healed her.

Planting Seeds in the Cracks in the Facade
Planting seeds in the cracks in the facade

Artist Bio
I am a public health professional by day and an artist by night and weekend. I found my artistic voice during the pandemic as a way to cope with working on the COVID-19 response. I currently paint from my home in Freelton, not too far from where I grew up.

Through Darkness We Bloom

Alex Swirski Art work

Alex Swirski Art work

Alex Swirski Art work

Alex Swirski Art work

Alex Swirski Art work

Alex Swirski Art work

Artist Bio
WHOA Entertainment is an upcoming production company interested creating works that showcase the multitude of talent that Hamilton has to offer. As a collective we look for ways to aid emerging artists in their growth through media and to collaborate with artists to support the growth of Hamilton's arts community.

Artist Bio
Singer/songwriter. Awarded & nominated for: Juno Award, Canadian Country Music Awards, Polaris Prize (longer list), City of Hamilton Arts Award and Hamilton Music Awards. SOCAN#1 Award, City of Oshawa Lifetime Achievement, NOW Magazine Group of Year. Her lyrics have been immortalized in Hamilton’s Gore Park.

From A Small Screen
I was sitting on my couch watching music icon Patti Smith sing from a small dark New York studio. A bare bulb over her head, she'd forget the words to her song, apologize, and start over, her guitar player waiting patiently in the background. She was charming and eloquent. And so close, no gigantic stage or sound system. It was kind of perfect. I was intrigued and inspired. "this is a great way to watch her," I thought, and one of the benefits of this lousy pandemic. It had levelled the playing field - everyone was either working from home or not working at all. I was drowning in sorrow and self-pity because of the "forced retirement" aspect the pandemic had bestowed on live performers. I had already closed up my song writing studio and wasn't sure how to adapt it. I had all the time in the world to be creative but not one ounce of inspiration or energy. I was dealing with grief, job loss, the death of family members, as well as the stress of the global pandemic. Some days it was a victory to get out of bed. Depression and apathy were close friends.

My teenage son Gavin urged me to do a live "online" concert. His reasoning “Come on Mom, people want to see you, hear you sing, they want to talk to you, they want to see the real thing, not the show biz thing". He saw me moping around and was worried. He knew the way to my heart - get me singing.

I knew the online platform worked because I had done a successful show for the Hamilton Arts Council early on. I wasn't sure I could do one on my own from my house.

I had a hard time wrapping my head around this medium. "You mean, I'm singing to that little screen on my phone"? It was such a weird concept to me. I was so used to communicating with an audience in person. Shaking hands, hugging, singing with a full band in a sweaty club, old school, that was my style. I didn't see how this was going to work. I was willing to try. I was desperate. Desperate for connection. So I set up my amp, guitar, microphone and my iPhone. I announced on Facebook that I would be going "live" on Tuesday at 8 pm. Facebook made the most sense for my demographic of fans, and my style of music being original roots alternative country.

I tried to be as casual as possible while remaining professional with good sound and lighting. I wasn't worried about making mistakes. I figured I'd let the audience "in" on everything, and have a good laugh. I'd just be myself. I had butterflies. It was a bit like throwing a birthday party for yourself and then waiting to see if anyone showed up! Nerve-wracking!

So on Nov. 17, 2020, I launched my first "Isolation Broadcast" on Facebook. It was exhilarating to see the hearts and smiley faces emojis fly up the right side of the screen and to read all the great comments. I was shocked by how many people thanked me for performing, how much they needed this etc. Didn't they know I was doing this selfishly for my mental health, lol? About 30 people showed up for that initial show. I experienced the same kind of endorphin rush as I would after a live gig. I had a great time. I could not wait to do it again the following Tuesday.

I was also "schooled" by my kid to never ask for money while playing, that it was just not a cool thing to do. I agreed. So I didn't. I never will. I wanted to make sure that anyone could enjoy my show. However, I did add a tip/donation jar that folks could use at their discretion. The fans have been very supportive!

At last count, I am up to 40 shows! I've missed a week due to illness or family crisis but just knowing that I have a gig on Tuesday night has been so helpful. A faithful community of regulars from Vancouver to Newfoundland, Texas to Australia has formed and they tune in every week to make requests, chat with me and each other.

One of the biggest surprises from this whole undertaking is that I've got a whole batch of new songs that I love. The songs have a positive universal theme. I would "test drive" these songs on Tuesdays even if they weren't finished. That's something I never would have done in the old days! A few of them such as Oh What a Life, and The Matador have become staples of my set. I am now in the process of recording them for an upcoming release.

I'm also much more comfortable playing as a solo artist now with 40 shows under my belt!

So I guess what I've learned from all this Covid confinement is: our strength and resilience lie in our ability to adapt both as a species and especially as artists of any ilk. We are the harbingers of change. So as we see many more live music clubs not able to survive the pandemic fallout, I continue to urge my peers to take their work online, bc like Elvis, Drake and rocknroll...they ain't going away.

Facebook LIVE Tuesdays 8 pm
facebook.com/yateslori


The Big Picture 2017

Cover of The Big Picture ReportThe Big Picture 2017 Report documents and summarizes the ideas of the over 70 members of the arts community that came together for the arts forum on April 8, 2017 and those that took part in the post event on-line  survey. Participants reflected on the recent period of dramatic growth in Hamilton’s arts and cultural community and shared their ideas for finding opportunities for further growth and improvement.

Review The 2017 Big Picture Report (PDF, 3 MB)

The recommendations outlined in the report will direct the work of the ACC moving forward into 2018 and 2019.


The AAC would like to thank the Hamilton Arts Council, a valuable community partner, that we have contracted with to assist in the planning and delivery of this event. 

Images of past Big Picture events

Photo credit: Cees van Gemerden