Culture Helps Drive Renewal

Posted on Nov 1, 2012 In Latest Updates Speakers Series

Hamilton Spectator writer Meredith MacLeod wrote the article below based on her attendance at the second installment of Renew Hamilton’s Conversations with Christopher Hume and Guests on October 30 at Liuna Station.  The article appeared in The Spec on October 31, 2012.

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When City of Hamilton staff sat down to hash out a culture policy to solidify the notion that culture is a driver of progress and economic growth, it was a challenge to find the words to define culture.

So the city hired an animator to tell the story.  The result is a short, fun video by Hamilton’s Topic Simple that features a range of cultural assets – the Art Gallery of Hamilton to the Tiger-Cats – and how every piece creates the community that is Hamilton.

The video, part of the Love Your City initiative, was shown for the first time publicly at a forum Tuesday night exploring how harnessing the power of cultural destinations can transform a city.

Alice Sabourin, senior project manager with the city’s tourism and culture division, said the video illustrates how a city’s cultural threads weave vibrancy, attachment and engagement that attracts new businesses and residents.

“Culture is everything in a city that makes life valuable and enjoyable,” she told a group of Hamiltonians gathered at Liuna Station for a panel discussion called Conversations with Christopher Hume and Guests.

Hume, a veteran urban affairs columnist at the Toronto Star who directed the panel discussion, said Toronto underwent a cultural renaissance in the 1990s that changed the way its residents think about their city.

“Exactly the same thing needs to happen in Hamilton,” Hume said.  That will take a change in thinking that sees arts as a frill that is too expensive to afford, he added.

Sabourin’s fellow panellists included, Hamilton-born architect Bruce Kuwabara, who redesigned the Art Gallery of Hamilton, in addition to many prominent projects in Toronto and elsewhere; Tim Jones, president and CEO of Artscape, a Toronto-based non-profit that provides and catalyzes creative space, including the Distillery District and the Artscape Wychwood Barns; and Udo Schliemann, principal creative director at Toronto-based Entro G+A, a leading branding and environmental graphic design firm.

Kuwabara said Canadians often set their expectations too low for their public and cultural buildings.

“What I would say to Hamiltonians is when you do get a chance to build, build the absolute best … The investment in culture can’t be taken too lightly.  It has a dramatic economic and social effect.  It is a driver.”

What had been a wide-ranging conversation turned heated when a member of the audience suggested the city’s economy isn’t strong enough to recreate itself on the back of culture.

Val Rynnimeri, a Dundas resident who teaches architecture at the University of Waterloo, said he came to Hamilton in the mid-70s when the city felt prosperous and confident because the economy was solid and the working class had well-paying jobs.

“I don’t believe the arts can rescue Hamilton. That can only work with a real functioning economy … If people don’t see their destiny in the city, there is no commitment to the arts.”

Rynnimeri’s comments were immediately rebutted by Allyson Wenzowski.

“I don’t think this gentleman knows his city very well,” she said, before pointing out Hamilton issued a record number of building permits in 2011 and has a low unemployment rate within Ontario.

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