Travis Nguyen/Photo Editor
MSU Service directors talk about their plans for the upcoming hybrid year
While the pandemic certainly took its toll on student life, a group of dedicated student leaders have been working tirelessly to maintain essential mental and physical health support services. There are many services that aim to create a safe(r) space on campus for marginalized communities. The McMaster Students Union has five such student services: the Women and Gender Equity Network, the Student Health Education Center, Maccess, Diversity Services and the Pride Community Center.
SHEC is a service for any McMaster University student looking for health-related support, childcare resources and breast-feeding spaces. They also offer free health items such as condoms, pregnancy tests and other external health resources.
“As MSU SHEC, we are a completely peer-run health advocacy, information and resource connection service. We operate under a broad definition of health, recognizing that wellbeing looks and feels different to each person. We provide free health supplies and educational materials and are dedicated to promoting our four strategic priorities: sexual and reproductive health, empowered bodies, substance use and mental wellbeing,” explained Anika Anand, the director of SHEC.
Similarly, WGEN offers peer-support services, but these are catered towards survivors of gendered violence and promoting gender equity.
“WGEN is a community-building and peer-support service run by and for women, trans and non-binary folks, as well as all survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. We focus on creating community and non-judgmental spaces among these folks through our safe(r) space, multi-event campaign weeks and peer groups. A big part of our mandate includes supporting folks through peer-support and free resources,” said Neha Shah, the director of WGEN.
Maccess, a service dedicated to disabled students on campus, on the other hand, is reorienting its disability activism strategy to not only raise awareness for disabilities on campus, but to actively advocate that disabled students on campus are invaluable to McMaster.
“We are a peer-support, community-building and activism organization, run both and by disabled students. We use the term "disability" to include folks who identify as having a disability, mental health concerns, neurodivergence, chronic health conditions and addiction. Our priority this year is to move away from just the recognition that disabled folks exist on campus, to where we recognize disabled folks are valuable on campus,” explained Emunah Woolf, the director of Maccess.
Diversity Services is extending the services it traditionally offers and has plans on adopting the long-established peer-support system used in the past by WGEN, SHEC and PCC to further extend its avenues to provide support.
“Diversity Services works on celebration, advocacy and generally uniting all folks across campus that identify as religious, cultural and other minorities. We are joining Maccess, PCC, WGEN and SHEC in their practices with the pilot of our new peer-support services. These are taking place as community circles that are closed spaces for people to come in and find people with similar intersections of identity as themselves,” explained Sofia Palma Florido, the director of Diversity Services.
Amidst the uncertainties of an entirely online 2020-2021 academic year and a hybrid 2021-2022 year, these MSU services have been compelled to adapt to these circumstances. They have had to drastically alter how they reach and provide their services to students. Across the services, the directors found offering services with the same engagement, quality and reach to be some of the most pressing difficulties of an online environment.
“In our workshops we would commonly have events that promote learning and expanding students’ horizons. When we moved to an online setting, everyone involved, be it volunteers, executives or guests at our events, were already so affected by Zoom exhaustion that it was very difficult to execute everything to its full potential," said Palma Florido.
Nonetheless, Palma Florido has strategies to appeal to first and second-year students to get involved with Diversity Services. She hopes that these strategies will engage students who have not had the opportunity to physically or extensively interact with Diversity Services and the other MSU services.
“Particularly targeting first and second-year students, my goal is to create and facilitate spaces for these new students who have never been on campus to find community. So, allowing for spaces where people can create community with people that have similar lived experiences is something I cherish for myself, and I really want to make that happen for new and returning students,” said Palma Florido.
Services like SHEC have also experienced a shift in their culture and dynamics operating online.
“We operate using a safe(r) space protocol which is creating that supportive, non-judgmental environment. This aspect has been tough to create digitally, so it did involve a lot of training on digital responsibility for our volunteers and execs to facilitate safe(r) space online,” said Anand.
Anand remains optimistic however, finding brighter sides to the constraints of an online environment and even embracing some of the pros it has to offer.
“Although operating virtually has placed additional barriers on access and visibility, it has also provided an additional layer of anonymity for service users trying to access our space and peer-support. Service users may feel more comfortable accessing services since they are not seen walking in and out of space,” explained Anand.
For a service like Maccess however, an online environment has allowed it to open itself up to more students, namely disabled students, who were unable to access the service in person.
“We tried to shift our metric of success for events by focusing on quality over quantity. So, if we have a Zoom event that three or four folks got out to and we had a great conversation and we were able to offer them support and community, we consider that a success. In some ways moving online did allow us to have more accessibility, for example an issue we had in the past is that folks’ disabilities would prevent them from coming to the Maccess space on campus,” said Woolfe.
Woolfe also draws attention to the opportunities a newly online community brought to disabled students on campus.
“Previously we were not able to create Discords as an online community created a lot of liability issues, but to have a space where disabled and immunocompromised folks could meet one another from their room or hospitals was a really positive thing we could do. It allowed us to provide captions, extended hours and other accessibility needs,” explained Woolfe.
Shah is viewing the online Fall term of WGEN as an opportunity for expanding WGEN’s services to meet intersectional and survivor communities’ needs online now, and to plan for a gradual opening to in-person activities.
“This year, we are planning on providing similar services that we did last year, but hopefully with more options to access these both online and in person. Julia, the assistant director and I have also planned to increase our focus on two key areas of our mandate: survivors and ease of access. We hope to increase the amount of programming we provide to survivors, especially with a focus on intersectionality — so providing closed spaces within our identity-specific events,” explained Shah.
Like the approaches taken by SHEC and Maccess, Shah is also mindful of student accessibility needs, and has ideas to make the WGEN space even more inclusive to student accessibility needs.
“We are working to address how it can be really intimidating to enter our safe(r) space, that there are many misconceptions about peer-support, and that there are also some concerns about accessibility about our physical space. We hope to work with other services to address these concerns,” explained Shah.
McMaster students are strongly encouraged to seek out support from MSU services if needed.
C/O Green Venture
Green Venture’s Backyard Garden program is helping to turn Hamilton into a greener, more sustainable community
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, many turned to gardening, as seen by the tomatoes, lettuce and beans which have become a popular find in people’s backyards. Additionally, with discussions of the climate crisis taking greater precedence in the media, climate anxiety has been on the rise. In recognition of this and to support urban and community gardening in Hamilton, Green Venture, a not-for-profit environmental education and outreach organization, launched the Hamilton Seed Library project last summer.
“As the community continued to cope with the COVID-19 crisis, we were really inspired by the local community, how the resilient movement was taking place and the more need for backyard gardens,” explained Sheila Gutierrez, the garden program coordinator at Green Venture.
The Hamilton Seed Library was a joint project created in partnership with the Little Free Library, a not-for-profit book-exchange organization. It was created in keeping with their goal of maintaining biodiversity in Hamilton and helping the local community to become more self-reliant.
The rules and conditions of the Seed Library operate the same as the Little Free Library’s book-sharing boxes. Open 24/7, the seed library offers free fruit and vegetable seeds for anyone to take. There are no membership fees involved, nor set limits on how many seeds one can take, although users of the library should be mindful this is a shared resource for the benefit of the larger community.
Those who borrow the seeds are encouraged to save any remaining or harvested seeds and return them to the library at the end of the season. Just like any community resource, the seed library relies heavily on honest and fair use to maintain its supply. Other ways to support include monetary donations to Green Venture.
Currently, the seed libraries can be found outside of the Green Venture EcoHouse and six Little Free Library’s box locations across Hamilton. These include the libraries on Cannon Street, Wexford Avenue South, Jackson Street West, London Street, Salem Avenue and Kensington Avenue North. More information about each library can be found on their website.
Although the kinds of available seeds change every season, this fall users can expect to find native pollinator plants, such as black-eyed Susan and blazing star, and other veggies such as spinach and radishes.
More than ever, access to fresh food became important as people attempted to reduce outside trips, including grocery shopping trips. So, it came as no surprise that the introduction of the Hamilton Seed Library was met with so much positivity and praise.
“We know that the community is keen because when we put out the seeds, they are gone quickly. The community’s uptake [has been] very responsive,” Gutierrez said.
Additionally, alongside the Seed Library Green Venture started the Grow a Row program to better support the cultivation of a healthier, greener community in Hamilton. It was launched as part of its Backyard Garden Project, the organization’s COVID-19 resilience project. More broadly, the Backyard Garden Project strives to help Hamiltonians “build a greener, more sustainable and climate friendly future”.
“We were inspired at Green Venture to keep connecting our community and connecting them with more nature. [We are] giving them access to those skills and what they need to continue to learning their skills….So we took that, and then we came up with the Backyard Garden Project to support the urban growing and community gardening, to facilitate the sharing and knowledge of local growing and garden maintenance,” said Gutierrez.
The Grow a Row program is for home gardeners who have excess land in their backyard to commit a row of produce to share and donate. The harvested produce is then transferred to community fridges and Neighbour to Neighbour Hamilton, an organization aimed to address food insecurity in communities. The centre currently supports 3,500 individuals in Hamilton every month.
This year, in just 10 weeks, Green Venture received over 445 pounds of produce donations through the Grow a Row program. The donations will help to ensure more people have access to fresh and healthy food, especially during these challenging times.
Aside from the Hamilton Seed Library and Grow a Row project, Seedy Saturday is another event supporting local gardening. Green Venture’s Seedy Saturday is an annual seed exchange and workshop event. Different gardeners and farmers are invited to host the workshops on seed saving, history of seeds in Hamilton and garden designing each year. In past years, Green Venture has collaborated with Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm, McQuesten Urban Farm and Dundurn castle. Although this year’s event has already passed, those who are interested can look forward to the next one coming up in early 2022.
In the meantime, Green Venture still has many more exciting upcoming projects and events. Few examples include Depave Paradise in which volunteers take a piece of land covered in asphalt concrete and replace it with green infrastructure and regular volunteering Tuesday at EcoHouse.
The opportunities to get involved in climate and environment action are endless at Green Venture. From sharing seeds to planting trees, Green Venture offers programs to spread messages of environmental accountability and activism and teach how to live more sustainably.
“Start where you are—there is so much information out there. And it can be overwhelming because climate anxiety is really real, it is our reality. But just take a step back and start where you are and do what you can do. Whether it’s using a reusable mug or volunteering with us at Green Venture, small steps and small action really do end up making a big impact,” said Gutierrez.
C/O Zula Presents
With a mix of music, improvisation and film, the Something Else! festival has something for everyone this fall
By: Sarah Lopes Sadafi, Contributor
At the foot of Harbourfront Drive, the Something Else! festival is bringing live performance back to the Hamilton area at Bayfront Park this fall. The festival is a not-for-profit initiative highlighting diverse, marginalized and unique voices in the arts, in an effort to fill the gaps in Hamilton’s arts scene.
Cem Zafir, the director of Something Else! festival, began presenting music as a passion project in the early 2000s while also working as a postal worker. At the time, he focused on jazz, improvised music and the avant garde. After being transferred to a post office location in Hamilton in 2012, Zafir started writing grants for the Something Else! festival in 2014. Seeing the prominent rock music scene at the time, he seized the opportunity to fill the lack of diverse and unique voices in the Hamilton music scene.
“As [my partner and I] spent time in Hamilton, we felt like there were so many [styles of music] that weren’t being covered . . . For a local scene to grow, we need to be open to new ideas — from poetry to spoken word, to various forms of music. Anything that’s more adventurous and generally falls through the cracks,” said Zafir.
Seven years later, the festival has expanded from jazz and improvisation to include film, dance and mixed and multimedia arts. Zafir’s not-for-profit organization, Zula Music & Arts Collective Hamilton, has now grown to a group of 15 people working to organize the Something Else! festival and associated arts series, Watch it Burn!
The name Something Else! was inspired by an Ornette Coleman album of the same name. Additionally, the name is reminiscent of the common saying ‘that was something else’, referring in particular to something off-center and apart from the norm—exactly what the festival strives to showcase.
Hungry for local acts, the Something Else! festival emphasises the importance of highlighting Hamiltonian voices in the arts. In order to feed Hamilton’s cultural fabric, Zafir holds that we need to amplify the unique talents that we have right here at home.
Ronley Teper and The Lipliners is a multi-genre local Hamilton music act that has participated in the festival since its conception in 2014, with a focus on improvisation and collaboration in musical expression.
Teper described feeling nervous prior to her performance at the festival on Sept. 11 for the first time in 18 months, followed by the joy of finally being back in front of an audience in a space with COVID-19 measures in place. She hopes the audience felt that range of emotions from her day at Bayfront Park.
“Joy and laughter are some things that I love to emit, but I also try to tempt the other emotions,” Said Teper. “People tell me that they love me or hate me, because you can’t hate without love. I always want people to feel something when they leave —i ndifference is dangerous.”
As the end of September approached, there are still a few performances left to see before the end of Something Else! festival.
Brass Knuckle Sandwich is an improvisational duo of Nicole Rampersaud and Marilyn Lerner, with an upcoming performance at the festival on Oct. 8. They hope people walk into their set with an openness to experience.
“When being in front of audiences, being in the same space, learning and having an open mind opens up new connections and points of commonality. In an age of divide, divide, divide, we could all use some of that connection and an open mind can help make that happen,” said Rampersaud.
The festival operates in accordance with all provincial COVID-19 guidelines currently in place. It is run entirely outdoors with contact tracing for the limited capacity and staff and volunteers are masked at all times. Sanitizer, wipes and extra masks are also available at the venue.
Admission to the festival is granted on a pay what you can basis, in an effort to increase accessibility and ensure all arts-lovers have access to live performance. The suggested donation of $15-25 includes several diverse artistic acts, as well as a provided dinner.
Zafir emphasised the importance of coming to the festival with an open mind.
“The choices we make are entertaining, intellectually stimulating and emotionally moving. If you come in without judgement, if you just let it wash over you and be present, you’ll walk away with something. Coming with an open mind and being present will lead to getting turned on to new things, new ideas,” explained Zafir.
The festival will be running every Saturday until Oct. 9 at Bayfront Park Pavilion.
“It’s just music. It’s not precious, but it’s sacred,” said Zafir.
C/O Georgia Kirkos
After a year of online school, McMaster gives professors the opportunity to teach courses in-person once again
For the past year, McMaster University has been completely online, with libraries and residences closed and classes taking place on Zoom and Microsoft Teams. However, as of this fall, not only has McMaster’s campus opened up, but many students now also have the opportunity to take classes in person once again.
“It was really left up to the instructors to decide how they wanted to offer their classes in the fall because we wanted to make sure that they felt comfortable,” said Associate Dean of Social Sciences Tracy Prowse.
Prowse explained that, in the faculty of social sciences, professors were first given the option to choose between online and in-person learning in February of this year, amidst the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who did choose to offer their classes in person were given the option in August to switch to a virtual platform instead, depending on their level of comfort with the current situation.
“There were a very small number of courses that were originally scheduled to be in person that were shifting online,” explained Prowse.
Prowse added that decisions to shift courses back online were made in August, so that course outlines could still be posted by mid-August, allowing students to prepare for the year.
Maureen MacDonald, dean of sciences, offered perspective on how decisions about in-person learning were made within the faculty of science.
“We did, of course, consult with the professors about their preference and we took that tremendously into account, but it was a larger conversation about the learning outcomes and the learning experience and we did try to construct it so that every science student would have the potential to have at least one in-person learning component this term,” explained MacDonald.
For courses that are taking place in person this year, numerous safety measures have been put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As MacDonald explained, along with public health measures such as masks, McMaster Facility Services ensured that all McMaster buildings had appropriate ventilation.
Further, as Prowse explained, any course that is a degree requirement must be accessible online as well. This means that, for these required courses, lectures must be recorded and uploaded to Echo 360 and assessments must take place virtually as well.
“[With] any in-person class that is required for a degree, the instructor also has to ensure that a student could take that [class] virtually,” said Prowse.
MacDonald stated that the return to some level of in-person learning will hopefully benefit students at McMaster, citing the importance of personal connection with peers and instructors.
MacDonald also highlighted the unique significance of in-person learning for the sciences.
“For science, we really believe the tactile component of experimentation, of physically trying to conduct an experiment or manipulate something in a discovery-based format, does lead to an enhanced learning,” said MacDonald.
Although the plan for the winter semester is contingent on COVID-19 restrictions, Prowse stated that students should expect a return to in-person classes.
“It's just been really nice to see students on campus. Even if a lot of their courses are still virtual or online, it's still nice to see people,” said Prowse.
C/O McMaster University Concert Band
The McMaster University Concert Band looks forward to bringing the band together in person as COVID restrictions ease
Under the School of the Arts, the McMaster University Concert Band offers students the opportunity to practice music in an ensemble setting, engage with the Hamilton community through performances and meet other students interested in music while doing so.
No matter which discipline or program you belong to, all McMaster University students are welcome to audition for the band.
Students can choose to join the concert band as a course for credit if they would like. Regardless of whether students are receiving credit or not, all players complete the same band activities.
Typically, the MCB gathers together for rehearsals once a week and holds three regular performances. Additional performances and engagements with the community also occur throughout the year.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ensemble conducted all rehearsals and performances online in the 2020-2021 academic year.
Speaking to last year’s experience, President of the MCB, Duncan McCallum, said that although doing everything online was not an ideal experience, the band was able to learn a lot from the challenges they overcame.
“It was a much more collaborative process. We were all trying to figure it out together so that was I think rewarding and certainly something new that was cool to experience,” said McCallum.
Doing everything online taught the band that there are benefits to working in smaller groups and that virtual participation opens up opportunities for more guest speakers or musicians to engage with the band.
Now, for the 2021-2022 academic year, McMaster has announced that students are welcome to come back to campus. However, many COVID-19 protocols are still in place. If the band wishes to incorporate in-person components within their rehearsals, they must adhere to the protocols.
Thus, McCallum said that exact plans for how the school year will play out are still undetermined. For now, meetings will be conducted virtually.
McCallum explained that having to consider the different instrumental needs of the band introduces an added level of difficulty for meeting in person. Different mask procedures would also have to be adapted to accommodate the players.
In addition, social distancing poses another barrier for the band. Students have to remain six feet apart. In a typical year, the band is comprised of about 70 students, so finding enough space for the band to meet would be difficult.
Despite all these challenges, McCallum looks forward to bringing the band together in person.
“There’s a lot of barriers to [meeting] in-person, but I think everyone’s so eager to do so that we’re just going to jump on it any chance we get, [even if] that means playing outside in a parking lot [or] being spaced out in the bleachers of the concert hall so that we’re all far away [enough] from each other,” said McCallum.
Wendy Tang, vice-president of the MCB, said that on top of practicing music, building a community is also an essential part of the band’s culture.
“Apart from rehearsals, as execs we also ran a lot of events so students can also feel that community because honestly, a big part of our concert band aside from it being a band is also the community that we’ve built,” said Tang.
Having events where students can socialize and get to know each other is something that the executives of the band aim to do every year.
McCallum also emphasized that despite still having to do things online, learning from experiences from the previous year greatly benefits the new year.
“[Not just the band, but] a lot of classes and clubs, they [also] felt like they adapted because they had to, not because [it was] the best circumstance. This year, we want to make it the most rewarding experience we can with whatever is thrown at us, whether that means being online for part of the semester or being in-person as much as we can,” said McCallum.
C/O Tony Sebastian, Unsplash
While we may perceive ourselves as worlds away, we’re much closer than we think
Let’s set this story during Welcome Week of 2019. Surrounded by other 2023s, I ventured into the thick swarm of students on the field outside Burke Science Building. Before I could take a breath, I was asked a question that all of us had heard countless times during that week.
“What program are you in? Like, are you a science kid or an English kid?”
I’d answer with “science kid” and move on with my life. No big deal, right? Well, not exactly. As I went through two more years of university, I discovered there was a greater divide in the sciences and humanities than I had first realized. Science kids were the kind that would rather solve complex chemistry problems than go near an essay. Humanities kids could write 20-page essays but god forbid they took a physics class.
As far from the truth as these generalizations may be, they do exist and they do persist. The general public’s perception of students who pursue science and students who pursue the humanities are closer to these reductive statements than we may think.
This issue has been discussed at length, not only by students like us, but also by renowned professors across the world. In 2018, the University of King’s College in Halifax held a roundtable discussion on this exact topic. These scholars, particularly Evelyn Fox Keller, talked about the territorial criticism they felt as an expert in history, physics and biology. The roundtable came to the conclusion that the sciences and humanities are often presented with the same problems, such as climate change, but rarely work together to solve them.
Not only does this divide affect worldly problems, but it also affects us all on a smaller scale of interests and extracurricular activities. Why are only science students expected to take on research positions? This rush to get involved in research activities is a constant discussion in the echo chamber of undergraduate science students, often with no mention of research efforts in the social sciences and humanities.
With such a binary in expected extracurriculars, this frame of thinking has also found its way into job interviews. Mahnoor Malik, a third-year health sciences student, reflected on her experience of this phenomenon.
“I was in an interview, hoping to get a position writing for this website I’m really fond of. The interview was going great, but they did comment on how my writing experience was largely scientific. I understand where they were coming from, but it was also shocking to see how my scientific writing experience wasn’t valued as much as other writing experiences were,” explained Malik.
This experience isn’t unique to one individual. The separation between these two fields has led to a lack of understanding of each other from both sides. By allowing this distance to exist, we inevitably divide ourselves into different social and professional groups.
We allow these preconceived notions to affect our judgement of each other. From a STEM perspective especially, we’re all somewhat guilty of assuming that non-STEM programs have fewer career opportunities. However, graduates of social sciences programs not only have similar employment rates to STEM graduates, but are also valued by employers for their critical thinking, emotional intelligence and ethical reasoning.
On a personal level, I have had a passion for writing for as long as I can remember. However, I assumed that once I chose my path of health sciences, writing could be nothing more than a hobby. My label was now to be science and science alone.
Imagine my surprise when I joined the Silhouette and found just as many science kids as humanities kids as arts kids on our staff. In a short couple of months, this team has opened my eyes to the fact that these insurmountable obstacles that we created are largely imaginative.
As students, we need to take it upon ourselves to throw this arbitrary barrier to the wind. By doing so, we gain the chance to learn more about ourselves, each other, and the plethora of opportunities available to not just X or Y students, but to all of us.
C/O Matthew Ball, Unsplash
How our thirties will be the new twenties
By: Ana Mamula, Contributor
I remember being a kid and daydreaming of what it would be like being able to drive, have my own place, have kids and attend university. From such a young age, I was envious of those older women who seemed so much more independent than I was.
I remember saying to myself, “In my early twenties, I will definitely be married and by my mid-twenties, I’ll definitely have kids. Three exactly.”
Looking back, I laugh to myself. I’m currently a twenty-year old full-time university student and I am no way in hell getting married or having kids soon. Life moved so much faster than I expected, leaving me envious of that little girl who had no troubles in the world. While she longed for her twenties, she never had to deal with the stress of work, school, relationships, paying taxes and so much more. It’s as if we progressed from being driven to school in the backseat of our parents’ cars to driving our own in the blink of an eye.
Despite life moving so fast, leaving us with less than seconds to breathe, it carries many substantial events that form who we are. However, I believe one decade in particular holds the most importance for us. Our twenties.
Our twenties truly capture everything about who we are and who we are going to be. It is during our twenties that the most life-changing events in our lives occur. The start of this decade is a transformational moment, what with coming out of one’s teen years in the beginning and ending as a fully grown adult. Our twenties are when we make those friends we carry with us for the rest of our lives. They’re when we could meet our significant other, when we could receive that job we have always wanted and when we buy our first home.
Due to all of these life-changing events that society tells us we have to go through in our twenties, the pressure is beyond difficult to carry. Individuals often consider graduating from university and achieving financial stability as adult life’s most important milestones, according to a report from The Atlantic. Carrying the weight of both these monumental events only furthers the narrative of what everyone should be accomplishing in their twenties.
So how do you get through your twenties? How can you be successful at getting through these important years?
As cheesy as it is, my advice is to stop trying to meet society's deadlines of where you should be and how you should act in your twenties. Our twenties are the years we look back on as we age to realize how much we grow in life. And you do not have to get married or have kids to do that.
In fact, an article by The New York Times makes the comparison that your twenties are similar to stem cells, with a million possibilities and outcomes of what your life could be.
We are capable of doing whatever we please. As long as the path we are choosing to take is the one we want to take, not the one our parents or friends want us to take, not the one society wants us to take; that is when we are truly successful.
C/O Olivia Brouwer
Hamilton artist Olivia Brouwer creates accessible artwork to bridge the gap between individuals of varying visual abilities
By: Serena Habib, Contributor
One of the major changes brought about by the current COVID-19 pandemic has been the shift away from physical contact touch in an effort to prevent transmission of the virus from surfaces. This shift, however, has also become a barrier for those who use braille to communicate.
Olivia Brouwer is a local Hamilton artist and the 2021 recipient of the City of Hamilton’s creator award. She has been creating art that expresses her experiences with blindness and is accessible to those with visual impairments. The pandemic has amplified the challenges visual impairment can bring and highlighted the importance of her work.
“Blind people cannot communicate as they did before,” said Brouwer.
Brouwer was raised in Mount Hope, Hamilton by a family filled with creativity. She has always loved art and when she entered the joint program in Art and Art History offered by University of Toronto Mississauga and Sheridan College in 2012, she knew she wanted to focus on painting. Focusing on oil painting, acrylics and watercolours with a specialization in printmaking, Brouwer realized during her third-year that her artwork revolved around a common theme: blindness.
For as long as she can remember, Brouwer has been partially blind in one eye. She wanted to produce work that responded to the questions her blindness implored her to ask.
“Especially in high school, it was hard to kind of talk about and I was just very self-conscious about it,” said Brouwer. “I just thought I'd make art about it . . . as a way to talk about my disability.”
Brouwer was also drawn to the idea of how people perceive the unknown and over time, her work has also become more spiritual. After graduating, Brouwer realized she needed to analyze blindness for herself. In her work stitching braille Bible passages relating to parables about spiritual blindness, visual blindness is used as a metaphor for faith and spirituality. To Brouwer, this was about looking into herself to determine whether she was being spiritually aware and spiritually seen.
“It kind of reminds me of looking back on my life . . . looking back on all of these stories and trying to spiritually see what needs to change,” explained Brouwer.
As we emerge from the pandemic and begin to return to our previous routines, Brouwer’s collection can encourage us to look at ourselves and our lifestyles in an attempt to decipher what brings meaning into our lives. However, Brouwer’s current Contact Kits remind us to look beyond ourselves and explore with different senses as we return to routine and interact with our environment.
Each kit comes in a silkscreen-printed cardboard box. Inside the box is a painting; different mediums and tactile surfaces are incorporated into every painting. The painting is covered by a removable sheet of frosted mylar with a smooth, plastic texture. Brouwer cuts teardrop shapes out of the mylar and then embosses them in braille by carving templates on Lino blocks and punching them through the tabs. With 42 tabs in total, each tab has a word embossed in Braille.
Included in the kit is also a silkscreen-printed booklet with designated spaces for the tabs and a corresponding chart to decode the braille; people can interact with the piece by removing the tabs and writing out the message. At the end of the booklet, there is a section for individuals to journal about their experience with the painting. Mirroring the concept of the Rorschach inkblot test, a psychological test by Hermann Rorschach in which participants have different perceptions of inkblots based on their mental state, this is an opportunity to personally perceive an abstract conception.
With the artist’s statement and biography also included in the booklet and embossed in braille, these Contact Kits are accessible to those who are blind and sighted.
“[Both people who are sighted and blind] are kind of on an equal level; one’s not ones not experiencing it better than the other,” explained Brouwer. “I wanted to make it fun too, so people who are sighted can learn braille and just kind of have a respect for learning that from a blind person's perspective . . . just open their eyes about how they communicate and other ways of communicating.”
Looking forward, Brouwer is presently developing artwork that combines sight, sound and touch to share interviews she has conducted with individuals who are visually impaired. She translates the interviews into braille and then paints in braille on canvases that are paired with an audio soundtrack of the interview.
Through her work, Brower hopes to break down barriers and open our eyes to different methods of communication, providing us an opportunity to venture on an artistic and personal journey as we interact with artwork, braille and ourselves.
C/O Franca Marazia
Art in the Workplace promotes Hamilton’s arts and culture by sharing the works of local, emerging creatives
Art can be found in the most unexpected places. You can find it organically in nature, scribbled along abandoned alleyways and streets, or even nestled inside the McMaster Innovation Park. The MIP is a research and innovation facility located near campus and displayed on the first two floors of the Atrium@MIP is the Art in the Workplace gallery. Founded in 2009, the gallery is a not-for-profit organization creating opportunities for local artists to showcase their talents to the Hamilton community.
Although the MIP is a technology and business-focused space for start-up companies and research labs, it has served as an unconventional and unique operating base for Art in the Workplace since the gallery’s establishment. Currently running its 32nd exhibit, the gallery hosts three exhibitions a year, each featuring around 200 pieces of art from over one hundred local artists.
Planning for each exhibition begins with a call for entry which is open to any artist. The submissions are then juried by a committee, comprised of members of the gallery, before they are presented both online and in the physical space at the MIP.
As a not-for-profit organization, Art in the Workplace transfers all sales from the exhibitions directly to the artists. In 2020, the gallery celebrated a milestone of having raised $100,400 through 301 pieces sold since its inception 11 years ago. It was also the year it displayed its 6,000th art piece.
“All the art sales go to the artists which I think is something unique to us and really special,” said Emily Benedict, president of Art in the Workplace.
Benedict has been with the gallery since 2013 and began volunteering as the president of the group in 2019.
“People don’t just get to view the work, but they get to support the artist too,” she said.
Despite having met many goals last year, the gallery was still significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic along with the rest of the Hamilton art scene. The 32nd exhibit was originally planned to kick off in April 2020 with a large opening event which typically attracts a few hundred attendees. However, due to the large scale of the event and safety concerns in the face of the pandemic, it was postponed. Instead, all the art was posted for viewing on their virtual gallery through its website. Pieces were also shared on the gallery’s Instagram and Facebook pages.
“People have really enjoyed seeing everything come online to the website, Facebook and Instagram. Many artists also really appreciate when their pieces get shared,” said Benedict.
For many emerging artists, the opening gala is especially important and momentous as it is the first time their work gets displayed to the public. For all the artists part of the exhibition, it is a memorable night and a chance to connect with other artists, friends and family.
“I always like the opening because it is a good chance to get to see everyone, from artists you see every couple months to just seeing people’s happiness on being able to show their pieces to family and friends . . . It’s getting to see that and getting to be part of that which I really like,” said Benedict.
Fortunately, with many COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, the Atrium@MIP has now reopened to visitors on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Planning and preparation for the opening ceremony of the 32nd exhibit is under way as well, with the date tentatively set for Nov. 25, 2021. If all goes as planned, after the event, the gallery is hoping to return to its normal operations of three exhibitions per year.
“[The opening event for the 32nd exhibit] is something that we’ve been talking about, the whole 18 months, as a group because we thought we could maybe do it, but everything has been kind of shuffled . . . When we are able to do it, we want to be able to do it right and safely,” Benedict said.
The gallery has received positive support from the community and contributing artists during the lockdown and since its comeback. Many artists who had been part of the Art in the Workplace exhibitions for years also returned, along with volunteers, family and friends.
Art in the Workplace has a long history of collaborating with other groups in the community. In fact, through one of its collaboration projects is how Benedict first joined the team. She was a student in the Art History program at McMaster University and as part of her fourth-year seminar on the history of collecting, she researched and displayed Hamilton’s art collection at the gallery. Through this opportunity, she was able to gain hands-on museum and gallery experience which further cultivated her interest in this career field.
Aside from the main exhibitions, the gallery is known for their “mini-exhibits” featuring the works by high school students and community group members. The mini-exhibits are curated by students, their teachers and gallery volunteers. The gallery’s regular collaborators include Westdale Secondary School, Glendale High School arts program, St. John Henry Newman Catholic Secondary School, Compass Collective and Lynwood Charlton Centre.
For any students interested in learning about the inner workings of a gallery, Art in the Workplace is always looking for volunteers and Benedict encourages students to come check out the current exhibition at the Atrium@MIP. Volunteers can assist with pickup and drop off evenings, hang art pieces and prepare for opening galas.
“I always had a lot of fun with [volunteering at Art in the Workplace] and I thought it was a really great experience. So, if there were students that were wondering about how [an art gallery] works or would enjoy [volunteering], I think it’s a great opportunity,” Benedict said.
From small artists to students and office workers, Art in the Workplace aims to bring art to all corners of the community. In the future, the gallery is considering integrating more virtual components to their space to help deliver art to a broader audience and continue supporting local artists and creatives.
C/O McMaster Sports
Amanda Ruller and Taylor MacIntyre discuss breaking barriers as the first women in Marauders football coaching staff history for Ontario University Athletics.
The McMaster football team has two new additions to their coaching staff: Amanda Ruller and Taylor MacIntyre. Ruller and MacIntyre joined as McMaster’s first female football coaches as part of a brand new women’s apprenticeship, designed to help increase diversity within coaching in football.
Ruller is the running back coach, the assistant strength and conditioning coach and she helps out with special teams (kicking plays); whereas MacIntyre works with the receivers and is the positional coach.
This is a significant opportunity for these two women, as coaching varsity football is no easy feat. Both coaches’ paths were rife with conflict, but neither of them gave up their passion for football.
“Don’t give up. With me, I’ve been pushed back so many times being told "I can’t do this, I’m too short, I’m not enough, or I’m a woman", in general and I said, "No, watch me. Watch me go",” explained Ruller.
MacIntyre echoed that statement by Ruller, discussing her experiences with football through high school and the difficulties she experienced along the way,
“High school boys aren’t always welcoming in football. As the first girl to complete a season at my high school, I really had to prove myself . . . as a girl, not just as a player. I had to prove that I could play, I had to prove my knowledge and my skills of the game and I had to prove my passion. I really try to let all of those things speak for [themselves],” said MacIntyre.
This apprenticeship was unique for yet another reason. To be successful in the sports industry, as explained by Ruller, one relies greatly on their connections and yet, this apprenticeship held applications and interviews.
“Coach Ptaszek [the Marauders football head coach] said this is the first time they did a formal interview with somebody ever,” explained Ruller.
Ruller and MacIntyre are incredibly grateful for the opportunity they’ve been given.
“This opportunity showed me that anything is possible thanks to McMaster University and McMaster football. Coaching football at a high level in Canada is possible for other girls and women and it’s really an honour to be a leader in that industry,” said MacIntyre.
The two coaches believe that this apprenticeship was not just important for their careers, but the careers of others.
“My goal is to have girls and women see the women’s football coaching apprenticeship program and know that they can dream of coaching in the OUA, U SPORTS, the CFL, or the NFL one day,” said MacIntyre. “I want girls to dream about coaching football at a high level in Canada and to believe and to know that there are opportunities available for them to be successful.”
Ruller shared an extremely similar perspective to MacIntyre in feeling that this was for a much greater cause, reiterating the importance of this role for future women in sports.
“It’s not just about me; it never is,” explained Ruller. “It’s about paving [the] way and inspiring a lot of women along the way because a lot of women are afraid to get into the industry . . . I want to eliminate that and ensure no woman has to be uncomfortable with applying or volunteering.”
Both coaches are excited for the first football game of the season, to be played on Sept.18 against the highly touted Western Mustangs.
“I feel like we’re very prepared, we’re such a strong team, we have a great mix of all the elements you need to be such a good team, very strong on both sides of the ball, and I can’t wait . . . We are going to crush it,” said Ruller.
Marauders football will kick off their season with their first game in over 18 months in a highly anticipated matchup against the Mustangs, whom they defeated in 2020 to win the Yates cup in the provincial championship, effectively ending the Mustangs’ 29 game winning streak against OUA opponents. It could become a very interesting season for the squad, with great opportunities on the horizon.