Art history in the Hammer

Lauren O'Donnell
March 20, 2020
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes
Photo C/O

Hamilton is a well-known centre for the arts, with events like Supercrawl bringing in people from across the GTA and beyond. However, it hasn’t always been like this. In a 1959 statement, then Mayor Lloyd Jackson—the namesake for Jackson Square—claimed that the city had no need for modern art.

“The people of this city have made it abundantly clear that they want no part of this modern art . . .  we can't let the arty crowd run things,” said Mayor Jackson in his statement. 

Building Cultural Legacies is a digital storytelling platform that is proving Mayor Jackson wrong. In response to his statement, the Building Cultural Legacies exhibit has the subheading “The Arty Crowd Runs Things”. Their exhibit at the Art Gallery of Hamilton (123 King St. W.) has the quote blown up as a tongue-in-cheek reference to Mayor Jackson, showing just how far this city has come since those words were first said. The arty crowd is definitely running the show now.

The physical exhibit for Building Cultural Legacies is not currently accessible because the AGH has closed its doors until April 5; however, their online content is freely available and easy to access. On their website you can search through art based on criteria ranging from the type of material used to the decade it was made in. If you need a little break during your social distancing, you can just pull up the site and browse through Hamilton’s art history.

Alexis Moline is the Content Curator for the Building Cultural Legacies project, and she says that they chose to represent the second half of the 20th century because these records are most at risk of being lost. 

A screen capture of the "explore artists" page on the Building Cultural Legacies website (

“We'd like to make sure that those things can be preserved and available so that people [can] access them and learn from them, as well as celebrate those artists and their legacies and the great collections of things that they have built up over the years . . . So the point was really taking over our artistic past and learning from it and to continue bringing it to the present,” said Moline.

One of the ways that Building Cultural Legacies has been helping Hamiltonians connect to the past is through facilitated discussions and public talks. With the mass closures resulting from COVID-19, these talks have been postponed. However, once things are up and running again, here’s a brief taste of what you can look forward to.

The next two talks that Building Cultural Legacies plans to host is a roundtable discussion with the Native Indian/Inuit Photographers’ Association and a discussion on mentoring in the artistic community. NIIPA was one of the longest-running Indigenous arts services organizations in Canada, and they were founded on James Street, right in the heart of Hamilton. Moline says that the events are designed to encourage connections across communities.

“[I]t's really a chance for people to come out and listen and hear stories and then afterwards speak amongst themselves and make those connections. It really includes talking to each other, [and] intergenerational exchange; we really encourage young artists or Mac students to come out. And so that's a great opportunity to have a friendly, relaxed environment for people to connect about all of our shared history and present,” said Moline.

Building Cultural Legacies is continually working to improve and add to their site. Moline says that she is working with Dr. Angela Sheng's Art History 4X03 Intro to Galleries and Museums class—a fourth year Art History seminar offered at McMaster—to develop new artist pages for the Building Cultural Legacies site, to be published tentatively this May, although this may be impacted by the closures on McMaster’s campus. 

Building Cultural Legacies encourages artists both young and old to work and grow together, and encourages Hamiltonians to learn more about their own history. Whether or not you’re an art devotee, the message to work and grow together is one that we can all benefit from. 


Explore Artists - Building Cultural Legacies Hamilton

Building Cultural Legacies has been generously supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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  • Lauren O'Donnell

    Lauren is in her fourth and final year of English and Cultural Studies. She is a big fan of sustainable fashion, body positivity, and 80s pop music. In her spare time, Lauren can be found hanging out with her cat, Lyric.

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