By Nisha Gill, Staff Writer
“My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get to be so late so soon?” wrote Dr. Seuss.
Over the last year, there has been increasing awareness and action on a number of important issues: including accountability, accessibility, climate change, diversity and 2SLGBTQIA+ rights. The arts and culture community in Hamilton, including the Arts & Culture section here at the Silhouette, have been working to raise awareness and to spur action on the aforementioned issues. Here are a few memorable events from the past year.
Early in September 2019, A&C Editor Andrew Mrozowski had a chance to sit down with the Right Honourable David Johnston, former Governor General of Canada, and chat about a variety of topics. Their conversation covered everything from his career within politics to his advice for students as well as his new book Trust: 20 Ways to Build a Better Country. This was a great way to kick off the year, with an emphasis on collaboration, trust and the power of storytelling; all of which are going to be very important for the year ahead.
Next up was Supercrawl, Hamilton’s annual weekend-long street festival. As always, there were a number of spectacular events and exhibitions, but two in particular stood out for the way that they addressed important issues. First, McMaster professor Adrienne Crossman’s installation art “Flags” addressed what it means to be a queer person in the 21st century as well as the oppression faced by the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
“It’s just the continuation of a conversation. So the text reads ‘subvert’, ‘deviate’ and ‘resist’ as forms of resisting oppression but on the back where it says resist it more speaks to the fact that existing as a queer person, a visibly queer person or anybody that doesn’t suit the way that people might perceive as normal — just existing itself is a form of resistance which I think can be a very radical sentiment,” Crossman said, when interviewed for the original article.
Second from Supercrawl was McMaster alumnus Christopher McLeod’s “EMERGENCY Pt. 2: Structures of Actions” installation exhibition. This was a follow up to a previous piece that the artist set up for Supercrawl in 2018. This year’s installation had taken the key issues people had highlighted last year — safe streets, health and the environment — and put the focus on what individuals can do about them, by asking attendees to commit to a level of action on those issues.
“Are we all just going to sit around and sort of watch what’s happening, or are we going to step up and try to make a difference?” asked McLeod, when interviewed for the initial article.
In early October 2019, the membership trade association of local brewers, Ontario Craft Brewers, promoted a meeting with Sam Oosterhoff on social media. Oosterhoff is a Progressive Conservative member of provincial parliament from the Niagara-West riding, who had previously claimed he wants abortion rights removed and that he opposes the use of more gender-neutral terms. MERIT Brewing Company believed that the OCB’s post with Oosterhoff cast an unfavourable light on the industry that did not reflect MERIT’s values. They saw it as their responsibility to hold the association accountable for their actions, and to push the conversation surrounding corporate accountability.
When interviewed for the initial article, Tej Sandu, co-owner of MERIT Brewing Company, explained: “Conversation is not enough; action needs to follow a conversation . . . You still need to have conversations to get to action . . . We’re trying to do our part. It’s inherent and embedded in what MERIT’s about, from why we are called ‘MERIT’ to what we strive to do here and has been our experience. This is something that we feel is not only our responsibility, it’s our privilege to be able to speak out on these things and it’s something that we are doing because we’re passionate about it.”
Later in the month, on Oct. 7, 2019, The Pale Blue Dot, a sustainable, environmentally conscious store in downtown Hamilton, ran their second clothing swap in partnership with Grain and Grit brewery. A great proponent of environmental consciousness, not only through their shop but also through events and workshops, the Pale Blue Dot contributed to a more sustainable Halloween with a dedicated costume section at the swap.
Nov. 9 - 10, 2019 brought a special performance by the Kronos String Quartet, as part of The Socrates Project. The group’s performance included a rendition of “Sun Rings”, composed by their friend Tyler Riley, accompanied by recordings from NASA missions. The performance was meant to foster hope and encourage solidarity and connection during difficult times.
When interviewed, prior to the publication of the article, David Harrington, founder and violinist of the group said, “I think that by allowing ‘Sun Rings’ to enter your life, I think a person will find a larger sense of appreciation for what we have right here, right now. Music is very mysterious, we never know when we will connect with another listener . . . it just gives more of a sense of wonder and wonder is such a beautiful thing.”
We often forget that to move forward we need to first confront our past. Deanna Bowen’s exhibit A Harlem Nocturne, which debuted at the McMaster Museum of Art in January 2020, is a reminder of Canada’s long history of systemic racism and injustice in Canada. Taking its name from the nightclub that her family operated in Vancouver decades before, Bowen’s work blended personal and public history to create an intimate and powerful exhibit that explored race, migration, historical writing and authorship.
“I would encourage people to see themselves in what I’m doing. There’s so much rich history in our own family histories. And I think it’s important to emphasize that everybody’s family story has some impact on the making of a nation . . . You know, it’s about recognizing that the power to create our history and our personal and our national narrative really does kind of boil down to people like you and I,” said Bowen when interviewed for the initial article.
February 2020 was an eventful month, coinciding with the release of our annual sex positive Sex and the Steel City issue on Valentine’s day. Full of a variety of excellent articles, including opinion pieces, artist and business profiles, this year’s issue had a special focus on identity and explored topics from queerness to body positivity, from romance to sex.
February also saw the chance to catch up with McMaster professor Henry Giroux in a two-part article series after the publication of his newest book The Terror of the Unforeseen, which featured a forward by Julian Casablancas, the lead singer of The Strokes and Giroux's good friend. The Terror of the Unforeseen was inspired by a sense of urgency following the rise of right-winged movements across the globe and focuses on how the rise of this kind of ideology affects universities, media and culture.
“I tried to take seriously the notion that politics follows culture, meaning that, you can’t really talk about politics unless you talk about the way in which people are experiencing their everyday lives and the problems that confront them,” Giroux explained when he was interviewed for the original article.
March 2020 turned the spotlight to sustainability initiatives once again, with pieces on Humble Bee, Hamilton’s own urban beekeeping company who has set up apiaries on campus, as well as the fabric store Needleworks. Needlework is more than just a fabric store, providing sewing lessons and workshops, which encourage their customers to express their creativity while also practicing sustainability.
In response to escalating concerns with COVID-19, many events and exhibitions have been cancelled, and many businesses and restaurants have had to close. However, we are still committed to supporting the McMaster community as well as the arts and culture scene, by highlighting key initiatives such as community donations by restaurants and food banks, author readings on social media and festivals that have adapted to the need for physical distancing.
Awareness and action on important issues has been a central component of the arts & culture community this past year, and hopefully it is a trend that continues. Afterall, as Dr. Seuss wrote, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”