Culturally, Hamilton is unquestionably a success story. It has a vibrant and expanding arts community which brings in visitors and artists from across the region; it hosts a wide variety of museums, catering to an equally wide variety of interests; and its festivals showcase the best the community has to offer. The image of Hamilton as nothing but a gritty steeltown is now about as accurate as the thought of the Leafs as a perennial Stanley Cup contenders.
There is a lot to love in the city’s newly released cultural plan, and while many of the plan’s eight goals, 12 recommendations and 78 specific actions already inform city policy and practice, a lot of work needs to be done to ensure that future practice lives up to the plan’s ideals.
The recognition that culture isn’t and shouldn’t be confined to the old city’s downtown is vital to expanding the city’s reputation as a cultural hub. However, as Toronto has shown, it is all too easy to spend time and treasure supporting large, popular and well publicised downtown events while neglecting other events outside the core. As it stands now, many beloved festivals could use either monetary or organizational assistance from the city. Something as simple as a streamlined process for requesting road closures for parades could go a long way towards boosting local community pride.
It’s also wonderful the plan recognizes that culture isn’t a cost to the city, but part of the solution to revitalizing the local economy. What will test the resolve of city councils now and in the future will be their willingness to continue to spend on culture in spite of citywide austerity programs and competing priorities. For instance, how would voters react if council gave the arts community its requested $1 million in additional funding while crying poor on providing Tasers for police? Would members of council risk walking into a debate on culture vs. public safety only 12 months before the next election?
The new cultural policy is the culmination of years of consultation and hard work by city staff and shows that Hamilton is a forward-looking community. It recognizes that Hamiltonians from all across the city and from all walks of life value the role culture plays in their community.
But in order for this document to be more than just feel good words on the page those who value culture in the city must remain constantly vigilant so that the promises made aren’t forgotten, neglected or sacrificed on the alter of political expediency.
This is Hamilton’s time to shine, let’s make sure that it shines as brightly as it possibly can.