Hamilton Arts Council

Connecting artists to venues to audiences to businesses.

The history of the Hamilton Arts Council (HAC) is the history of Hamilton, of its arts community and of social changes at large. Articles featured in the longstanding ‘Arts Beat’ newsletter have outlined major events that have impacted artists, musicians and actors at a local and national level – such as censorship, policy and funding. As an advocacy group, HAC has committed itself since its inception to uplifting the arts through awareness, connection and accessibility.

Founded in 1969, HAC was established in response to need. In September 1969, a Task Force sponsored by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce met to determine the feasibility of developing an arts council for the Hamilton area. According to meeting notes, after the very first assembling members unanimously agreed that “the concept should be vigorously pursued” as “the climate is now appropriate for the formation of an Arts Council in Hamilton and area”. Mrs. L. Paikin and Mr. Brooke Townsend were proposed as co-chairmen, while three additional committee members were established in the roles of “Financing”, “Membership”, and “Publicity”.

The Hamilton Arts Council letterhead, 1970.

This initial meeting laid the groundwork for the values which would guide the Hamilton Arts Council throughout its history. Unanimous agreement was made not only for the formation of such an organization, but on how it should operate. Key points described how the organization was to be “regional in scope and as all-embracive as possible” and to “move as quickly as possible to take advantage of the present climate”. The major role of the imagined arts council was to be a “coordination of efforts, plus stimulation of new talent and teaching facilities” with significant youth involvement.

It was also agreed by the founding members from the very start to not have the arts council be a funding body, as “any attempt to move this organization into the fundraising field would be disastrous”. The final point of the meeting minutes was to ensure “the ethnic community could and should play a major role in such organization”.

Shortly after the reporting of the tightly organized and unified meeting to the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, things hit the ground running. By November 1969, a cheque for $1250 was made to lease the Battery Lodge (now the Hamilton Military Museum) for occupation of the newly established Hamilton Arts Council headquarters.

Issues of Art-i-fact, the Hamilton Arts Council's newsletter. 1970s.
A page from a 1973 issue of Art-i-fact highlighting Hamilton's art scene.
A page from a 1973 issue of Art-i-fact highlighting Hamilton's art scene.

The following years were rocky, as local artists felt the arts council was still serving the interests of traditional groups and organizations, rather than young, emerging artists as they promised. In January 1970, the Junior League organized the Arts Symposium which brought to light a lot of the grievances around the lack of organizations dedicated to the interests of young artists (MacCuaig, 78). This event led to further activation for the arts council. A few years later, in 1973, HAC was incorporated as a non-profit, charitable organization and went by the title ‘Hamilton and Region Arts Council’ for many years.

The task for the council was now to connect the current established art groups with the wider community. The longtime leader of art in Hamilton, the Women’s Art Association (WAA), was bridged into the councils new visions by HAC Chairman of Visual Arts Myrna Putns. During the 1980s, Putns encouraged WAA members to participate in community building and awareness through contacting the Hamilton Spectator for coverage of art news and to send letters of protest against arts funding cuts to the Ontario Ministry (MacCuaig, 93). Putns was also instrumental in spreading awareness of the services that the council provided, such as assisting artists with the marketing of their work through portfolio building and grant writing – services that are still available today.

A Women's World Art Centre event presented with the support of the Hamilton Arts Council, 1984.

Throughout the following years, HAC supported artists through administration and organizational means to create connections and events where the community could gather and exchange ideas. Events such as Exhibit Art and the Women’s World Art Centre in 1984 were common. Beginning locally, the arts council began to organize larger events with more people and more partnerships across the province.

Art lovers at 'Exhibit Art 1984', an annual event presented with support by the Hamilton Arts Council.

In 1983, a major conference for the Ontario Community Arts Councils was held by HAC on the theme of “Progress and Partnership”. The HAC reached out to many municipal government officials to participate in the conference in order to create an understanding between those working in the arts and those in government. The goal of the conference was to bring community and municipality together to work closely and ensure that arts-related activities centred on a well-defined and workable arts policy for that municipality. Two hundred delegates attended the conference at the Royal Connaught Hotel (now a condo building) on October 27-30, 1983.

Brochure for the 1983 Conference of Ontario's Community Arts Councils, “Progress and Partnership”.

Encouraging collaboration, the HAC became a space for artists from various disciplines such as visual arts, dance, theatre and music to connect and form alliances. As a non-profit arts organization, funding had long been an issue. Staff has gone through periods of frequent turnover, but the HAC always remained afloat – a testament to the crucial role it plays in the community. Adapting with the times, HAC has remained relevant by responding to a diverse cultural community and the various needs of many different types of art forms. As one of the oldest community arts councils in Ontario, HAC has become a staple for artists in need of support and resources.

Issues of Art-i-fact Bulletin, the Hamilton Arts Council's newsletter. 1970s.
Issues of Arts Beat, the Hamilton Arts Council's newsletter. 1990s.

The HAC newsletter began in 1973 under the name ‘Art-i-fact’ as a 25 cent, multi-page newspaper. From 1976- 1986, the publication transformed into the ‘Art-i-fact Bulletin’, a free, multi-page booklet in a smaller, more direct format. In 1987, ‘Arts Beat’ was unveiled as the new title and returned to the original newspaper format, allowing for a larger focus on photos and longer-form articles and features.

Archive of Artist Works:

Credits and further reading

Official Website 

Women’s Art Association of Hamilton: The First 100 Years by Stuart MacCuaig (1996).