Hamilton Artists Inc.
Creating Space //
Story by Bryce Kanbara
Alternate View
In 1975 when Hamilton’s image was dominated by Stelco, Dofasco and the Tiger-Cats, artists mostly fled to Toronto or the countryside. Yet, a small number of fledging artists who, for reasons of economics, civic chauvinism, or indolence, remained here. And through the collective project of an artist-run gallery they found one another and themselves as artists in their home town.

143 James St. North

They rented a narrow storefront at 143 James St. North, near Cannon St. Ironically, the building was one of a cluster on that corner owned by businessman Herman Levy who, we later discovered, was an erudite collector of international art. (He was also a friend of McMaster professor and sculptor, George Wallace whose retrospective exhibition at the INC. in 1983 was a milestone in the gallery’s developing reputation).

Art for all

We called our on-the-street project Hamilton Artists Co-op, and quickly established the gallery to be “a social backdrop for exhibiting and discussing art”, as described in the first constitution. The exhibition schedule in those early years was zealously aimed to “break down the elitism that often surrounds art” and “make looking at art as friendly as getting a haircut at the barbershop on the corner” (from another promotional tract). The Lunch Bucket Show, Hamilton Post Card Show, Hamilton Travel Poster Show, Rose Corner Bakery Show, featured both bouquets and brickbats to Hamilton made by artists and non-artists alike. These open-call projects invited community participation and declared the gallery’s penchant for regionalism.

“We wanted [the Hamilton Artists Co-op] to be a place where artists could show their work, talk to one another about their work. I remember the very first time one of our shows appeared in the Spectator. We were so excited just to speak in the public media. It motivated us to just do more for the community. We established ourselves as a gallery, as a social backdrop to our work and artists goings-on. A lot of our exhibitions were based on calls for entry from the public. That’s how we began… I tried to involve as many people as I could and have as many people interact with one another as I could just to stir things up in the community. But I suppose when I look back on that now I am still doing that, the impetus of what I’m doing.”

– Bryce Kanbara, 2018