I am frequently told by friends why they don’t and will not join me in Hamilton for a night out. They either claim that the city is too far away from St. Catharines, or that it’s “too sketchy”. As far as I’m concerned, those people have no idea what they’re talking about and are missing out on so much in an amazing city.
Dismissive comments like these are often received from friends of mine who love art; they love wild, interesting and creative events, and they love night-life, niche/boutique stores, cafes etc… Sound like anyone to you? I imagine it sounds like you, and most of your friends, given that you are reading an article in the Arts & Culture section of a university campus newspaper.
I grew up in Lincoln, Ontario, and I still live there. For those of you unaware, it’s about 20 minutes away from Brock and about 30 to 40 minutes away from Hamilton. We are, more or less, in the middle of the two cities. As someone who has grown up interested in arts, St. Catharines and Hamilton have always felt a lot like sister cities to me.
Both cities have burgeoning arts scenes in a downtown core. They’re both the homes of many students and are host to a variety of beautiful and amazing events that take place all over the cities.
Both cities have an excellent music scene, theatres, clubs, art galleries, record stores, upwards of three good sushi restaurants and a multitude of cafes. Not only will Niagara-based arts and culture lovers enjoy Hamilton, they will feel right at home.
On a regular Art Crawl, all of the galleries and studios down James St. North open up for the evening and welcome in guests from all over for free. There are usually amazing buskers and lots of shops stay open to enjoy the fun.
Supercrawl on the other hand, is a massive weekend-long festival and, as of this year, has three concert stages: a fashion stage, over 30 food vendors and live music. Most shops are open or have a booth, the Chapel is opened up and on its yard is one of many markets, and the air is full with the sound of music, the smell of food trucks and creativity.
This year’s Supercrawl was, as it is every year, an indescribable experience.
I regret that if this article inspires you to attend that you’ll have to wait until next year, but it had to be done so that I could write from experience.
Supercrawl is a spectacle. It showcases the absolute best of Hamilton in such a way as to give the attendee the best experience possible, but also provides a look into the thousands of amazing people, artists, and businesses downtown.
When we first arrived I find myself, as expected, in total awe of the size of everything. Crowds of people seemed to span further down James than my render distance is set to account for and as we began to walk from the main stage down the hill, things got even more overwhelming.
Traversing the sea of people, we make our way through corridors of food trucks lining either side of James North and I can’t help but stare, gawking at the new, massive art installations. Hamilton once again has transformed and although my butter chicken from one food truck was lackluster, the city had plenty extra to make up for it.
One highlight of the evening was seeing the new installation piece, “Cock Robin” by Anitra Hamilton. We had to stop and just observe for a moment. The piece depicts a small bird atop the pin of a grenade. When we stumbled upon the massive work I was struck with the crippling feeling of human frailty and our penchant for violence. I felt that the work prods at our blissful ignorance towards nature and our effects on it.
When we reach Robert Street, we veer down into Hammer City Records, another one of the great record stores in the city. They carry mostly underground alternative, punk and metal music, but have a little bit of everything. The small store really captures the spirit of Hamilton with art on the walls, posters everywhere and lots of records. They are the only record store I frequent that actually has a “goth” section which is awesome, although it was also scoped out by everyone else in the region who is so inclined to do so.
Another art installation which we had to stop by and absorb was the Christ Church Cathedral. Artists Ty Tekatch and Drew MacEachern projected their work, “Arche,” on to the front of the Cathedral. Glowing, moving and dreamlike, the piece had us transfixed and as we approached, to our joy and amazement, the beautiful and historic Cathedral doors were wide open and welcoming.
We walked briskly but respectfully through the church opening, stepping out of the way of the nice people with flyers and into the body of the grand building. Inside was beautiful stained glass, and decorated high-ceilings. The wood-carved sculptures of angels were stunning. We were very pleased to hear an organist playing as we took some time to hang out in the building and chat.
On our way out, we headed through the market on the grounds of the Chapel and continued on our way, again through the swirls and eddies of people we head further down James North until we eventually reach the final stage and the end of the blocked off section of James.
We wanted to make sure that we ended up at some of my favourites like Centre , a beautiful gallery and print/mixed media studio which makes possibly my favourite Hamilton shirts, and The Hamilton Store that carries definitely my favourite Hamilton throw pillows. We wanted to stop by O’s Clothes so we could stare longingly at the high quality clothing. Blackbird Studios was also a must, given that the studio is such a massive part of Supercrawl and the Hamilton arts and culture scene; their dresses are all individual works of art. Of course we needed to make a stop at Cheapies Records & Tapes because all of Hamilton’s record stores are amazing and a part of the city in their own special ways.
Centre  was open and never disappoints. There were beautiful t-shirts, postcards, works and prints for sale along with some glorious exhibitions in the Members Gallery. Morgan Kamocki Allaby’s “Into the Woods” exhibition offers an introspective look into masculinity and relationships between men in society. The works use “compositions of male hybrids” together in the woods interacting. I often found that the hybrids looked like dancers and the pieces together felt to me as a dance number, an interpretation of masculinity in itself. I was in awe of the rawness of the statements especially in contrast to the delicate and even playful drawing style. I also found myself spending a lot of time processing Alex Borghesan’s “Abstracted Memories” whose use of a unique colour palette reminded me of space and void, but also vibrant creativity. The display felt like something new and exciting emerging from a dark past. The pieces are uniquely Hamilton. Both of these works will be on display in Centre  until September 28.
Before the event I got the chance to talk with Artcrawl Director and Sonic Unyon part-founder Tim Potocic about the Hamilton arts and culture scene and Supercrawl. I asked him why he thought Hamilton was experiencing such a cultural renaissance and he told me that it’s all thanks to “community”.
“Hamilton is a very welcoming place to all. In arts and culture there seems to be a feeling of collaboration rather than competition,” said Potocic.
Similarly, when I asked him what he is most excited about for this year and the future of Supercrawl he told me that they “make a lot of small tweeks every year and [he] love[s] to watch how they are received. [He] always love[s] to choose one headliner that [he] most look[s] forward to each year….. this year Matt Andersen, last year Daniel Lanois, the year prior the Daptone Soul Revue. We will also be adding large art elements and new genres in the coming two to three years, specifically more dance and theatre.”
He added that he attributes the success of Supercrawl to Hamilton’s “amazing community. The strong arts scene, people leaving their bravado and attitude at the door. [There are no] heroes in Hamilton – just a bunch of hardworking people trying to make the community a better place.”
Finally, when I asked him what he would say to persuade the Niagara community to come out to Hamilton he talked about, “the diversity and high quality of the artists. Hamilton is unique to be a large city with a tight community. Our manufacturing roots brings out a special character in all the arts genres. The sheer volume of high caliber art is worth the drive!”