The James Street North Crawl began rather simply a few years ago when two art gallery owners decided to pool their resources and perhaps trade their audiences. That simple collaborative development has grown into a vibrant community that has seen marketable changes in the downtown core when big business and politicians all but walk away from any solid downtown rebuilding. A monthly James Street Art Crawl took shape with a growing list of galleries, shops, restaurants, and more with a growing fan base but the monthly celebration of all things arty on James has grown exponentially since the introduction of last year’s Supercrawl.
That super–sized art crawl shut down the street, added tons of outdoor entertainment and not only drew crowds out for the art and musicians in the pouring rain but also raised an awareness that there is something happening downtown – that something important is happening on James Street North.
“Even with the weather, we succeeded in our goal,” notes Sonic Unyon’s Tim Potocic who heads up a dozen or so Supercrawl committee. “We wanted to at least double art crawl [average attendance] but we almost tripled art crawl which is just under 3000 people in the pouring rain and that’s a really exciting thing.”
Featuring music, art, film, fashion, comedy and dance, Supercrawl again closes down James Street North and offers an eclectic mix of the multi–disciplinary arts communities that thrive in the city and are slowly gravitating to James Street as its nexus. This year, the event shifts from the regular Friday night crawl to a ten–hour full day Saturday event that includes after parties to the wee morning hours. Some people might go because of one band or one gallery but it’s the wealth of people offering something to watch, hear and experience that will leave your senses full.
A Supercrawl committee – including Potocic, Loose Cannon Gallery’s Dane Pedersen and Courtney Lakin, Rose Gowling, Art Gallery of Hamilton’s Annette Paiement, Imperial Cotton Centre for the Arts’ Jeremy Freiburger, 93.3 CFMU Program Director Jamie Tennant and Indi FM’s Program Director Jamie Smith – have worked throughout the last year to step things up a notch for Supercrawl II.
“LooseCanon has always had a distinct identity on the street and I hope that people feel that it has contributed to building an arts scene in Hamilton,” notes LooseCannon’s Dane Pedersen. “James North is an eclectic street that contains the most diverse mix of arts, culture, food and history.
In Supercrawl, we attempted to showcase that diversity. James Street has an ability to be the most intriguing and unique streets in Hamilton that has the potential to become the very heart of this city.
“Folks that attend the art crawls are an impressively hearty breed and have braved all sorts of weather, which as a gallery owner I can’t help but feel that energy,” adds Pedersen. “Despite bad weather, we weren’t surprised by the community support in our first year. In fact, Supercrawl definitely expanded our audience and raised the attendance of art crawls afterwards, especially this summer. Over the past few months, James North has seen 1,000 people attend [an average art crawl]. It’s really an amazing sight. It’s not only that the traffic has picked up since Supercrawl but so has the word on the street.”
While storefronts have been remodelled and galleries or shops have been christened, it’s the awareness that Supercrawl helped create that has brought more and more people downtown to check things out – and then spreading the word to friends.
McMaster University’s 93.3 CFMU and Mohawk College’s 101.5 CIOI (Indi–FM) came together five years ago to offer a taste of Hamilton music to students, show–goers and music fans across the country with the C+C Festival and local music compilation CD. Last year C+C joined Supercrawl to combine their efforts and exposure.
“If you want to know what’s happening in town, our festival and CD will give you a fairly comprehensive cross–section of artists and genres,” says CFMU’s James Tennant. “Supercrawl last year was largely about timing and similar purposes – Tim wanted to do something around the same time as we did, and so we decided to go for it together. It brought a lot of people out – last year’s This Ain’t Hollywood show was jammed full, a lot of people saw a pile of bands they otherwise might not have gone to see, and that’s our mandate. This year we took some care to make things a little bigger in all ways – two nights instead of one, for example. Our first night is the Supercrawl kick–off party, and our second is part of Supercrawl like last year.”
The two stations broadcasted live from the event to add to the excitement and exposure – and even offer a memento double disc of Hamilton music called Everybody Dance Now.
“Having the C+C Festival as part of it is amazing – that’s the whole part of building community,” says Potocic. “Supercrawl wouldn’t be what it is if the radio stations didn’t think it was a good idea in the first year. A lot of credit goes to those guys for looking forward.
“But we’re not just doing a music show,” notes Potocic. “Music is an element that we’re incorporating with everything else. This year, it’s visual art, projections, dance, all kinds of interesting art pieces on the street. We are also doing a fashion show with Blackbird Studio, we’re doing comedy. Opera Hamilton is doing a flash opera. An event like this brings a lot of divergent business together to make it happen.”
“From an art gallery perspective, the art component is growing,” says Pedersen. “This year I was able to pull together a strong, diverse range of people participating in the arts community from curators to artists to critics. The majority of the artists Supercrawl will be officially sponsoring have a connection to Hamilton by either living or working here. We thought that it was also very important to bring in aesthetics from around the province for our local artists to match up with all on the same platform. The art spaces and galleries play an integral role in the success of the event but we would like Supercrawl to really begin to establish itself as a noteworthy art event. At the
moment, the music side carries much of the weight for this event. In the future, I see a more balanced event that will recognize those strong ties.”
All things considered, the number of artists, musicians, dancers and otherwise are growing as a result of the success of Supercrawl I. With Supercrawl II, everyone has expectations for a much larger increase in attendance as well – and an even larger jump in exposure that should result in even greater long–term growth for James Street North.
“The street can handle more than just the regular art crawl,” notes Potocic. “The street is quietly crying out for more events to happen because it’s good for business and good for the community. Even with the possibility of rain, we’re expecting 5000 people, which is almost double of last year.
“When people say that Hamilton is every bit an amazing, vibrant, cultural place, there are others who won’t believe it,” says Tennant. “If you have the slightest doubt, this event will quash it.”
“It’s a GHA phenomenon right now but it’s good enough to be a national phenomenon,” reasons Potocic. “I’d like to have this on the stage of a Toronto International Film Festival. We want to reach for the stars.
You get national focus and that means national level sponsorship, media, and bands. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a festival in downtown Hamilton and have 30–40,000 people turn up?”
“It should definitely be interesting when we start approaching those numbers,” offers Pedersen on projected attendance. “It’s a blessing we are able to close down the street. Crazy numbers aren’t ideal for properly showing art but it certainty gets one exposure and prompts return visits. I hope that with Supercrawl people take a weekly interest on James, that more businesses locate here and that more people see James Street North as a rich place to live.”
“One of the main reasons we’re doing this and it’s not in a park or in Dundas – people need to get to downtown Hamilton and see it’s not as bad as they heard it was or as it was 10 or 15 years ago,” adds Potocic. “Every month something improves down here, it’s on a rapid improvement level and I’d love to see as many people try and come out to experience it to see what is actually happening from an inquisitive perspective.” V
September 25, 1–11pm.
James St. N. (Between Wilson &