Gentrification And Art: It’s Complicated

BY Taylor Pipe

Walking towards the monthly Art Crawl on James St. North, I felt extremely nervous. It was my first gig as a writer and I was worried the artists would be too preoccupied selling their pieces or promoting their work to talk to me; however, the atmosphere of the famous Hamilton street surprised me. I was surrounded by people from different walks of life who were there to appreciate the growing art community that has become idiosyncratic to James North.

Everyone selling and looking at the artwork shared a sense of mutual belonging. The street was abuzz with conversation and music. Artists ranged from young to old, showcasing myriad works from minimalistic pieces to intricate artwork. There was something for everyone.

front window of b contemporary gallery
David Brace’s b contemporary art gallery.

David Brace, the owner of the B Contemporary Art Gallery, remembers that the art community was often boggled down by the sentiment that although people like to buy art, they preferred to do so in Toronto. This was, perhaps, anachronistic for this particular Friday evening with James Street North bustling with people who had come to see and buy art. The street was alive!

While there were some up-and-coming Toronto-based artists, the merchants were primarily Hamiltonians. Any friction that may have existed with the two locales was long over. A lot of the artists from Hamilton are excited to have Torontonians join the art community and are welcoming the gentrification to the downtown core. Many are excited to have more people in the city who are interested in buying art, although they have varying opinions on the impact that gentrification may have on their community.

man in yellow shirt stands in brightly lit gallery.
Dan Auld, Hamilton artist and art crawler

“I don’t know if it will be good or bad, but it definitely will affect [the community] somehow. I picture it being good because I used to set up at Art Crawl all the time and I found it was hard for me to sell my art at the prices I want to sell it for. So if there [were] wealthier Torontonians in Hamilton, they may be more inclined to buy,” says Dan Auld, a Hamilton man who was supporting a friend that night instead of setting up his own table.

More candidly, another Art Crawl pedestrian, Valerie Hillman, spoke with trepidation about gentrification. “Gentrification is a tricky thing. It has its advantages, but ultimately, it pushes those with lower to mid-level income to move out of a neighbourhood in which they grew up. I am fortunate enough to make a great living and am still unable to enter the housing market because gentrification has led to an unnecessarily high cost of living in Hamilton. Granted, this matter is much more complex than bringing in art, which is a fantastic way to showcase the previously muted talent of Hamilton … We have to hope that those who have a union behind them and Members of Parliament to support them can fight for a proper living wage so that more Hamiltonians can properly support the emerging markets of their city,” shared Hillman.

However, increased local programming has been a benefit of gentrification, as multimedia artist Gary Barwin can attest. He believes that new art and ideas from Toronto will be favourable for not only the art community, but the city as a whole. Barwin expects that an influx of new talent will open up the dialogue about Hamilton’s future and cause the community to look more critically as itself.

when asked about gentrification, everyone spoke with a tone of excitement about change

Among the varied opinions there was a common theme: when asked about gentrification, everyone spoke with a tone of excitement about change. Walking away from the James Street North Art Crawl, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. Not only had I conquered my first gig as a writer, but I gained a greater perspective on the relationship between gentrification and the emerging art scene on Hamilton’s James Street North.

I look forward to exploring this relationship further this summer. With warm weather comes greater foot traffic for Art Crawl. With greater foot traffic come more stories, and for me, that means more viewpoints of which Art Crawl is surely a great supplier.


Taylor Pipe is a former East ender turned North ender. She is an aspiring journalist who has just entered Mohawk’s journalism program. She would like to one day be a news reporter, and to travel with her son, Benjamin.


Want more? Continue reading The Arts & Culture Issue.


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