When internationally renowned museum and culture consultant, Barry Lord, looks at Delta Secondary School he sees a future centre of arts education that could put Hamilton on the map as a training ground for the next generation of Canadian artists, graphic designers and multi-media entrepreneurs. Barry Lord knows all about Delta because he grew up on Robins Avenue in the Barton and Kenilworth neighbourhood. When he went to Delta in the post-war baby boom era, Delta had so many students that it was necessary to hold two assemblies because only half of the student population could fit in the Delta Auditorium. Delta in Barry Lord’s student days was a comprehensive secondary school, where academic subjects were taught alongside machine shop and commercial subjects like typing and bookkeeping. Studying philosophy at McMaster Barry, like many Hamilton students, worked summers at the steel mills, Dominion Glass and Harvester. Ironically it was not any academic or artistic studies that Barry learned at Delta that got him his first jobs in the arts—a summer job in Ottawa at the National Gallery of Canada in his third year of university. “My hiring was based on my ability to type, which I learned at Delta,” he remembered. His next summer job was as an apprentice actor At Stratford where he worked with Paul Schofield, and then it was off to Harvard on a Woodrow Wilson scholarship. Returning to Ottawa Barry was offered a training program in museum studies at the National Gallery, and from there Barry worked in galleries in Vancouver and New Brunswick. After editing arts publications in Toronto, and a third stint in Ottawa, Barry and his wife Gail returned to Hamilton in the early 1980s to take on three significant projects—the commissioning of Westfield Heritage Village, the restoration of the steam engines at the historic Hamilton waterworks and the initial studies into the possible raising of the Hamilton and Scourge 1812 warships.
Back to Delta, Barry Lord admits that he has an emotional attachment to the school but says it is physically well suited for an arts academy. “It has a wonderful theatre auditorium for performing arts, and the machine shops in the rear would make great studio space for all sorts of arts projects, graphics and more modern subjects like creating apps for computers and creating video games,” he said. Barry sees the Delta model as something that would prepare students to go on to more advanced graphics instruction such as is taught at Sheridan College where grads have gone on to careers in computer animation. Such a model already exists in the Ontario school system in London, where H.B. Beal technical school has nurtured an arts program, stated more than half a century ago by Herb Ariss, and which since has spawned the careers of renowned Canadian such as Jack Chambers, Greg Curnoe, Jamilie Hassan and many others.
From the humble beginnings of developing historical sites for Hamilton, Lord Cultural Resources, as it is now known, has become an international arts consulting company with offices in New York, Toronto and in London. While in Hamilton Barry recalls that the rules prevented his wife and partner Gail from working with him on the Hamilton projects and so they decided to start a museum consulting business as a sideline. They had published a book on museum management and were surprised when orders started coming in from around the world. “We assumed there were other books on the topic of museum management,” Barry said, “but in fact there were none.” The success of the book led to increasing numbers of consulting commissions from around the world. One of the company’s more recent projects was the development of a Cultural Plan for the City of Chicago in 2012. Barry Lord would like to do something similar for his home town, which he sees as filled with possibilities for culture—the Delta academy being a mid range project. Barry recalls how Glasgow– another city which lost major industry –has become an internationally recognized arts centre. “In 1989-90 we worked on a cultural event there and saw it grow. Twelve years later a Canada Council Grant student that I sponsored chose to go to Glasgow ahead of London or Paris.” Longer term he sees Hamilton perhaps twinning with a city in India as a host city for steel sculpture—a nod to Hamilton’s industrial heritage. He likens Glasgow to Hamilton in terms of the relatively cheap rents that attract artists. Eventually as the city develops its cultural assets it will start to attract cultural tourism. “We should start from the premise that we have an advantage (lower rents),” Barry said. “There is a whole range of things the community can do to start to make artists of all media welcome, but we need a cultural plan for Hamilton.”
Written by: John Best