In 2005, Dave Kuruc, owner of Mixed Media, along with eight other local gallery owners on James St. N, had the idea to create an event in which they opened their gallery doors for one night to make Hamiltonians aware of their local art scene. According to Kuruc, their intention was to garner excitement and build a sense of community within the downtown region, but they also wanted to work with local artists and give them the opportunity to showcase their work. The no-budget event had a simple idea: openness and community. The event was such a success that in just seven short years, James St. N. is no longer what it was in 2005.
During the early days of Art Crawl, which is held on the second Friday of every month, James St. N.was stripped of the working class feel it normally embodied and instead projected a folksy and artistic atmosphere. More recently, though,, the street has come to embody a grass roots feel even when there is no art crawl. Artists flock to the area simply to be artists: sketch, paint, write and many events independent of the art crawl take place at the local bars and cafés. James St. N. is no longer simply a venue for an artistic event; it is now a hub for local artists. It is not surprising then that this movement is spreading into neighboring regions in the downtown area: Gage Avenue, King East, and King William, which hosts its own art walk, and many upper scale stores are opening their doors on James North, suggesting gentrification is well on its way.
At the Factory Media Center, which is a non-profit artist-driven resource center for emerging and established local media artists, we spoke to Cheryl Blakeney about the gentrification of James St. N. Blakeney recalled being a young artist in Toronto during the 1970s when young artists bought homes together in working class regions, mainly for their low prices and their old-timey feel. Little by little, almost unconsciously, the art crowd made these areas more desirable to the locals who would otherwise be unaware of their potential. This, in turn, raised their market price and attracted more affluent occupants, forcing the artists who were responsible for this financial boon to “move some place else and pretty up another part of the city, and that’s not a bad thing.” Blakeney is leaving the Factory Media Center after a year to work with a firm of engineers to make some money. This is the reality of being an artist: you are dependent on those more affluent to survive.
Walking further down James St. N., one would expect the Art Crawl to end, one notices new galleries opening approaching Barton St. One of which is Dave Gruggen’s gallery and shooting space. A photographer for 35 years, Gruggen felt this area had great potential for retail exposure. He wants more people to come further down the street, in the hopes of extending the art crawl and garnering more attention for the galleries currently in this area. From the look of it, Gruggen’s hopes might soon become a reality.
For emerging artists, gentrification is problematic; however it could eventually prove to be a good thing if you look at it from a certain perspective. If James St. N. is gentrified, it is true that it will no longer be hospitable to artists of modest means; nevertheless, artists will undoubtedly find a new area to migrate to and to make it more alluring.