What it Means to be an Artist in Hamilton

Yeah, wow, what an incredibly pretentious title, eh? 

I hope this won’t be.

I moved to Hamilton ten years ago and as more and more people are moving 

to Hamilton (it’s a great city!) and lots of them are artists (writers, painters, dancers, 

actors, etc), I thought it was important to talk about what an artist is.


It’s pretty simple really. 

An artist is a person who makes art and whose primary purpose in life is to 

make art, not to make money. 

That’s it.

That is what separates artists from the rest; that they are dedicated to their 


There are good artists and bad artists, popular artists and unpopular ones, 

those who make money from their work and those who don’t, those who have high 

paying full time non-artist jobs -- and those who live on the street. Artists are like 

homosexuals; you can’t tell what they are by looking at them; you have to peer deep 

into their hearts.

I have nothing against non-artists. Most people are not artists, in that (for 

whatever reason, usually because of the urgency of making a living) they are 

focused on making money – either getting rich, or surviving, or both. They are not 

bad people (most people) but for whatever reason they don’t have the time or 

energy to spend a lot of time making art. In another (better) world, EVERYONE 

could be an artist. But I don’t think there’s any point in talking about a world like 

that, because I don’t think it will get here for quite a while.

That said, why is it that I have lately found myself challenging certain people 

in Hamilton, saying “You’re not an artist. I am! “ Is it because I’m a pretentious old 

fart with a bloated opinion of myself?

I hope not. 

It’s because as Hamilton moves forward and changes -- from not simply a 

great industrial town that is seeing decline, to a burgeoning city outside the mega-
can’t-handle-it-opolis of Toronto, a city with a rich working class heritage, a city 

with a real gritty downtown, gorgeous old buildings and a lot of tattoos, a city where 

people of all shapes and sizes want to BE -- Hamilton runs across the problem (and 

yes I call it a problem) of gentrifiers.

What is the difference between an artist and a gentrifier? 

The difference is this. Artists are people who make art and who are not 

interested in making money (as I said before). In old cities like Hamilton they move 

into old buildings, because the rents are cheap, and they pursue their work. They 

don’t buy up the old buildings and rent them out to other people at inflated rents. 

They are too busy being artists to do that. Gentrifiers are most often the second 

wave, after artists, and they come into beautiful old cities like Hamilton (and 

Detroit, and Pittsburgh and Buffalo) and they buy up the buildings that the artists 

are living and working in, and then charge high rents that are too much for the 

artists, who have to leave their workspaces, because they can’t afford them anymore.


So that’s why I’ve been running around Hamilton saying to certain 

people ‘You’re not an artist, you’re a gentrifier.’ 

Who am I to say? 

I know it’s tough sometimes to tell an artist from a gentrifier.

Here’s a hint. Gentrifiers are generally friendlier, more approachable, less 

frightening, and just more people-friendly than artists (and they usually shave their 

ears -- artists sometimes don’t!). 

But that’s not always true, we artists are a slippery lot.

It’s really all about whether or not your primary goal in life is the big bucks 

or ART (or even small bucks – most artists give up a lot of chances to make money 

and barely survive so that they can do their chosen work).

And it’s not that I don’t want gentrifiers in Hamilton. I just want to make sure 

that -- at the very least -- they are honest about who they are, and don’t pretend to 

be someone like me.

Because I am a Hamilton artist.