Imperial Cotton Centre for the Art
Building with Creativity
Cultural revitalization in Hamilton
Jeremy Freiburger is a man of action and vision. As the Executive Director of the Imperial Cotton Centre for the Arts, I have never heard someone speak so passionately about Hamilton. As a fellow Hamiltonian, I have always associated the city with manufacturing but in the last few years I have noticed a change happening in the city. There is a new pulse of creative activity.
It all began with co-location, and the idea of what that could be. “As an artist you collaborate with musicians, visual artists, dancers…” and the need for this type of space was apparent. He started by interviewing a few hundred artists in the city and came back with a shopping list of what they wanted. He went around the downtown core of Hamilton talking to landlords of countless buildings figuring out cost and space to see if it would work for them. He went to different levels of government to see if they would fund a plan like this. Finally after months of work, he went to the board of Art Hamilton with a report that outlined a list of just over 100 artists who wanted to co-locate. He listed 15 different buildings that fit their needs. He had letters from the Minister of Culture and the Mayor saying that they will fund it. And the board rejected it. So he quit the organization. He believed that if they were not willing to move forward with all this ammunition he had to move forward with it.
Out of that came a group of half dozen that were truly dedicated to the idea but actually had no experience and no money with delivering a project of this nature. Then their big break came with the Imperial Cotton Center. Located in the north-east end of Hamilton built in 1900 by the great grandfather of Bill Young. Working with a space “literally the size of a football field” the group began cleaning it up. Painting the walls, fixing the floors, and started holding big events in the space. Then they took another side of the building where the offices were and began to renovate them to studios. They rented the first 13 000 square feet to 40 artist in 6 months. They realized that something real was going on and should turn it into something legitimate. So they formed an organization and started renovating other portions of the building. Money wasn’t an issue at the time. The owners were so desperate to rent the space that they agreed to do the money part if, Jeremy and his organization did the work and attracted people to the space. They would get paid based on the spaces they filled. It was a symbiotic relationship. No capital required. Today they have completed 4 buildings using this model.
The Imperial Cotton Centre for the Arts is now taking the role with what culture can play in revitalizing a city on a bigger picture. They have gone from grassroots to legitimizing themselves with a board of directors. They are going beyond creating spaces and finding bigger projects. The Cossart Exchange it is a small business incubator that is focused on peer learning and mentorship. They manage the City of Burlington Public Art program. They consult for the city, writing the economic development strategy, program reviews, and organizing conference. It’s amazing what this small group of friends has been able to accomplish. They started with nothing but an idea. And have been able to make things happen in a city where items stall because of indecision. I see so many parallels with Hamilton and Lota, with IwB and the simple beginnings of the Imperial Cotton Centre for the Arts. I truly believe that “Art is the New Steel” and that culture is the catalyst for change.