I’m taking a break from blogging about my geeky past to announce that I’ve been named the inaugural Writer-In-Residence at the Cotton Factory in Hamilton along with local writer Sally Cooper. Sponsored by the CoWork Space at The Cotton Factory, the Writer-in-Residence Program is a new opportunity that allows writers the time and space to build their writing practice and career in this fascinating heritage site. Combining both solitude (needed for writing) with the opportunity for daily community (also needed for writing), the residency is an exciting chapter in both the history of the Cotton Factory and my own writing career.
The Cotton Factory has a long tradition of hosting arts and culture events. There are too many for me to recount properly in this blog. But since coming to Hamilton, I can say that the Cotton Factory has been something of a destination for me. If you’ve never been there, or you’re not from Hamilton and have no frame of reference, the chances are still good that you know the building. Have you ever watched television shows like Murdoch Mysteries, Twelve Monkeys or (most recently) The Umbrella Academy? Then you’ve seen the Cotton Factory. The building is often used in television shoots; exteriors and interiors act as substitutes for older eras in time. But the Cotton Factory’s use as a television set belies both the rich history of the site and the current diversity of artisans that now call it home.
My first visit was during my work at the Hamilton Arts Council when I was given a tour of the building. It was brief but even then the building’s size and history left an impression. A few years later, my family and I attended the TH&B UNITED art exhibition. A massive multi-level exhibit featuring 22 artists and 16 installations, TH&B UNITED was my first real exposure to the unique synergy between the Cotton Factory and the Hamilton arts scene. It wasn’t just the wide variety of art that made an impact, it was the immediacy of it all. It was the fact that the art and the artists were up close and personal within the space.
Fast forward just one year afterwards, and the Hamilton Fringe was celebrating their inaugural annual theatre festival Frost Bites. Taking place every February, this unique event specializes in site-specific theatre to make unorthodox use of whichever space is the host for that year. I distinctly remember how audiences were given walking tours of the Cotton Factory and led around the facility to a variety of innovative performances. The real magic was how the building was indelibly tied to each and every performance. Like TH&B UNITED, each performance seemed to draw from the unique character of the specific area or room of the Cotton Factory for inspiration.
Since then, I’ve attended many more arts-related events at the Cotton Factory. Grant writing workshops. Guided tours of the facility as it’s been revamped and renovated. Hamilton Arts Week openings galas and closing night parties. The list seems to go on. So it was, in my last year at the Hamilton Arts Council a few years ago, that the idea of visual arts residencies sponsored by the Cotton Factory came to fruition. It seemed to me an ideal place to have such a residency. Now, when people first think of arts-related residencies they maybe tend to think of far away and isolated spots to focus on the work.
I’ve been to residencies for writers, too. Sage Hill Writers Experience in the remote fields of Saskatchewan stands out in my mind. So, too, does the Artscape Gibralter Point retreat on Toronto Island. So, while I was helping administer the visual arts residencies I also asked myself: would a writers residency work at the Cotton Factory? Well, of course it would. Because writers residencies don’t just require quite isolation to work (although that does help). In fact, all of the residencies I’ve ever attended have had something else that’s vital for writers to further their craft: community. At Sage Hill, I was surrounded by other writers. At Artscape, there were other artists and the residents of Toronto Island.
I’ve been to enough cultural milestones at the Cotton Factory by now to realize how rich the community is at this building. Visual artists in their studios mix it up with all manner foodies and craftspersons; meanwhile, the shared space always seems to echo with the collective memories of everything and everyone that has come before. As a writer, that makes it the perfect place to be. The chance to tap into those memories, be they my own or those of others, has the makings of good storytelling. So, I feel tremendously privileged to be one of the inaugural Writers-In-Residence at the Cotton Factory alongside the super talented Sally Cooper.
Our residency starts in April and goes to the fall… and I can’t wait to read the stories that come out of it.
For more info on the Cotton Factory check out their website.