Hamilton's arts community has been 'belittled' in the ongoing casino debate, says Jeremy Freiburger of Cobalt Connects, a non-profit organization that acts as a liaison for the city's arts and culture organizations.
Frieburger says the local arts community is "rarely, truly represented in casino conversations" and that more often than not the proponents of putting a casino in downtown Hamilton have failed to address the significant "role of James St. N. and the creative community" in the continuing revitalization of downtown.
He is not impressed by Carmen's co-owner P.J. Mercanti's vision of a downtown entertainment complex with hotel, casino, shopping, bars and restaurants and a live music venue.
He calls the $200 million complex "insular" and argues that it won't benefit the city overall.
"The economic benefit is for that block alone," says Freiburger who believes such an all-in-one facility will draw money from other areas downtown rather than distribute the wealth.
"I don't think it adds to our downtown."
He also believes it flies in the face of work that's been down by arts groups in the city's core.
"Creative communities have been working hard to make downtown more inviting and inclusive."
To address what he sees as the arts community's lack of a unified voice, Frieburger has created an online survey to gather a consensus among arts organizations. The survey asks respondents to weigh in on the casino debate decisively with a yes or no.
Frieburger said the survey is intentionally "polarizing" because he wants to establish a "clear mandate" on behalf of the arts community in Hamilton.
He sent out the short survey last Thursday to those within Cobalt Connects creative directory, which includes more than 200 individuals and organizations, including the McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton Artists Inc and the Hamilton Fringe Fest. CBC Hamilton also received the questionaire.
When asked about councillor Sam Merulla's recent support in favour of a casino in Flamborough, Frieburger was lukewarm.
"I guess that's the lesser of two evils. I think that the casino, wherever it lands, brings with it negatives as well as positives."
He is curious, however, to see how Merulla's suggestion "floats in Council".
So far, he's had 90 responses. He's hoping to get at least 150 by the time he takes the survey down on Friday. While he says there has been a fairly strong response, he's not comfortable revealing the majority opinion yet. He cautions people not to assume a result one way or the other.
"A number of musicians have come out for [the casino]".
Once the results are tallied, Frieburger hopes to join the fray in the public debate more formally.
One of the survey's questions, he mentioned, is whether or not Cobalt Connects should become a spokesperson for the arts community. Should the survey's respondents signal their approval, the group will move forward with that mandate.