Another art gallery leaves James St. North — closing Saturday after rent soars

After eight years on James Street North, David Brace is closing his b contemporary art gallery this weekend, forced to move to the more affordable Barton Street.

b contemporary gallery will move to Barton Street East in May

David Brace stands inside his b contemporary gallery on James Street N. He'll be closing its doors to the public after Saturday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

After eight years on James Street North, David Brace is closing his art gallery this weekend, forced to move to the more affordable Barton Street.

Brace thinks about everything he'll miss on James Street North —  the regulars from the dive bar, conversations at the local coffee spot, the neighbourhood's tight community.

But staying just isn't an option anymore.

"This is just a regular story on the street," said Brace. "Rents are doubling and tripling all over the place."

B contemporary is the latest gallery to leave James Street North, as the now-trendy downtown strip grapples with gentrification and surging rents.

Brace can list several galleries in the area that have moved or closed in recent years, among them the Flagship Gallery and the Art Gallery of Hamilton's Annex space.

"I am concerned about what that means for the future of the art scene here," Brace said, noting there are fewer places for artists to show their work.

Brace decided to move when a new owner bought his landlord's building last fall. Although the sale fell through, Brace still couldn't afford to stay on James Street — his rent was growing from around $1,650 to $3,000, he said, and the building would inevitably be sold.

'Sad irony'

James Street was once an attractive space for galleries, Brace said — rent was cheap and artists were moving into the neighbourhood. 

Those galleries played a large role in the street's vibrant renaissance, said Ward 2 councillor Jason Farr.

It's a "sad irony," Farr said — they're now getting priced out of the very scene they created.

b contemporary gallery will close its James Street doors on Saturday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Now an 'entertainment district'

These days, James Street is becoming an "entertainment district, " Brace said, with fewer art spaces and a lot more restaurants and bars.

Not only are rents higher, but Brace says he's seen fewer daytime customers in the past two years.

"You start only see people coming after 6 p.m.," he said. People "drive up, eat [their] meal, drive away. So there's a lot less browsing."

Art Crawl has also changed from being arts-focused to more of a street event with numerous vendors, Brace said, further impacting the arts scene.

Art Crawl has changed from being focused on galleries to more of a street event, said Brace, which impacts Hamilton's arts scene.

"We've had a lot of hype about our art scene over the last decade," Brace said. But he's not sure if that hype "reflects the economic realities" of an arts and gallery scene in the city.

The b contemporary gallery will be open on James Street until Saturday.

In May, Brace is moving to 486 Barton St. E., which he calls one of the last affordable areas in town. 

Also priced out of Locke St.

Brace has been through the gentrification cycle before: his gallery used to be on Locke Street, before he was priced out of that area.

In the future, he suspects Hamilton will no longer have one "art strip;" instead, there will likely be various arts "hubs" in different neighbourhoods.

An art piece inside the b contemporary gallery, which has been on James Street N. for the past eight years. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Abedar Kamgari, programming director at the Hamilton Artists Inc., was relieved that b contemporary gallery found a new space. But she said other galleries haven't been so lucky.

"When we lose some of those spaces... it limits the kind of work that can be championed in this city," said Kamgari, noting it impacts younger artists trying to get their start.

"We want to see all types of artists from all types of backgrounds be able to have opportunities."

City looking at creative industries

Brace said the city could incentivize building owners to maintain art spaces. He suggests creating a new property tax bracket for buildings that house cultural spaces.

Debbie Spence, business development consultant with the city of Hamilton, says staff are looking at how to support the creative industries

They are examining what other cities are doing, she said, including reducing property taxes for businesses in the creative sector.

Farr said he's "very happy" about the economic development downtown. He said the city is looking at incentive programs to help the arts and creative sector, but noted that the province controls rent rules for commercial landlords.

Kamgari said she would like to see Hamilton pioneer new methods to protect art spaces and working class neighbourhoods.

"In any neighbourhood, it's unfortunate that the only people who can feel welcome in that neighhourhood are people who make a certain amount of money," she said.

For now, Kamgari reflects on what the area will lose as galleries go.

"Galleries provide a space where you can extend time," he said. "You can think about things that aren't your daily life. You can wander through someone else's imagination for a little bit. You can put your phone away."

David Brace sits in his gallery on one of its last open days on James Street N. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)


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