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The centering space for art and literary culture

Blog/FavouritesOctober 17th 2018

Photography by Brian Zheng

Mixed Media is more than an art supply store.

It is a community hub that also sells books, prints, supplies to make art, vintage goods and general weirdness. It has been the centre of James Street for more than thirteen years.

This summer it has moved, away from James, to Westdale. It seems like yet another blow to the neighbourhood - where galleries and record shops have been replaced by expensive restaurants and where dive bars have been replaced with cocktail joints.

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Mixed Media isn’t the only business to leave James this summer, either. Work Progress, after a renovation and a flip, has become Neit, now much fancier; the building that held B Contemporary and Hammer City records has sold, in addition to Factory Media next door. It seems lately that James, having reached its apex as a cultural hub, and has collapsed under its own success.

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Mixed Media owner Dave Kuruc, one of the earliest pioneers on James Street, has a long memory. Meeting with him in Westdale, in a newly renovated and rebranded coffee shop, he talks about the decade-plus he spent on James Street and his earliest memories opening the store.

“The only people who were walking on James at that time were the older Portuguese men”

“The only people who were walking on James at that time were the older Portuguese men,” he recalls. “That was their community, their space, they would go up and down, pass on by, curious about what we were doing, but never coming in unless the door was open unless they wanted to make a comment on something that was in the window. "

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In the intervening time, Mixed Media became Hamilton's Cheers - a customer comes in, not only for a new pencil, or the new edition of John Terpstra, but to talk to Dave about what is going on in the neighbourhood, what has shifted, what used to occur in that space, and what the future may be.

He could tell you about the funiculars that would climb the escarpment in the 1940s, and who's running for mayor in 2018.

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This talk was fostered by the central location of the building. Close to downtown, it benefited from foot traffic - the coffee shops and the galleries working together.

You could bounce from Jackson Square to the AGH space, to the bookstore/furniture store next to Mixed Media, around the corner--to what is now the Assembly, across Canon, down the street, to Hamilton Artist Inc, or Center Three, and then ping-ponging down James - to B or You Me, every person there doing the small investigations, working out what it means to make art in Hamilton.

His idea that Mixed Media did not need to tie to a specific neighbourhood, that it was the store that was special enough to draw loyalty regardless of location

Kuruc made Mixed Media, Mixed Media made that neighbourhood.  At the meeting about the new space in Westdale, before noticing me, he talks to four or five people in the coffee shop - about the new location, or the old location, about Hamilton and about what it means to leave one space for another.

He shakes hands, smiles.

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Talking to me about the new space, he mentions people who have stopped by, never quite naming names. He notes that old customers have come, and new customers as well.

His idea that Mixed Media did not need to tie to a specific neighbourhood, that it was the store that was special enough to draw loyalty regardless of location, is found in how he talks about this new neighbourhood (maybe his old neighbourhood, seeing that he lives in the space, and one of his reasons for moving is to be closer to home),  

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“Things are imbued with meaning when someone has crafted them for you. There is a story behind the process of everything in here, and I am proud to share that with people.”​ 

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Newness is complicated here, though. One of the names that Kuruc mentions over and over again, maybe half a dozen times in the half hour chat we have, is that of Bryan Prince. This makes sense - Mixed Media has been cleft in two, the left side of the store a bookstore called King West Books, the right hand, the art and ephemera store, which retains the name Mixed Media.

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The space was previously a bookstore named after Bryan Prince, whose proprietorship did something similar for Westdale as what Kuruc did for James Street. He tended community, figured out what people needed, became a centering space for art and literary culture. There was always a little space, maybe just the library and Westdale Theater, and Bryan Prince, that kept Westdale's cultural life afloat.

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Kuruc talks about keeping legacies alive, the legacy of Mixed Media, and the legacy of Bryan Prince books. He also talks of shifting, changing demographics. He is fond of saying that cities have to be alive, to grow. How a city grows might differ, it might grow badly, or in ways that are unhealthy, but one cannot be as cosmopolitan as Kuruc without recognizing that density as a (at least value neutral, and possibly positive)  goal.

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When you ask Kuruc why he moved, he talks about new challenges, or new spaces. He hints that the new density at James Street suggests that the new density is a job well done. He sometimes talks about Bryan Prince. But, he most often talks about wanting to be with his kids and his wife - to spend more time at home, and to work within walking distance.

For all of the politics of capitalism, with the new Hamilton, and with all of Dave's hustle, I believe him.

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