Time to think local

JUDITH RITCHIE
Last updated 15:07 18/12/2013
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NORTHERN EXPOSURE: Money spent on the sculptures by Juan Jose Novella, above, and Terry Stringer, left, should have been spent on Nelson artists.

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OPINION: Arts editor Judith Ritchie asks why we turn our backs on Nelson artists when it comes to big-ticket art spending.

I am always amazed by the quality of arts and the prodigious output from our arts community.

Every week I have an excess of stories coming across my desk about local artists, who are, without exception, active passionate members of the community, working hard to create, sell and develop their profiles through exposure both locally and nationally. None are stinking rich, many struggle, especially at the moment.

One thing that bothers me however is that we are on the one hand proud to talk of Nelson as "the city of the arts", then on the other hand, can cut off the life blood to these artists by commissioning major artworks by out of town and out of country artists.

What is going on here? When did you last hear someone say "I went to Barcelona to see the wonderful artwork by that famous American artist". Never, of course. People flock to Barcelona to see the work by Spain's beloved artist Gaudi, who lived in and loved that city.

First we had the Spanish artist Juan Jose Novella, who was paid in excess of $200,000 to create a massive steel sculpture in Miyazu Park at the gateway to Nelson. I don't dispute, it is a fantastic piece of artwork, but equally, 10 locals could have created brilliant works within and around that park area, representing a true Nelson welcome to our town, while sustaining them financially with an injection of $20,000 each, also lifting their profiles exponentially.

Then there was the Terry Stringer sculpture on Kinzett Tce, off the roundabout on Queen Elizabeth II Dr, again a considerable amount of money going out of town. Another lost opportunity to showcase work by Nelson's own artists.

It seems to me, and I think I speak for a lot of local artists, that we talk one way and walk another when it comes to supporting our own.

I'm not saying we become a small-minded community, myopic in vision and colloquial in nature. What I am saying is let's stop flip-flopping between telling the nation we are the arts centre of New Zealand, and then falling over ourselves to have a "famous" world renowned artist scoop the funds bucket for arts in Nelson.

And now we have the well-meaning I'm sure, Eelco Boswijk Jr, in partnership with George Shaw, seeking crowd funding to bring a Belgian artist, ROA to Nelson, with potentially $10,000 in his pocket for creating a piece of street art.

In a town where we expound the virtues of locally made and in the case of the Free House, locally brewed, I would suggest, yes, take this opportunity to embrace RAO's visit, but why not use his skills as a tutor to run a workshop teaching his methodology. Open the project up as a competition where locals can submit design ideas, ROA could be part of the judging panel, but please don't give the guy all that money and exposure.

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We have great examples of supporting local artists in our city already, notably the public art for all to enjoy at Tahunanui beach and playground area. This year saw the first Light Nelson event, the support was unprecedented, and blew the organisers away.

Why is it then that local artists are not showcased the same way when big funded projects come around? Don't say they are not good enough because I know that is not true.

If I were a business person who owned a building in Nelson, then I would most certainly want my building to showcase the work of a local, or group of locals, surely that's a clever commercial tool as much as anything.

In a region where we praise the likes of local Greens Motel co-owner Bonita Wilkinson for sourcing and selling only locally made drinks and snacks for mini bars in her motel units, where we have one of the biggest and best outdoor Saturday markets in the country, selling local, I cannot fathom why we turn our backs on the people who draw tourists, who bring life and colour into this town.

Nelson is a tourist mecca boasting extraordinary arts-based initiatives, the likes of the World of WearableArt Museum and Collectable Cars, The Centre for Fine Woodworking, Art Expo, South Street Gallery, Klustre, the Refinery Artspace, The Theatre Royal, as well as innovative galleries such as Red, Icon, the Suter, the list goes on. We have the potential to continue building on this rich arts base, both as a commitment to our own artists and as a drawcard for tourism and commerce.

My Christmas wish, from my perspective as arts editor, would be that all of those in the position to divvy out funding and commissions ask themselves, what is more important, name dropping three or four "famous" artists, or proudly standing squarely behind our talented, committed artists in this region, by giving them a slice of the cake?

  • Want to have a say? Send your comments to arts@nelsonmail.co.nz or write a letter to the editor at mailbox@nelsonmail.co.nz if you have any thoughts on the above opinions.

- Nelson

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