Oi You! Banking on an urban art home

Last updated 13:00 19/06/2012

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OPINION: In a CBD less bustling than it ought to be, it is not hard to hear the sounds of disapproval from reactionary suburbia.

"Two hundred thousand for a sculpture" (times two)?

"The same or more for a permanent home for Oi You!?"

"Two million to take over the Theatre Royal's debt?"

"$7.6m to quake-proof and future-proof the Nelson School of Music?"

"Millions more on the Suter, Trafalgar Centre, Rutherford Park and Saxton Field?"

"Arrrrgh! When will it end?"

Requests for councils to spend money on pet projects always provoke a strong response.

Given the way that rates have climbed over the past decade, that is both unsurprising and appropriate.

In Nelson, there are two basic pulls when it comes to setting the compass for the future: those who want the city to stay as is, and those who fear Nelson will be left behind by more progressive regions if more is not done, and spent, to counter this by encouraging vibrancy, creativity and renewed economic vigour.

Recent moves by the Government to rein in local authority spending show its thinking is more in line with that of the batten-down-the-hatches brigade than the visionaries.

This suggests the council's response to an approach by Oi You! founders George Shaw and Shannon Webster for the city to support finding a permanent home in Nelson for his urban art collection might not be as straight-forward as they would hope.

There is no doubting that the pair's collection of work by Banksy and other notable urban artists offers real potential.

It is claimed as the most significant of its type in the Southern Hemisphere, and a permanent home and associated high-profile Australia-New Zealand urban art competition would help draw visitors to this region

Last year's inaugural Oi You! exhibition raised just $15,000 in donations across a month around the time of the Rugby World Cup.

This is a drop in the bucket compared with the highbrow contribution from the biennial Adam Chamber Music Festival, which brought an estimated $3.2m in new spending to the region last year.

The Oi You! founders say they hope the council will help them with finding a home in Nelson – the city they have settled in, and love.

However, they have sent their "request for proposal" document around other centres in Australia and New Zealand.

It is not hard to see a larger region with greater resources and more entrepreneurial vision making them the sort of offer that they cannot refuse, and Nelson cannot go close to matching.

There would be shades of the Word of WearableArts award show's loss to Wellington in that, only without quite the local involvement or history – and it will be a shame if this happens.

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The council recently purchased the currently untenanted former Reliance Engineering building at Port Nelson for "strategic reasons".

Is that an option? More could be done with Founders, the original Oi You! venue, or perhaps some sort of private-public arrangement can be made that would keep Oi You in Nelson.

Surely with some creative thinking, the city could find a way to meet Mr Shaw's needs without drawing too deeply on already shallow ratepayer reserves.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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