A local theatre and music entrepreneur has just been hired as the new executive director of the Nelson and District Arts Council.
Sydney Black, 31, is well known as the producer of a string of successful musicals in Nelson: Cabaret in 2013, Chicago in 2014, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch in 2015. Her blockbuster for this year is Rock of Ages, coming up in May. She also sings and performs around town, with acts like the Kootenay Divas and bands led by Clinton Swanson.
Black says she is going to continue doing all those things, because the arts council job is half time. And she thinks running an arts organization won’t be that much of a change for her.
“It will be very similar to what I already do, co-ordinating large numbers of artists to put on events. It is a different art form, it’s focussed on Artwalk right now, so it is visual artists, but it’s a whole new cross section of people I don’t know very well, but am really excited to get to know.”
The arts council’s main activity in the past few years has been Artwalk, now in its 28th year. But Black says the organization started diversifying under previous executive director Neil Harrower and she plans to continue on that path.
New directions at the arts council
An example was Appetite for Art, an artistic and culinary event held at the Prestige on March 19.
Another is Hidden Creek, a newly built artist retreat developed by Mike Bowick and Erica Konrad at Grohman Creek, to give an artist a week of working solitude in the forest.
“The previous board organized these things,” she says, “and I get to come in at a nice time to take it over. I get to implement other people’s great ideas, and then come up with more.
“Our mandate is to promote and support the arts in our region, trying to find capacity and vision, and through funding, exposure, any way we can, and assisting in grant applications.”
Another possible future project is the re-establishment of an amphitheatre at Lakeside Park like one that existed for a few years in the 1960s.
“We applied for a grant to do a feasibility study, and will have news of this in the next couple of months. Then we can get a working group together to take a harder look at it.”
No need for the big city
This new job is not Black’s first entry into arts governance: she’s been on the board of the Amy Ferguson Institute for three years and she recently became a member of the city’s Cultural Development Committee as a result of her new job at the arts council.
Black has two generations of roots in the area. In high school she sang with Tim Bullen’s student jazz band at L.V. Rogers, then left for the big city to go to theatre school, returning shortly after, having discarded any dreams of the big time.
“I’m settled in. I’m not going anywhere. I have been so supported by this community. I can put on these musicals and have 2,000 people come and see them. I have lots of love for Nelson.
“It all started in elementary school or maybe it was middle school, and Playmor Junction [a local big band] came to the school and Laurie Jarvis was singing It’s Almost Like Being in Love, and her voice and clarity and confidence fronting this huge band – I bought it right there. She really inspired me to sing and perform because she made it look so fun and natural. It hooked me. I can still close my eyes and remember Laurie singing that song.”