Touchstones executive director Astrid Heyerdahl (centre) worked alongside muralist Amber Santos (second from right) and other youth to create the temporary mural currently installed outside the Capitol Theatre. Artists involved include Tyler Wright, Reyna Brown, Brittany Barkhouse (second from left), Mikaela Rubak-Mazur and Abigail Cole. The plans are to ultimately mount it at L.V. Rogers. Photo: Will Johnson

Nelson mural movement picks up momentum

Art advocates call for international mural festival next year

Nelson residents can expect a lot more colour in the years to come — art advocates are calling for the creation of an international mural festival that would see 10 brand new pieces going up on walls around downtown next summer.

If everything goes according to plan and funding gets approved, the Nelson International Mural Festival will be held in either July or August next year. Over the course of seven days passersby will be able to gaze up at scaffolding while artists from all over the world go to town with brush and roller.

The resulting pieces will be maintained for five to 10 years, with funds set aside to spot refresh them annually.

It’s an ambitious project with the potential to dramatically change the aesthetic of Nelson’s embattled downtown, spearheaded by the arts council’s executive director Sydney Black. She’s been advocating for more public art since she took the job last year, and has also been pounding the pavement to enlist local business support for a project to beautify Baker Street’s alleys.

The mural festival, though, is something completely new.

“We’ve been looking at the various mural festivals that have popped up over the years — Vancouver has an amazing one they started two years ago — and asking ourselves, ‘what is something attainable we can actually do to help beautify our community?’” she told the Star.

“Putting a painting on the side of a building does so much more for a community than most people even realize.”

Black is building on the work that’s been done by a variety of local artists who have been dialoguing with the City of Nelson about how to get more public art projects off the ground — resulting in new pieces popping up from artists such as Matty Kakes, Alana Cronshaw and Bryn Stevenson.

Her hope is to incorporate more public art into the city’s existing downtown revitalization project.

Mayor: ‘This is an important part of the vibe of Nelson’

It’s way too early for Mayor Deb Kozak to comment on Black’s festival proposal, but in general she’s enthusiastic about the momentum building around a number of public art projects. She’s especially interested in initiatives to beautify the alleys.

“This is an important part of the vibe of Nelson,” she said, adding that she hopes adding more murals to the downtown landscape will help address the downtown core’s issues with graffiti and vandalism.

“This could be a way of encouraging better art, and I especially like the idea of having more temporary displays like the beautiful piece currently beside the Capitol Theatre.”

That being said, she think it’s important there’s a well-defined selection process for the city to follow that includes consultation with residents before the artists get to work.

“The community having an opportunity to have a say is a good thing. Like with Sculpture Walk, there’s an adjudicator process and I think that’s a fair and a good way to do things. We don’t want to have a willy-nilly process.”

While she appreciates the arts community’s enthusiasm, she acknowledges that not all community members are on the same page on this issue.

Some are uneasy about murals proliferating, while others want to have a say in subject matter and the artists involved.

“The aesthetic we’re creating is important to our residents, and I’m happy to hear there are people who aren’t afraid to share their thoughts on public art. They have questions about how many there will be, how long they’ll be up, those sorts of things, and I think those are valid concerns.”

Kozak said her favourite mural in town is the Roxanne tribute on Front Street, but she also really loves the avian-themed tribute to JP Auclair in Fairview and the collaborative youth mural under the big orange bridge. She said she can’t wait to see new public art proposals come forward to council.

Touchstones director: ‘I tend to like big ideas’

A few weeks ago Touchstones director Astrid Heyerdahl got the chance to contribute to her first Nelson mural outside the Capitol Theatre, with the assistance of her young daughter Freya.

As the chair of the heritage working group, she was taking the lead on a youth engagement project exploring Canada’s 150th anniversary.

She loved working alongside prolific Nelson muralist Amber Santos, as well as a team of artists including Tyler Wright, Reyna Brown, Brittany Barkhouse, Mikaela Rubak-Mazur and Abigail Cole.

“Amber was the right person to work on this project with, because she has a particular understanding of history and wants to break down walls and barriers, talk about the challenging parts of our history,” Heyerdahl said.

Painted on wooden slats, the installation features topographical maps, salmon, logged stumps and a turtle.

It was live-painted during the most recent Blue Night, and will ultimately end up on proud display at L.V. Rogers. She feels it’s a perfect example of the type of public art Nelson should be embracing.

“Touchstones wanted to get involved with this mural because our museum is so much much more than the walls in which we surround ourselves,” she said.

Heyerdahl loves the idea of bringing the mural festival to town. Having seen one firsthand in Vancouver, she thinks it would be a perfect addition to the local landscape.

“I tend to like big ideas. Touchstones is 100 per cent behind this project. We’re so excited to see the momentum Sydney’s been building around public art and the support she’s been able to get from the business community and the residents of Nelson.”

As a member of the city’s Cultural Development Committee, she feels the push for public art twins nicely with the stated goals of the downtown revitalization plan.

“This is stemming from what the city already determined they want, which is to create positive energy downtown with alleys that are vibrant and alive, with art inspired by our heritage.”

Blue Night director: ‘There shouldn’t be such a rigamarole’

In the past few years a number of public art projects have been put on hold while the city completes its downtown revitalization plan, something that frustrated Blue Night director Brian Kalbfleisch.

He was pleased to learn that seems to be changing.

“I support the idea of opening up our public spaces to murals. I think they offer a great opportunity for youth to work with mentors and learn what it’s like to complete a big project like that,” he said.

“There are a lot of really nasty places in town that could easily be cleaned up and beautified, which would be good for the local economy and for our public spaces. There shouldn’t be such a rigamarole for executing these things.”

Nelson artist Brittany Barkhouse, one of the painters who helped with the Capitol mural, said the experience was invaluable to her and the community’s enthusiasm for public art was obvious.

“People shouted words of encouragement from their cars and many stopped to talk and ask questions while we were putting some finishing touches on our work,” she said.

“I appreciate having had the opportunity to engage in critical dialogue and artistic engagement with some other youth artists from the community.”

At the end of the day, Black believes this work is necessary to protect Nelson’s credibility as an arts town.

“I think Nelson is ready for more murals. I think we can further cement our reputation as the type of town that encourages large scale works of art.”

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