Nelson sculpture stirs controversy

The feathers of local artists were ruffled after the City of Nelson announced that it had acquired an orphaned sculpture, Heron’s Landing, by an Okanagan-based sculptor.

Nelson has agreed to accept Jock Hildebrand's Heron's Landing

The feathers of local artists were ruffled after the City of Nelson announced that it had acquired an orphaned sculpture, Heron’s Landing, by an Okanagan-based sculptor.

“Had it been known a major piece of public art was on the City’s shopping list the local arts community would be abuzz with creative energy — energy inspired by Nelson’s surrounding landscape, history, etc.,” said Cam Douglas, a local sculptor, in a letter to the Star.

Douglas’ bronze cast sculptures appear throughout Western Canada, including the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the Calgary Civic Centre, and one sculpture was presented to Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn by the City of Calgary during a royal visit.

“Opportunities to showcase an artist’s work on this scale are few, so those with confidence and competence look forward to competing for such a prize,” said Douglas.

Nelson’s cultural ambassador Anne DeGrace said the decision by council may have been unexpected by local artists.

“It’s important that we exhibit the work of other artists just as our artists exhibit elsewhere, and it’s important that opportunities are open to all, so I expect there was some surprise at this announcement,” she said.

DeGrace said acquiring art is never a bad thing, but the sculpture’s adoption happened fast.

“Having a solid process in place and using it is important, and this happened very quickly,” she said.

“The city embraced this gift enthusiastically, wanting to enhance the city with public art, and essentially that’s a good thing. I’m sure that the Cultural Development Commission will work with the city to strengthen the process and find the best possible location for this acquisition,” she said.

City councillor Donna Macdonald is among supporters of adopting Heron’s Landing.

During the July 11 meeting where council passed a resolution to acquire the sculpture, Macdonald said it fits well with the city’s Art in Public Places policy.

“Generally speaking, our focus is on local and regional artists, but not exclusively,” she said.

Macdonald said the policy also suggests contacting provincial, national and international artists to participate in the program.

“Did we take a little bit of a risk because we don’t know absolutely everything right now? Yeah, but sometimes you weigh the risk and the benefit, and council found the benefit of acquiring this piece of art from this internationally re-known artists is worth a little bit of risk,” she said.

Macdonald doubted Nelson would ever have the funds to commission a $200,000 piece of art, which is what the city is getting.

“What we don’t know right now is what the installation costs will be. It could be installed in a private development, in which case the developer would cover that cost, or it could be in a public place,” she said.

Macdonald said staff has found funds that could possibly be used for the installation of Heron’s Landing.

“We certainly aren’t using any of the Cultural Development Commission’s money to do this,” she said.

The city recently put a call out to local artists to submit proposals for artwork to decorate the Cottonwood Creek bridge. The total budget for the project is $30,000.

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