COLUMN: Art as culture

"Publicly accessible art, such as the sculpture on Baker St., gives people a sense of place and community connectedness..."

Recently, I participated in a walk along Baker St. with members of the Cultural Development Committee and city managers from the public works and development departments. Our goal was to review the amenity and bus shelter areas with a view to improve their aesthetics and functionality. In the process, I got my first close-up look at the newly-installed sculptures on Baker St.

It was a sunny day and Baker St. was alive to the warm weather and to the new art. Stopping at one point, I overheard a conversation between apparent strangers about the “organic fluidity” of Jelly — my current personal favourite. Moving on, I noticed a couple stopping to closely examine the various components of Zodiac Totem. Still further into our walk, several of my group enjoyed observing a hands-on exploration of 76 Trombones by several young men.

The morning’s observations took me back to my participation in a series of meetings held in communities throughout the province by the BC Alliance for the Arts. The goal was to consider policy frameworks to promote and support the arts in light of the sector’s proven positive impacts on economic development, social development, health, and education.

A decade ago, the direct net economic effect of Nelson’s arts and heritage sector was measured at $15 million, supporting close to 600 full time jobs. When indirectly related economic revenues were calculated in, the net economic impact of Nelson’s arts and heritage sector was estimated at $75 million supporting 2,900 full time employment equivalents.

There is also growing understanding of a wide range of health benefits associated with making and experiencing art in any form. Even just gazing at a work of art can reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and enhance feelings of well-being. Gazing at a natural landscape has an even greater effect, but in the absence of outdoor beauty, access to artistic expression and appreciation is a valuable alternative. Research in hospital settings shows that the presence of art reduces patient pain and shortens hospital stays. Artistic works located in prisons reduce inmate aggression and violence and in mental health institutions art has been shown to reduce the incidence of self-harm.

Publicly accessible art, such as the sculpture on Baker St., gives people a sense of place and community connectedness which in turn promotes greater public participation in civic events and forums.

Nelson is fortunate to have benefited from the progressive vision of former city councillor Donna Macdonald who championed the arts for all that it offers community. She was a driving force behind Nelson’s Cultural Development Committee, mandated to identify and address areas of need and opportunity within Nelson’s arts and heritage sector. That the committee is successful in its endeavour is demonstrated in how engaged people are with the sculpture on Baker St. and also by how often people say they chose Nelson as their home or vacation destination, not just because of its natural beauty, but also because of its creative spirit and vibrant arts culture. As suggested by one particularly arts-engaged resident, Nelson is truly “cultured by nature.”


Nelson city councillor Valerie Warmington shares this space each week with her council colleagues.

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