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COLUMN: Arts and culture sector eager to come back

Pat Henman writes about the importance of Nelson’s arts community
Pat Henman. Photo submitted

By Pat Henman

Tourism is essential, and so is arts and culture: let’s recognize all challenged by this unprecedented crisis.

After reading Dianna Ducs’ (Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism) recent column in the Star, I became inspired to write this response to ensure the arts and culture sector in our area remain relevant and vital. Remember, according to a book (The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America by John Villani) written in the 1990s, Nelson was recognized, beyond our municipality, as one of the best small art towns in our province, and I dare say, in Canada.

But that was a long time ago. Nelson has changed since then. It was inspirational in 2000 when I moved here. Today it surpasses inspirational. Nelson’s creative community has stepped up to the plate and is batting beyond the expected.

I tried to find the number of emerging and working artists per capita in Nelson and the surrounding region, but alas, I could not. Stats Canada states that “With 24,800 artists, B.C. has more artists per capita than any other province.” I don’t know about others who read this, but I am proud of that statement as a 20-year resident of B.C.

Arts and culture play a considerable role in our quality of life. Nelson and area is proud to offer its citizens and visitors incredible restaurants, top-notch performances in music, dance and theatre, heritage buildings, historical facts within our museum and archives, plus accomplished authors. We have world-class festivals, internationally renowned visual artists of all genres, and local clothes designers.

Our very own Selkirk College is home to established and recognized instructors in music and studio arts, which allows emerging artists to experiment and grow. We have it all. In our town of 10,572 people, we aren’t doing too bad.

Right now, performing artists cannot perform live in a large group or a festival setting due to COVID-19 protocol. They will be missed this summer. Virtual performances have been a saviour for both artists and audiences during this time, but, as a performing artist, I know nothing is like performing for a live audience.

Without an audience, the show is not intact: we are not complete. I am not a visual artist such as a painter, but I assume it must be similar for the artist not to have an admirer of their work allowed to visit the gallery (although that is changing daily). Writers need readers; artists are not whole without participants. We need our other half to be alive.

It is not by chance that the Ministry for Tourism and Arts and Culture, also responsible for sport and multiculturalism in our province, is lumped into one portfolio. They need each other. We need each other. So, if tourism week becomes month-long, once audiences become the norm again — or the new model — let’s recognize and celebrate our artists every day. Why not? Let’s work together to make sure quality of life continues to include the visual arts, literary, live theatre, concerts, cabarets, dance, music of all genres, and the making of films.

We may be the last of the sectors to come back, along with sports with live audiences, but we artists will be in the wings, with bated breath, the greasepaint on our faces, the costumes on the racks, waiting for you all to return to be with us for a live performance. We need you. I believe you need us. When we are ready to invite the audience back, please accept and come back to our house.

Pat Henman is an arts and culture advocate, performing artist, theatre director and producer in Nelson.