Cultural Commentary: The beautiful art of support

For every artist in this community, and in the big wide world —Toronto, New York, Paris — there is a network of support. Support can mean everything from your gallery or publisher to your friends and family.

For every artist in this community, and in the big wide world —Toronto, New York, Paris — there is a network of support. Support can mean everything from your gallery or publisher to your friends and family. Perhaps the most important are peers: other artists who “get it.” When you’re in the throes of creative enterprise, with all its failures and triumphs, being around people who “get it” is invaluable.

Earlier this month a group of writers got together at the Ymir Palace, a backpacker’s hostel, for a weekend retreat. It’s not about classes or critiques; organized locally in association with the Federation of BC Writers, the retreat is about writing in the company of others who are equally terrified, vulnerable, and dedicated. Because there was not one among us who are not afraid of failure, vulnerable in exposure, and dedicated, because we’re writers, and this is what we do.

We also walk along the river, soak in the hot tub, raise a glass at the Ymir Hotel, enjoy communal meals, and laugh a great deal. Atmospheric, unpretentious Ymir, with its wandering dogs and pickup trucks, offers great fodder for creativity. Seventeen writers came together for the weekend, and many, many words were written.

I was finishing a collection of short stories for publication this fall. My deadline was that Monday, and when I’d organized the retreat months earlier I thought the book would be long finished.

Not so: as I unloaded supplies in the Palace’s big kitchen, my stress level must have been evident. Before long word got around about my deadline, and everyone pitched in. All weekend, when I’d go to prepare food or wash dishes, I’d be gently but firmly sent back to my laptop. That’s peer support. I made my deadline.

The writing community is like that, but so are all the other creative communities. Behind every painting there are workshops, weekly painting groups and life drawing sessions, all of them enjoyed in the company of other artists who “get it.”

For every CD released or concert staged, there are jam sessions and creative and technical support. For every play, there are rehearsals from raw beginnings to polished performance, and before that, circles of actors engaged in theatre sports or the finer points of monologue delivery.

But it doesn’t all happen organically. Local and regional arts councils, federations, guilds, arts centres, and collectives all rely on some form of outside support in order to build the structure to house the collective creativity that enhances the quality of our lives — and that benefits Nelson by giving it the cachet it enjoys as a cultural community. And it is this kind of support that launches our artists out into the world, which reflects well on us all.

There have been devastating economic hits to provincial and federal arts funding programs, and these have negatively affected the Nelson and District Arts Council, Oxygen Arts Centre, and myriad other local arts institutions and groups for whom member dues and ticket sales are seldom enough. So it serves the cultural community well to get political at election time.

Luckily, there’s still a third tier — local government — made up of people who are more likely to “get it” because we’re all part of the same community. With municipal and regional elections coming up this fall, you can bet that questions about cultural support will be on the agenda at all-candidates meetings, the better to preserve our rich cultural climate. In a way, it’s another kind of peer support.

Everything we do in the cultural sector is the culmination of experience and practice, and a whole lot of community. It’s that way in all those exotic places — London, Barcelona, Ymir — just as it is in your own backyard. And it means that, when it comes to enjoying the arts in Nelson and environs, we will all “get it” in another way when we enjoy the fruits of all that collective labour.

Anne DeGrace is Nelson’s cultural ambassador for 2011. Cultural Commentary will appear from time to time during the coming year in this newspaper.