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Great choice for Nelson's Cultural Ambassador

That I’ve been avoiding writing my last Cultural Commentary for days doesn’t at all reflect on the honour
Hiromoto Ida has stepped into Anne DeGrace’s shoes as the city’s Cultural Ambassador.

I wonder if all artists practice work avoidance. You’d think we wouldn’t have any trouble getting down to work on creating something we’re passionate about, and for me, that’s the written word. I experience the same joy/pain writing a column as I do writing a novel, and regardless, diversions are my enemy. This is my third cup of tea sitting beside me and I’m still on the first paragraph.

That I’ve been avoiding writing my last Cultural Commentary for days doesn’t at all reflect on the honour I’ve felt being Nelson’s Cultural Ambassador for 2011. Over the year I spoke locally at events such as the Kootenay Literary Awards, and I tried to carry Nelson’s cultural message out into the world when on book-related junkets in Victoria, Vancouver, and Toronto. I’ve produced six of these columns, despite my love/hate relationship with the keyboard.

And I did what I was supposed to do, which was write. The cash award that came with the honour, sponsored by Packrat Annie’s and Otter Books, helped ease finances as I finished my fourth novel, which — despite work avoidance tendencies — was published in October.

I wonder if Hiromoto Ida, Nelson’s Cultural Ambassador for 2012, practices work avoidance. It doesn’t look that way reading his resume: he’s performed in professional productions large and small in such places as Tokyo, Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, and — lucky us — Nelson.

This morning, while avoiding beginning this column, I headed into my favourite work avoidance territory — Google. And I found what I was looking for: the film Tokyo Cowboy on DVD. The friendly post-order email tells be it will be here shortly. And I can hardly wait.

Tokyo Cowboy was where I first met Hiromoto Ida. The 1994 film, which came to Nelson that year as part of the Moving Pictures Canadian film Festival, is a lovely, quirky film about a fresh-faced young Japanese man who comes to Calgary to visit his childhood penpal, bringing with him a dream: to become a cowboy, woo the girl, and save the day. The girl in question prefers cowgirls to cowboys, and the storyline becomes a delightful mash-up of cultural and language barriers with a charming dose of innocence and humanity. Ida played the lead role, and I was smitten.

Imagine my surprise when the Tokyo Cowboy himself turned up some years later looking for a library card! Ida and his family had moved to Nelson. Later, I came to know that acting takes up the smaller portion of Ida’s C.V., which is dominated by dance performances with such notable companies as Kokoro, Karen Jamieson, and with his own impressive portfolio of solo and co-productions in dance. Kessa, Seven Stories, The Gift, Please Dad: Ida’s work has wowed audiences at home and on the road.

That’s the thing about Nelson, and the thing that the Cultural Development Commission strives to recognize with the Cultural Ambassador award: that when it comes to world-class artists, Nelson is wealthy. Some, like Ida, fly under the radar locally. The CDC shines the spotlight so we can see what we really have, here.

We have designers, illustrators, and artists whose clients include the Getty Museum or the New Yorker; who win the Governor General’s Award; who win competitions in Europe or Asia; who exhibit worldwide. We have writers whose works can be read in a dozen languages, and dancers whose movements transcend language. We have composers who create the scores for the movies we love, and musicians whose sounds move a listener ten thousand miles away.

What binds us together as artists is the place we call home, so that when we go out into the world, we take a little of home with us. It all reflects back on our town, something else the designation of Cultural Ambassador recognizes. Hiromoto Ida is a wonderful choice.

And maybe the other thing that binds us together is creative work avoidance — but who knows? I can only speak for myself. But whatever we create comes from where we come from, whether that’s in our living rooms — another cup of tea cooling beside us and an hour lost to a diversional Google session — or in the studio, with a fresh idea and no more excuses.

And then, the passion begins.

Anne DeGrace was Nelson’s Cultural Ambassador for 2011. This is the final column in the Cultural Commentary series.