The Heron has landed

Controversy opens dialogue, and dialogue opens doors. A flap, so to speak, often precedes flight.

Jock Hildebrand’s sculpture Heron’s Landing ruffled some feathers with local artists when Nelson city council recently offered to give it a home.

Controversy opens dialogue, and dialogue opens doors. A flap, so to speak, often precedes flight.

The heron sculpture, recently acquired by the City for the cost of shipping and a tax receipt, created a bit of displaced air as the great bird landed, leaving some local artists and citizens with ruffled feathers. This was not altogether surprising. It was a distinctly roost-now-or-get-off-the-perch scenario; things happened quickly. It’s reasonable that questions should be raised.

The question of should have or shouldn’t have is moot: we did, and the proponents for acquiring the sculpture did so with the best of intentions. Now, we need to move forward, absorbing what we’ve learned from the flap that ensued while we find an appropriate perch for our newest piece of public art.

Just to clear up a couple of points, it’s important to note that the artist was paid by the developer who commissioned the work, who in turn required a tax receipt for the gift based on the commission they had paid and a subsequent assessment.

As for the artist being from away, just as Touchstones exhibits the work of touring artists as well as local, it’s reasonable that our City do the same. Nelson artists exhibit in other cities, as well they should. This is how our artists get their work out in the world, and how we are inspired at home by the work of others. We need this exchange of ideas, just as we need to celebrate our own.

Essentially, the acquisition of the heron sculpture was council’s decision to make. The Cultural Development Commission, as a commission of the City of Nelson, is a bird in the hand, the City being the hand.

If the City were to only acquire gifts of art, we’d have a problem, because artists need to be paid; we don’t expect gifts of infrastructure upgrades, for example. But that’s not likely to happen.

Likewise, if our only public art was from away, we would be doing a disservice to our local artists; that’s not likely to happen, either. What is likely is that the City and the commission will take the recent flap and let it inform future choices.

The commission’s role, among other things, is one of consultation; it’s the City’s way of saying: we value the input of these community volunteers who are experts in their fields. It’s not like this everywhere. We in the cultural trenches should know. And so a little perspective is in order.

Nelson is the only community of its size to have a Cultural Development Commission (now coming up to three years old) with a part-time paid professional cultural development officer (hired a year and a half ago). That’s huge.

Cultural development in this town hasn’t always had wings. There were years where some of us thought it would go the way of the dodo. It took years of making things happen with nothing but goodwill and good ideas; it took cultural economic impact studies to prove value with dollar figures, because quality of life wasn’t deemed a good enough measuring stick. It took the kind of vision that gave us Kootenay School of the Arts, Oxygen Art Centre, Touchstones, and the Cultural Development Commission.

The commission develops policies to help with cultural flaps and fledglings of all kinds. This group of civic-minded volunteers hatched the Art in Public Places policy — something we never had before — and is actively working with the City to ensure that new infrastructure developments — such as the Baker Street bridge over Cottonwood Creek, Gyro Park lookout railing, and new utility boxes — embrace a cultural component.

It has developed a cultural calendar, disbursed community initiative program money to artists and arts and heritage groups, and assisted with Railtown plans (that’s the old CPR building, soon to hatch into something wonderful). The commission is responsible for things like the horse race mural on the burned-out Redfish Grill building. They do cool stuff.

There are still places to go, things to discover. Feathers will fly; new heights will be reached. The good thing is that the future is sure to include both flap and flight, the better for doors to open. And away we soar.

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


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