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Arts precinct in city would help ‘cement Nelson as a destination’

Katy Jones

An arts precinct in Nelson’s CBD would help draw people into the city, members of the art community say.

But better funding, community engagement and collaboration was needed to help create a “truly thriving and cohesive arts community in Nelson” – a city which some artists were said to have left because they couldn’t afford to live there.

Manager of Nelson’s Refinery

Art Space, Janja Heathfield, said Whakatū Nelson was currently home to many talented artists and several arts organisations which “punched above their weight”, despite struggling since Covid.

But limited spaces, audience awareness, resources and co-ordination often hindered the arts community’s full potential, she told an audience at the What If Whakatū Nelson ideas hub.

Once thought of as the arts capital of New Zealand, the consensus was Whakatū had “lost that reputation for a while”, the Arts Council Nelson staff member said.

While Nelson was known for its stunning landscapes, primary industries and rich cultural heritage, being known as a thriving haven for the arts would help boost the city’s standing as a tourist destination.

Nelson City Council funding was set aside in the 2023 Annual Plan to scope the potential future development of a new community arts hub for Nelson. “Imagine an arts precinct in the city where our diverse communities saw themselves reflected in abundant public art, vibrant public studios, galleries,” Heathfield said.

“A community arts hub with inter-connected, accessible making and performance spaces, scattered throughout Nelson. A place where artists from diverse backgrounds collaborate and inspire each other, fostering a dynamic and supportive community. The arts have the power to bring people together. Picture a community where residents actively engage in artistic expression, fostering a sense of unity and belonging.

“A CBD where residents can access an affordable arts-based programme, attend a developmental theatre piece or a poetry reading around the corner, or stumble upon a street art performance.”

A robust arts community could also be an educational hub providing workshops classes and mentorship programmes that fostered well-being, Heathfield said.

“Increased tourism, arts sales and cultural events can contribute to the city’s economic growth, sure, but fostering experiential creative tourism where visitors don’t just come to see things and attend events, but stick around to participate and learn and contribute to, and to perhaps return, will cement Nelson as a destination with creativity in its bones.”

An arts development agency could help fund arts initiatives and infrastructure, securing grants and sponsorships from local and national government, local businesses and landlords, she said.

It could also advise, and be advised by artists, residents and producers, and advocate for public art installations, events and cultural festivals.

Members of the audience said artists had left town because they couldn’t afford to live there, and artists needed real money to bring about real change.

Nelson's deputy mayor, Rohan O'Neill-Stevens – one of two appointed city council representatives on Nelson Art Council’s executive committee – said the ideas expressed by Heathfield had been “seeded” at the city council. He acknowledged the effect of house prices and the cost of living on the arts community.

While the city council's art strategy, implemented last year, had yielded some exciting developments, there had not been enough investment in the community's arts infrastructure, he said.





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