Thursday, May 17, 2007

Making Art in Nelson

I could go on and on, but in short, Nelson is a wonderful place in which to be creative and appreciate other people's creativity. It still has an inimitable reputation as the arts capital (or one of the select few) of the nation.

I say "still" because as with many other places, accountants, consultants and strategists have taken over local policies in recent times, running Nelson like a business, leaving our only public art gallery in a state of disrepair and its management in flux, our theatre in a truly tragic state, and indirectly contributing to our loosing the biggest art event we had. Collectively we've been loosing confidence and with the increase of the cost of living and the rates (local tax), even long time Nelsonians stopped caring about art. Yet, a few seems to have big disposable income so some artists are benefiting.

The only kind of art initiatives considered for Council funding seems to be the shiny new events guaranteed to rake in big dollars from outside the region, and to which someone can affix their names, like bringing a game of Super 14 Rugby.

Three weeks ago, I was approached by Alan at the Nelson Mail, our local newspaper, and was asked for an opinion piece after he found me through this very blog. My main focus oscillated from appreciating Nelson's kindness to artists, to scorning looking at art and art events in terms of $ value only, and as I revised and revised some more, I became increasingly afraid of offending anyone. But heck, you know me. So this is what I sent him this morning. Please, please, please leave a comment.

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Earlier this week, I attended a Communication Kawatiri workshop for artists. It was a good workshop, but the best part was meeting and catching up with other artists. And I say this with great trepidation and a little giddiness because I never imagined I would belong to, or even sit on the periphery of, that group called “artists”. I still feel I’m an impostor.

I have no background in art, and my CV lists a string of administrative and quasi-IT positions. In 2000, my then-job became untenable, and I quit. For three weeks I cleaned my house, and then, on Week Four, it hit me that nobody was waiting for me to turn up at 8:30 the next morning. And since I was over 40, the chances of getting another office job, or an interview, seemed slim.

This was an uneasy time, yet I felt emancipated; I could do something daring. Having a husband with a day job allowed me to think outside the sensible square. I knew it had to be weaving, because I’d been enjoying it as an occasional hobby for some time, and I’d amassed a respectable stash, so it shouldn’t cost anything to get started. And the idea of my becoming a weaver was so outrageous, I thought it might complete my transition to this place we now called home.

You need to understand that I come from an old place, where, to engage in certain activities beyond dabbling, particularly the traditional art/craft realm, one must be born into the right family in the right region, eat, drink and breathe the air of the place, and then work tirelessly. Failing that, if one is exceptionally talented and tenacious, one could acquire formal education in the discipline of choice, become connected with the right people, and try one’s luck. So an unemployed, middle-aged wannabe does not wake up one morning and decides to become a weaver. Except I was in now Nelson.

What is it about this place we live in, this place called Nelson, where everywhere there are art makers busy at work, where we are surrounded by new, beautiful, stunning, whimsical, familiar, kind, controversial, questionable, challenging, strange, or weird works of art? A place where the air is thick with pungent anticipation of more art and artists to emerge, where the same air makes many more want to give art a go?

What is it about this place where anyone can casually visit artists’ studios and actually meet them, where even the successful artists are friendly and approachable? A place where the art/craft distinction is not crucial, but where artists, without hierarchy, share tips and sources and camaraderie? (And bless you if you don’t understand what I mean.) And for the timid, there are organizations to join without being asked for credentials?

What is it about this place, where in the absence of stale traditions, artists are truly innovative, and new things are not scorned but encouraged? A place where so many of its citizens know much about local artists and events, view and buy and collect art, but more stunningly, appreciate the process and the effort involved in the work?

I still find the transition from whoever I was, to living in a weaver’s skin, foreign. It’s not a job, but a life, and it doesn’t switch off like the computer in an office. But I’ve been breathing the Nelson air for a decade, and I’m starting to feel a bit more comfortable. When I disclose that I am a weaver, I don’t get a snigger or astonishment in disguise; instead I’m asked where my work can be seen. This would have never have happened anywhere else I know.

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Meg Nakagawa is a handweaver in Nelson. She lived in Japan and the USA before coming to New Zealand. Some days, she can be found blissfully banging and clanking on her loom in her basement; other days she blogs and ponders living a life of a handweaver.

(And there'll be a huge thumbnail-sized mugshot.)

8 comments:

  1. OK, I'm a bit worried because this gent always gets back to me right away, and I haven't heard from him in 11 hours, so I think he hated this. So maybe it won't make Saturday's paper. Oh well, it was a good try.

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  2. WOW, awesome article.
    Dianne

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  3. Thank you, Dianne, but then you're very biased, I know; you're such a lovely friend to have.

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  4. The title and possibly the blurb at the end has been changed, but I understand this is going ahead tomorrow. Wow.

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  5. Dianne: You're right. I did not get back to Meg yesterday as I wasn't in the office for the entire day. It's a terrific piece of writing and I told her so as soon as I could today - and yes, it's in the Mail tomorrow, Saturday.

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  6. Whoa, the man himself!! Hello, Alan. Welcome, and thanks for your vote of confidence.

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