Nelson is Closed

I started this post about ten weeks ago. Cull as I have post ideas that looked good at the time, this one remained. I haven't researched all the details, (would appreciate input/corrections if you know any,) but feel compelled to finish so I can close my 2014.

It could well be a testament to how out of touch I am, as I really haven't been out and about in Nelson much since I started getting ready for our 2012 exhibition around the middle of that year. It expresses my perceived reduction in push for art in Nelson since before the Global Financial Crisis in exchange for increased participation in big sports events, (Rugby World Cup, Cricket World Cup, and Masters Games,) eroding Nelson's reputation as the arts capital of the nation.  Most of all, I was utterly dismayed at the lack of dismay expressed at the demise of this artist-friendly facility by the general public.

I got a call from the board of Refinery ArtSpace in October while I was writing this post. The incongruence was so startling the bad news could have only been true. Since then, I noticed the gallery has remained open, but I haven't inquired about the probably-temporary arrangement. 

* * * * *

Refinery Art Space went into voluntary liquidation yesterday, October 17. That they were struggling financially was no surprise, but it further compounds the erosion of Nelson as (at least one of) the visual art center/s of the nation. It also comes as The Suter, the oldest public art gallery in New Zealand and the only other not-private gallery in Nelson, prepares to relocate for major refurbishment.

Refinery is under the umbrella of Kahurangi Employment Trust, so the gallery is not-for-profit, funded in part by the Nelson City Council, and all exhibitions are free to enter. I understand shop sales have dropped in recent years.

Compared to when we first visited New Zealand in 1992, but particularly since I became aware of Arts Marketing in May 2006, I can't help feeling there has been a sea change; the focus moved away from arts towards for-profit enterprises including hosting expensive sports games. Kiwis love sports, not even I would label sports events as bad, but Nelson used to have a unique feel which started to fade even while New Zealand was said to be booming before the Financial Crisis. It feels more like other places in New Zealand.

Selling galleries, including The Red as I knew it, and shops specializing in Nelson craft and souvenirs, changed hands, closed, (and opened); short lifespan of small businesses in New Zealand is nothing new, but these lifespans feel even shorter. I think specialist selling Nelson works have reduced. (But also true, cafes and other venues "show" art so it's probably inaccurate to say there are fewer venues. Also, the old Red was not Nelson-only.) 

The demise of Arts Marketing as I knew it was the biggest shock; first was the departure of Martin Rodgers, then the organnization itself, which tirelessly encouraged emerging artists and networking among artists, went. There is a new not-for-profit group which took over the Guidebook work and an event also called Arts Expo, a mega-market rather than artists-meeting-galleries/retailers, but participation fee in either is so expensive I giggled uncontrollably when I inquired about their first guidebook. 

Art Council and Lloyd are still at the same premise but on a different lease; I think Lloyd is behind the gallery staying open for the time being, but I haven't inquired nor volunteered to help.

The WOW show, after seven years since its inception in a paddock just outside Nelson, moved to Wellington in 2004. We got a WOW museum in return, and to be fair it has a fantastic classic car display and a hallway gallery, but it is a poor relative to the show.

Trafalgar Centre is an indoor sports facility but have acted as a performance/function venue as long as we can remember. The day we moved to Nelson in 1996, Tina Turner performed here; one of the first and last concerts we've been to was also here, an unforgettable Joe Cooker. WOW also took place here after it was upgraded from the paddock. Some years ago the City Council invested in a back stage addition for performers, but soon afterwards the building was closed down because of low-rating on earthquake risk assessment.

Saxton Field, the newer sports facility, has a pavilion capable of some events; this has been used, for example for the Arts Expo but I haven't visited the venue. 

Nelson School of Music, the oldest private music institution in New Zealand, has also been closed for a few years because of earthquake risks. Among their events, Adam Chamber Music Festival, apparently a premier chamber music event was put at risk but will go ahead in 2015.

Theater in Nelson played second fiddle to visual arts, but Theatre Royal was refurbished a few years ago; this is a venue for local and visiting productions. A new theater, The Playhouse, emerged on the outskirts some years ago and seems to be run successfully with many local productions, but we haven't been there. About the same time a small private theater we frequented went bust, and sadly I can't even remember its name. The theater in The Suter, where art house films and lectures were held occasionally, is also closed during refurbishment. (Their millennium refurbish plan failed because it proposed to do away with this theater, the director leaving after effectively telling the town to "leave it to us professionals.")

We still have a Arts Festival in the spring, mainly performance, mainly visiting; there are other old and new "festivals" in the summer, and now in the winter. We have not gone to too many because I really stay away from crowds, and because of costs. I also don't participate in art-selling opportunities because I don't have the stamina to make a lot of things in a rush.  

And while I mope about the demise of an art gallery, it's actually a slightly more serious social problem that the Trust is going down the gurgler, and very indicative of where New Zealand has been heading for a few years. The survival of the richest.

And the title of the post; that was Lloyd's comment when I went to pick up my pieces on consignment at the gallery shop. 

* * * * *

So this is the last post for 2014. And I feel I can move on. I had hoped to get some work done so I can present to you my looms in slightly different stages tomorrow, but that wasn't to be. Though we still have five hours of 2014, so maybe.

I didn't want to end the year on a downer, but I don't exactly feel optimistic about visual arts collectively in Nelson, or more accurately Nelson as art destination, but I don't know what I base this on. For me personally, well, I just have to get my head down, bum up, weave and hope for the best.  

See you tomorrow. 


  1. Geez, that's terrible, all those arts programs/venues closing. Reminds me of life in the US, with essentially zero money allotted for arts and music in the public schools. Re: small businesses in general, we have a quick turnover here as well. Lots of places are in business for a year and then fold, largely because we don't have the number of people here who can afford to buy stuff or eat out expensively. And for the arts, well, you've heard me grouse about it for years -- all the venues host the same artists over and over again, outside-artists and newcomers, please don't even bother applying.
    Happy New Year, Meg! See you in 2015. Still want to do mail art? xo

  2. The reduction in art efforts, at least in Nelson, started around the time of the change in the mayor, although it might have been before that many, when New Zealand was "booming", so we had big changes in the policies and financial crisis has been used as an excuse. Also, curiously, outsiders have a good shot for bigger commissions; unknown overseas artists, etc, get City Council commissions. Feels silly, but what do I know, eh. I'm just sticking faithfully to the hardworking Suter Shop. Re. mail art, I never quit, Connie. LOL. I'm just having a break because I'm weaving. And I can't get to my stuff in my stash room because of the silk stash still on the floor being gazed upon every day. Happy 2015 to you, too. Look forward to your new adventures.

  3. Very sad for the art scene nation wide I think. Makes me cross that there is always millions to throw at sport though.
    Might see you about March if you're up for coffee?

  4. Yes, absolutely. March it is. I wished we had half the initiatives Welly seems to maintain. And if we talk about money, sports events get the hype but don't really generate income at the grassroots level while local arts have the potential to do that. So, March when. LOL.

  5. I resent the money thrown at sport. Sure, it has an important role to play but so does art and I'm over seeing sport in Australia and NZ treated like a religion... Oh dear, I'm grumpy on the first day of 2015! I'm also disappointed in what's happened to Nelson. WOW was so great, and to give it to Wellington was a sad move. And there were so many wonderful outlets for really good art...

  6. Yes, yes, and yes. We still have studios we can visit, and a few artists sell their own work at their places. But the shops in town are the same as many other towns now. Bo~ring. And it's not as interesting to visit other places as it used to be, either. I guess this is globalization - we're all going to have a handful of companies making us wear, see, use, eat, ride/drive, read and admire the same things!!

  7. I'm sorry to see such a long list of closures, reductions etc. It is sad that around the world there is so little public commitment to the arts. Though I do think that the 'art establishment' have a lot to answer for in terms of the lack of public appeal - I refer to those who think that if anyone outside a select few can understand it then 'it can't be art' and so has no value. The sports establishment are not so blind to the commercial realities. (I still haven't recovered from my fury over the closure of the gallery at the university where I have lately been studying. With an operating budget of some £220 million, the principal decided to cut ALL funding to the art gallery, the theatre and the music programme, saving a grand total of approx £300,000 and creating a completely arts-free campus. He gives Philistines a bad name.)

  8. Cally, I have to think a bit about the arts establishment. New Zealand gives, or at least used to give, lot of room for amateurs in all areas of live, including the arts, my friend from England who's taught art history here once said, "Anyone can have a go," which sums it up nicely. And of course my participation is at the very grassroots level, both in the making and in volunteering to hang exhibitions, etc. So I guess I notice more readily the low-end, as it were, disappearing from Nelson first. Also, and I don't know how this relates, but shops and design stores calling themselves "galleries" and selling pricy trinkets. The Suter is the only place in "Little Old Nelson" where exhibitions backed by a measure of scholarship are held, but it is a tiny place.

    This may be a case of the grass being greener, but some other regions are actively promoting themselves as art destinations; our capital, Wellington, does a wonderful job of it. They appear, from a distance, more successful in encouraging grassroots art. Nelson may appear so to those outside it, but for some years, but the city council most definitely had more focus on "businesses" since when NZ was supposedly booming prior to this Crisis, and "concerned" groups met to no real avail. We thought, for starters, that since Nelson already had a name as one of the arts destinations, it was silly to let that go, but powers-that-be felt arts were valuable only if they made money. And for small places like Nelson, or New Zealand in general, some kind of public funding seems to be vital, as opposed to places like Japan or even Minnesota, just because we are such tiny miniscule economies.

  9. As for your university, as dismaying as it sounds, it's the same pattern, it appears. When we first came to Nelson, a friend who taught French at Otago University was furious at the way Classics/Liberal Arts were being treated at arguably the best university in the country. (Albeit Otago is more famous for science and med school; Victoria in Wellington perhaps ore successful in other fields.) A few years later I met a colleague who was made redundant because all modern languages (????) was shut down in Otago. This is 20 and 15 years ago so I don't recall the details, but it's all about Economics/Business/Computers/Commerce, but then I guess I started seeing that trend when I was a student in the US in the late 70's.

    As regards arts education, I can't say it's going down in NZ - painting, and to lesser extends, sculpture and costume design and other film-related applied arts, are thriving. Among the "old craft", jewelry, considered small sculpture, is thriving. I don't know much about performance art, but I suspect there is, and has been while the young tutors went to art schools, so much emphasis on concepts and processes that disciplines such as weaving present problems when it requires the end products to be useful as well. Ergo, artists' statement claiming to develop new ways, "using the traditional techniques of (insert_craft)." Ergo fiver/textile art. As of a few years ago, there is either one or no tertiary institution in New Zealand and Australia, (Kaz would know if there is the one remaining because I was speaking to her about it in August,) that has weaving as a subject; "textile art" often does not cover weaving and may have one day out of the whole year of felting.

    Well, this has been a lovely morning rant! I've not thought about these wider issues since I've been quite inside my head trying to make something interesting to me on 16 shafts. That's been good, peaceful, and a little more productive. I have to say, though, that this Internet thing, and the New Zealand mindset, still allow for makers creative enough, with a bit of perseverance, to take advantage of modern life. Which makes me wonder why I was so grumpy in the first place, but, oh, yes, I don't have a place to plan exhibitions here any more. Except for the fiber collective. Sometimes I feel I'm getting too old and lazy to be innovative and am grudgingly content to only make things to sell. Which is sad.

  10. I can't believe Blogger told me I'm too long-winded on my own blog. LOL.

  11. Haha! Blogger hasn't been paying attention - they should know you by now...

    Dundee has lately been promoting itself very much as a 'city of design' and recently got a UNESCO status to match so there is much self-congratulation on that score. It's a tricky one, though, as a lot of this is rooted in the art school (the one which axed weaving not so long ago) and is not necessarily connecting more widely with people in the city. While many people are very excited about the V & A coming here, for instance, to some it seems like an over-ambitious fantasy just targeted at a few arty types plus a hundred square yards of high-end tourist industry and of no substantial benefit to the city as a whole. It feels rather as though there are just two extremes shouting past each other and that something in the middle has fallen out of sight.

    Oh and fewer of those pricy trinkets (we have those 'galleries' too) would be nice. I could get into a rant too, but I doubt blogger would cut me much slack!

  12. Aha. That is a tricky one. I think this is how Nelson was lovely, in that there was always the less expensive craft, (mostly ceramics,) and abundant open studios, so it wasn't a High Art destination, necessarily. Says the one who puts a relatively high price on her trinkets. Although Nelson has always had the divide between "Old Nelson" and others, very much like witches/wizards and muggles.

  13. Christchurch has lost a lot from the earthquakes and guess where the government and the council are putting our money? On sport venues. I'm a member of the Christchurch Guild of Weavers and Spinners and a new weaver and I resent that sport gets all the money. Personally I think creativity is much more important than the ability to zig zag across a field hanging onto an oddly shaped ball.
    I guess we're lucky that we have the Area shop and our own rooms again, but I would love it if there were more emphasis on The Arts than there is. After all, it was creativity that got us to where we are now, without invention and art we would not have all that we have nowadays.


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