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Council needs to commit to support for arts in Nelson as pandemic restrictions wane: Page

Keith Page said it was the municipal government’s responsibility to aid and abet all parts of the arts and culture sector as the community recovers from the latest wave of the pandemic and restrictions are being lifted.

The city needs to step up and not wave in its commitment to the arts and culture sector in the Heritage city, says one city councillor.

Keith Page said it was the municipal government’s responsibility to aid and abet all parts of the arts and culture sector as the community recovers from the latest wave of the pandemic and restrictions are being lifted.

“I think that we can provide certainty by progressing the work that we commit to for these institutions and how we engage with our regional partners in order to have something more sustainable in terms of the long term vision for arts and culture,” he said recently.

“There are obviously some ideas floating around that, but I do think it ends up being an engagement that we the city need to be full ‘throatedly’ eager to participate with those institutional partners that keep our museums open, that keep our theatres open, and give them certainty on where they city is going in the next 10, 15 to 20 years in terms of arts and culture.”

Page, who sits on the city’s Cultural Development Commission (CDC), was asked by fellow councillor Jesse Woodward about his sense of how the CDC was doing coming out on the other side of the pandemic.

“They are probably one of the hardest hit sectors in our city,” he said.

Page thought that most arts organizations were fairly well resourced, however, they are now out of practice and need to get back into the rhythm of operation — a move that comes with some very serious challenges and questions of what is possible.

“They are still in that area where there is a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “And, after some organizations have expended resources and some have been well supported by the federal and provincial governments, when do you start to get back out there and risk things to put your cultural performances in place?

“So, I think we have to keep them on our radar. I really think we need to (determine) what the long-term strategic plans are as a community.”

Health of the sector

Last month the CDC and the Nelson and District Arts Council (NDAC) released the Economic Conditions of the Nelson and Area’s Arts, Culture and Heritage Sector, revealing the highlights of a year-long arts, culture and heritage sector study for Nelson.

The report found it wasn’t as much the pandemic created by the arrival of COVID-19 — and the subsequent closures and restrictions that crimped the style of Nelson artists — instead it was the rising costs of housing in the city that impacted the arts sector.

Sydney Black from NDAC, one of the report’s authors, said the reason many artists were forced to leave the city had less to do with COVID-19 and more to do with rising living costs — an endemic condition found among artists in the Heritage city and across Canada.

It was almost “impossible” to find a rental for less than $1,200 per month in Nelson, a price point that made it challenging for the average artist to achieve without working a non-art related full-time job, she noted.

“Definitely, in all of our conversations at the CDC and outside of it, housing has been a huge, huge barrier for artists who want to stay here and live and continue to exist but can’t afford to at this point,” Black said.

The arts and cultural sector were “critically important” to the spirit and soul of the city, Page said.

“And I think that goes as far as understanding who, as the independent workforce within this area, have been kind of lost and moved out of the city as things continue to gentrify,” he said about the rising cost of accommodation in Nelson.

“So we also have to have kind of a clear eye on what kind of purpose-built housing and studio spaces” are being created in the city.

“And that kind of stuff needs to fit inside of a larger strategic document. And it has to be something we build with our partners,” he said.