title Nelson's world of sustainable arts
publication The Dominion Post
description Article by Ellen Brook
date 11:11:2008

Nelson artist Anna Leary and Phillip Thomas in a Wellington Airport artists' studio, built to show off Nelson Arts. The Nelson Art Guide is a comprehensive directory of the arts scene available from visitor centres.

Nelson has its fingers in a lot of pies. It wants to be the sustainable city, the solar city, the heritage city and the arts city, says the mayor.

Kerry Marshall was speaking at the launch of the 2008 Nelson Arts Festival last month, and there's no denying that the region he wants to promote is bursting with creativity and ingenuity.

It's the birthplace of the internationally acclaimed World of WearableArt awards, spirited away to Wellington six years ago. Many Nelson businesses have been smarting about that ever since, but now the locals have finished licking their wounds and are regrouping to celebrate just about everything else the city has to lure visitors back.

The arts festival, in its 14th year, is now attracting international and national acts theatre, music, dance, art and literature over its two-week run and can rightly hold its head up on the festival circuit. The compactness of Nelson makes it an ideal setting nowhere is too far from anywhere else and this year the organisers made maximum use of the city's Founders Heritage Park, turning the sleepy, pioneer-theme village and its windmill into a series of funky venues, with Nic Moon's woven sculptures making a startling statement in the old-time streets.

Wearable arts still has a strong presence in Nelson because it's home to the World of WearableArt (WOW) museum. Marketing manager Serena Thompson, who has impeccable credentials as a former WOW model, says many of the wearable arts designers make a special trip to museum to see the works close up. The museum has costumes going back 20 years and changes its displays every few months.

The museum also houses one of New Zealand's premier collections of classic cars and in February is hosting a Classic Motoring Awards Week.

Also released last month was this year's Nelson Art Guide, available through and tourism offices for $15, with detailed descriptions, maps and phone numbers. It's an asset to anyone wanting to navigate the region's arts and craft scene and accompany it with local food and wine.

This year, your art guide host is Matt Lawrey, the new face of Lotto, who describes in the introduction the epiphany that turned him on to art when he moved to Nelson in 1997. It was a small, knobbly ceramic bowl by Christine Boswijk that did it, he says.

"The more I looked at it, the more I wondered who had made it and what else they might be capable of."

Not long after that, the budding art lover made a pilgrimage to her studio and now he's helping others find their way about the region.

Boswijk's works have evolved to enormous proportions since then and her waterfront studio at Mapua, overlooking the Waimea Estuary, is as magnificent as her creations.

She was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004 for services to ceramic art and she still wants to do her bit to promote Nelson. She is keen for its artistic community to be taken seriously.

A surprising number of visitors still regard those who make a living from the arts in Nelson as quirky "alternative" types, eking out a living in scruffy surroundings. Not so, she says. Nelson's artists are professional, committed and really good at what they do.

The roll call is impressive: the late Toss Woollaston, Jane Evans, Sally Burton (sister of The Dominion Post's food critic David Burton), Hoglund Art Glass, Austin Davies, to name a few.

And they like having visitors. Meeting the artist and talking about their works brings a new depth to the process of looking at, and possibly buying, art.

The area is becoming known for its woodworking, as well as ceramics and jewellery, including the studio of Jens Hansen jewellers, which helped put Nelson on the map as the place where a certain gold ring that featured in a certain movie was made.

Yes, I know you thought it was forged in the mines of Mordor, but it was actually in a little workshop just by the cathedral. And the environmental causes once championed by Nelson's alternative types have now become mainstream. Every man and his dog is wanting to put in a compost bin now.

The trend is so strong the Nelson Tasman Tourism authority even has its own sustainability officer, one of six pilot positions funded by the Government to promote sustainability in tourism. Difficult, you might think, considering the amount of energy used to get about the place. But if you come to Nelson, say those who are promoting the concept, you can salve your conscience by staying in environmentally friendly accommodation and opting for activities with minimum impact on the environment.

These include ventures such as Wilson's Abel Tasman's new catamaran more fuel-efficient and with reduced weight to minimise impact on the foreshore and The Resurgence lodge in the Riwaka Valley, which is making an international name for itself as five-star, environmentally friendly accommodation. It has used passive solar design, fans instead of airconditioning units, has a bokashi composting bucket in each chalet, and plants a tree for every couple that stay at the lodge, among other innovations.

The benefits work both ways, say the businesses. Visitors can feel good about their choices and many environmentally savvy decisions can end up saving the operators money, too.

But don't worry . . . though many of the one-time hippie lifestyles have gone mainstream, there are still plenty of fringe elements keeping places like Nelson's Saturday morning market as quirky and interesting as ever. Where else might you hear the didgeridoo, get cranio-sacral therapy, buy a DVD of waves and enter your "natural portal"?