Nelson’s mural scene has become more visible since NIMF’s inception last year, but street art in Nelson didn’t begin with NIMF. We wanted to find out more about the existing public art scene from a local artist, so we called up one our local artists Matty Kakes, who is painting a mural for NIMF this year, but has been involved with local street art and public art long prior to participating in the festival.
“I am a street artist, ally and father who has always felt at home on the left coast. As an artist I’m all about vibrant colours, the land and political commentary. As an educator I am interested in how creativity can promote wellness and learning. I believe public art can inspire discussion and promote reflection on social issues as well as strengthen relationships between community and public spaces. I am available for commission pieces big or small, indoors or out.”
Street art and public art have the capacity to be an incredibly positive influence on our community. Certainly, the birth of the NIMF will do much to promote a mural scene in Nelson. Mural festivals are great in that they promote more murals going up; however, they should also engage the public to better understand street art and graffiti culture as well as provide a platform for diverse, nascent artists. I hope that the NIMF continues to move in a direction that draws on the local and original people and ideas of this land.
It’s important that public art in Nelson not be conceptualized narrowly nor pander exclusively to business interests. Conservative circles and bureaucratic procedures can create barriers to projects and limitations on what aesthetic is deemed acceptable, where it can be located, and who can create it. Artists need to be provided artistic freedom in their projects. My limited experiences painting elsewhere is that here folks tend to be more conservative in their view of street art. In other countries perhaps it is still illegal but folks are more likely to come up and have a conversation with you about your work than simply call the authorities. I have noticed that some people in our region incorrectly conflate graffiti with danger or crime. Legal spaces also exist in other areas, a positive development for promoting the craft.
My experiences living and working in the community along with the many unique individuals I have met along the way have been highly inspirational. When I paint in a public space I try to meet and speak to the people who frequent the area. I want to understand what people are seeking in the space, be it a park, alley, or business. I’m inspired by some of the of visual expressions already found in our communities, especially ones with humor, strength and resistance. I like to look closely for the old wheat pastings, stencil pieces and sticker tags in the alleys and doorways. They feel like they are part of the social fabric of Nelson. There are so many more voices and experiences in our community than the ones that are the most loudly heard and the democratic nature of graffiti makes it an ideal amplifier of alternative narratives. As seminal street artist Keith Haring reminds us:
“Art is nothing if you don’t reach every segment of the people.”
Response to calls for more murals in Nelson has been slow and at times proposals have been met with bureaucratic barriers. Therefore, the mural and street art scene is burgeoning. There are some amazing mural artists in Nelson and some great projects have taken place, especially ones involving youth.