I recently visited my hometown of Vancouver in Canada. Things have changed, as expected. For example, these colourfully painted silos near Granville Island, which brought art’s rescuing powers to the forefront of my mind. These were an eyesore and now, despite their dominating size, are fun and intriguing.
It reminds me of “the little town that did”, Chemainus, which I visited on Vancouver Island, many years ago. For years, it believed that the forestry sector was the backbone of its economy
In 1983, after operating for 120 years, the mill closed. Almost 700 people became unemployed in a community of just under 4,000. Businessman and Chemainus resident, Karl Schutz, came up with the concept of painting history on the walls of Chemainus. There were many who were against turning the town into an Outdoor Art Gallery. In 1982, the first five murals were painted. As word spread, international artists transformed Chemainus into the world’s largest outdoor art gallery with 33 murals and 8 sculptures completed by 1997. Over 70 new businesses, a museum and dinner theatre have opened, with plans for a hotel, marina and more.
On the other side of the globe, Sheffield in Tasmania was experiencing a steady economic decline. A committee was set up to try to stem the negative impact of the situation. Soon after its creation, it began pursuing a suggestion to explore Chemainus’ successful strategy when it faced similar economic downturn in traditional industries. The murals were credited with rescuing the town. Sheffield followed suit. Now, it annually hosts the famed International Mural Festival and boasts the mural capital of Australia.
A similar, more recent story, has unfolded in Coonalpyn, 200 km from Adelaide, with a population of about 300. The struggling farming town set out the ambitious project of have its 30 metre operational silos painted. The silos were painted by Guido van Helten. It features children from the local school, hoping to inspire those children, and the community, to consider creative industry pathways and entice tourists to the town. The art has attracted more visitors and now the main street, which was dotted with closed shops, has three new businesses. Art rescued this dwindling town.
Art not only rescues towns. It also rescues and helps people through really difficult times. I recently did a session with sketchbook artist extraordinaire, Danny Gregory. He described a difficult time in his life. During that time, for some unknown reason, he drew his wife lying on the couch. It was true “mindfulness” because while drawing, he wasn’t able to think about the past or the future. When drawing, you are definitely in the ‘present’ trying to figure out how to draw hands, arms, eyes and so on. He got hooked on drawing and now art and teaching creativity is his full time profession. “I enjoy talking to people who are looking for ways to expand their creativity, see the world in fresh ways, or to heal themselves.”
I’ve heard many similar stories where art has come to the rescue. I gave birth to my Cheer ‘em Up series during the hardest time in my life. Painting the Cheer ‘em Up series gave me solace during my distressing time and helped me come out the other end stronger.
Art is a well-qualified rescuer and I am forever grateful (and so are towns, communities and tourists).