What Does ‘Keeping St. Helena St. Helena’ Mean?

Artist Nancy Willis offers her perspective on the mayoral race in St. Helena

There is an unfortunate tone to Mayor Del Britton’s campaign which makes it seem that keeping St. Helena St. Helena, means keeping some people “IN” and a lot of people “OUT” and that change is a bad thing. The picture of Mr. Galbraith that the Britton ads paint would be funny if it were not so disappointingly revealing.

Being born in St. Helena or here for over 20 or 30 or 40 years does not come with entitlement. What Mr. Galbraith brings to the table is refreshing. Change is inevitable and often a very good thing. With Mr. Galbraith I see someone who understands the legal complexities of city business and has a fresh perspective on how to find solutions to the challenges unique to St. Helena.

I watched the Town Hall meeting with an avid interest in the candidates’ views of the role the arts play in their city vision. I am an artist who used to live and have a painting studio in St. Helena and had to relocate outside city limits due to lack of affordable housing and workspace. I have often appealed to city leadership to include the arts in their public policy. If it were not for ACNV, Open Studios and NIMBUS Arts there would be little community art events that bring St. Helena recognition, serve local families, and provide economic stimulation.

Mr. Galbraith appeared to be the only candidate who understood the active role the arts play within a city’s development and how far the monies generated from the arts extend into the profits of surrounding businesses. The fact that there has been no civic policy toward the arts other than a comment of “I like art” speaks volumes about how uncreative the current leadership is in solving the city’s challenges. The mayor suggested contacting the destination council for furthering the promotion of art, but why hasn’t that been done? He said he was open to approach, but why isn’t he more proactive?

When asked about the role of public art this is how Mr. Britton responded:

  1. When someone offered the city a sculpture for Lymon Park, he suggested he was ready to accept it (without consult or advisement from a public art committee or forum.)
  2. Just as quickly he was ready to dismiss the piece due to its cost of $60K without researching the materials, reputation and time and labor of the artist to see if it were actually a good value at that price.
  3. He didn’t consider looking for private monies to pay for the piece if it was deemed acceptable. A good public art program is an economic draw, so this could have been a failed opportunity to increase revenues for surrounding businesses.

The mayor’s comments are not surprising. When I served on a citizens’ committee several years ago, I had many meetings with the mayor. I suggested a public art program then and also a city TOT tax to help fund it. He told me he thought it was a great idea and would have staff look into it. When I followed up with phone calls and emails, they all went unanswered.

I wonder how many other creative people have approached the mayor with ideas that might have benefited the city’s financial strength and community and were left unrealized.

I have lived in St. Helena for 24 years and have been dismayed by the lack of foresight and leadership when it comes to including the arts in its economic vision. I am endorsing Alan Galbraith for the refreshing new perspective he brings, his professional experience and his openness to new ideas. I believe he will be an effective leader. Sometimes, like now, change can be very good thing.

Artist Nancy Willis lives and works in the Napa Valley. Find her at nancywillis.com.