"Amazing grace! How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me!"

There is a hymn. A sermon and benediction. A congregation gathers, hands waving in the air - reverently, faithfully…

It's not church. The near-worshipful crowd, including children and their parents, crams the courtyard of the Papamoa Beach Tavern to hear singer Stan Walker.


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Though it's not yet summer, I'll call the Saturday event my first concert this season. I expected a first-rate performance from local bloke-turned international recording artist and movie actor. I didn't expect a spiritual experience. It's the first time Walker has toured New Zealand in five years.

Yes, Stan sang songs that have made him famous, like Black Box, Thank You, and Choose You. He also borrowed hits from Prince (Purple Rain, a song that helped endear him to fans on Australian Idol, which he won in 2009), Ginuwine and Beyonce. He shared his talent, his aroha, and his philosophy.

"Everyone was created for purpose with purpose. I'm a living testimony, and if I can do it, you can do it, too."

Walker hasn't cruised through celebrity life. A record number of people tuned in to watch a TV3 documentary in March called Stan, which followed the singer through his discovery of cancer and removal of his stomach. A genetic mutation has killed at least 25 of Walker's family members the past 30 years. His mother was diagnosed with cancer eight months before him. Despite the ordeal, Walker has said cancer was one of the most incredible things to happen. He said his voice is probably stronger and better than before.

Hundreds of my fellow Papamoa concertgoers and I can vouch for that. Walker's sound is still soulful and strong. He can sustain a note with vibrato and reach upper registers with seemingly effortless falsetto. He does this while dancing, connecting with fans through movement and words.

Walker's face-to-face with people, who, like him, are celebrating the space between life's land mines - illness and health scares; the woman worried about a biopsy; the man who has just learned his cancer is incurable; a solo mum struggling with diabetes. We face relationship break-ups; the death of loved ones; sick pets, rents or mortgages we can't afford; the pain of trying to reign in troubled teens...

We've left behind worries and brokenness for an hour and 15 minutes to sing, move and listen to Stan, who pauses between songs to preach.

"Whatever you're going through...every season has to come to an end."

Music, dance, visual arts, museums are all examples of things some people consider nice-to-haves, while many of us see these as must-haves.

French painter Georges Braque wrote, "Art is a wound turned into light".

As we marked Armistice Day last Sunday, a campaign is under way to fund New Zealand's only off-shore war memorial.

The Government has not contributed to the project, so crowdfunding is under way to generate $15 million. The museum is in Le Quesnoy, in northern France.

It's where Kiwi soldiers defeated the Germans and liberated the village in World War I. The museum would be a place to reflect. To understand what sacrifice means.

Any discussion of public funding of arts involves budgets, priorities and often, the notion Joe Bloggs should not pick up the tab for monoliths or intangibles such as music and dance.

But in stressful times - of political upheaval, natural disasters, violence, disease - our mental health requires respite. Release.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (also Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage) said as much in an op-ed to the Herald earlier this year, writing international research shows arts engagement is an effective way to help manage stresses and strains of our digital world. "Studies show that for those with mental health issues — from anxiety and depression to neuro-degenerative diseases like dementia — art therapy can profoundly improve lives."

In addition, Ardern said arts in Aotearoa are responsible for more than 40,000 jobs and add $3.8 billion to the economy.

Yet the Prime Minister has declined to say whether her government will fund any of the $15 million needed for the Le Quesnoy museum. It's not a big ask.

We can't all be pop stars backed by record deals, endorsements and concert ticket sales. Beautifying a region requires co-ordinated efforts - and money. Think of cities that have made you smile - was it their wide, smooth highways that begged you to return? Or was it beauty and art - the enormous sculpture outside a city hall; whimsical animals along the waterfront; a profusion of flowers blooming in public spaces. Balms for hurting souls. Projects worthy of taxpayer dollars.

Amazing Grace, indeed. Thank you to anyone who turns a wound into light. We need all the illumination we can get.