American Express makes inroads with arts sponsorships 

Credit card corporation signs on with Performance Series, Whistler Film Festival

American Express has established a presence in Whistler’s arts and culture scene by recently coming on board as a sponsor for both the Whistler Film Festival and the Whistler Arts Council/MY Place’s 2004/05 Performance Series.

American Express Global Establishment Services, a division of Amex Canada Inc., will be a presenting sponsor for one year with the Performance Series and two years with the Film Festival.

Arts Council board member Joan Richoz announced the Performance Series sponsorship during her introduction for British comic vocal quartet Cantabile last Thursday evening – the first performance of the 2004/05 series. The Film Festival confirmed their sponsorship in a written statement on Monday.

American Express has a history of supporting the arts in other communities, including mountain communities such as Aspen, and has cardholder benefit programs offering preferred seating and VIP treatment to sponsored arts and culture events.

Amex Canada Inc. spokesperson Tina Princiotto said that the new title sponsorships make "good business sense" for the company.

"Whistler’s definitely an important focus for us," Princiotto added.

Outgoing MY Place general manager Rob Schwartz confirmed the company’s enthusiasm to be associated with Whistler.

The $20,000 MY Place/Performance Series deal will be directed into audience development and ticket price control, Schwartz said, and will allow the series as a whole to "raise the bar of professionalism."

The four-year-old Whistler Film Festival, taking place Dec. 2-5 this year, locked in the sponsor for two years, a deal festival director Shauna Hardy says "helps to secure our future."

"They’re (Amex) really committed to arts and culture and they want a presence in the resort," Hardy added.

Hardy noted the company is a founding sponsor for the renowned Sundance and Tribeca American film festivals, which she sees as encouraging considering her event’s goal is to become known as the "Sundance of the North."

The sponsorships position Amex in what is primarily a Visa town. Key Whistler organizations such as Tourism Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb are already allied with Visa in what Whistler Events Bureau manager of strategic alliances John Rae calls a "24/7, 365-day-a-year," multi-year sponsorship agreement.

Visa has also extended their sponsorship of the Olympic Games through 2012.

Hardy said the Whistler Events Bureau asked that her organization, which works closely with Tourism Whistler to promote accommodation and festival ticket packages, first pitch to Visa and allow for a four week refusal period. When the organization turned them down, it opened the door for American Express.

"I think it’s great for Whistler to have multiple corporate partnerships... you can’t keep digging into the same coffers," Hardy said.

"You can’t get Visa to sponsor every event in town. They have a different focus, and Amex has a different focus."

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