Whistlerites, by and large, make a lot of sacrifices to live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet: a dearth of career opportunities, skyrocketing living costs and a housing market that keeps pushing residents to the margins.
It's the price we've (mostly) agreed to pay, sure, but does our culture have to suffer the same fate?
If you wander into a village bar on a busy weekend, what're you most likely to hear? Another hard-working local band belting out Brown Eyed Girl to a crowd of half-listening diners. Head over to the Village 8 for a cheap matinee on a random Tuesday and what flicks will you find on the schedule? Big-budget blockbusters, tired sequels and kiddie fare galore.
And even the cultural events that have become pillars of the resort calendar are packaged as these cutthroat contests modelled after athletic competitions. Just think of all the events that end in the word "showdown." It's like we're incapable of consuming culture unless it's been filtered through a lens we're already familiar with.
It's no big secret Whistler bends over backwards to cater to the perceived whims of the almighty tourist. And by any quantifiable measure, it's working. The resort is as popular as it's ever been, the shoulder seasons are basically non-existent, and the makeup of our visitor base grows more diverse with each passing year. We are victims of our own success, we keep getting told, but the first casualty of that success shouldn't have to be the sense of authenticity officials keep touting as key to driving visitation.
The problem, in my mind, is not that Whistler lacks an organically cultivated culture — I've come across too many immensely talented, creative people here for that theory to hold water. The real issue is this inherent desire to be everything to everyone at all times. We pander to the lowest common denominator for fear of scaring away the tourists when we should be setting a new bar.
Arts Whistler, to its credit, has been a great champion of the local arts. The 2014 appointment of a cultural officer, tasked with engaging the arts community and furthering cultural tourism initiatives, is a major step in the right direction. The Pop-Up Studio, offering subsidized workspace to artists, is a direct result of that appointment. But as the recently rebranded council has shifted from being the volunteer-driven grassroots organization it was in its early years to take on a more corporate structure — acting executive director Mo Douglas has likened Arts Whistler's role to that of a chamber of commerce — one would hope the little guy doesn't get lost in the shuffle.
The responsibility, I think, lies more with us, the consuming public. If we want to create "authentic cultural experiences" we need to show there's a market for them. It's already happened with stand-up comedy in the resort. A few years ago, you'd be lucky to catch a set at a local pub three or four times a year. Then, in late 2013, LB Productions put on a month-long crash course in stand-up that culminated in an amateur contest at the Cinnamon Bear, and now you can barely go a week without running into a funny gal or guy telling jokes onstage to strangers.
It's a tricky thing defining a place's culture, especially so in a town that turns the keys over to tourists as often as we do. And with Whistler Blackcomb's glitzy Renaissance project poised to attract even more visitors to the mountains, that definition stands to get even blurrier in the future. It's up to us to ensure the culture that does exist here isn't swallowed up by the corporate machine before it's too late.
Art, after all, is meant to challenge, it's meant to provoke, to expose us to new and strange perspectives. Let's let it.
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