Gay ski week needs answers on funding request 

WinterPRIDE organizer wants $105,000 for top entertainers at festival

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - WinterPRIDE Dean Nelson would like to bring top comics to Whistler.
  • Photo Submitted
  • WinterPRIDE Dean Nelson would like to bring top comics to Whistler.

Once again it's down to the wire for the organizers of WinterPRIDE, who are awaiting word on their request for a piece of Whistler's multi-million dollar festival funding pie.

Dean Nelson, organizer of the more than two-decade strong annual LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) ski week, submitted a $105,000 request to the municipality for festival augmentation funding at the end of September, in advance of any formal requests for proposals.

He has yet to hear word on whether or not he will be successful and his deadline to secure talent, like the top Hollywood comedians he has begun discussions with, is fast approaching.

"As each day passes, those opportunities... things change quite quickly," said Nelson. He has set a drop-dead date of Nov. 15.

"It's a bad investment for the resort (after Nov. 15)," said Nelson.

Last week council upped its Festivals, Events & Animation (FE&A) budget to $3.1 million, a growth of $320,000 over last year. But augmentation funding — the money that goes to existing festivals or events to boost programming and therefore attendance — is decreasing.

In his presentation to council, John Rae, the RMOW's manager of strategic alliances, presented in minimum detail a proposed FE&A budget that shows a 10 per cent reduction in augmentation funding — $922,000 last year to a proposed $832,000 for 2014. To date, $250,000 has been committed to Ironman (year two of a five-year commitment), leaving less than $600,000 for augmentation.

In an emailed response to Pique on the details of how events will secure augmentation funding this year the municipal communications department said it's too early to comment.

"More details on this year's process will be released at a later date," said the email.

But time isn't on WinterPRIDE's side.

It is the first festival in the calendar year, Jan. 26-Feb. 2, coming a week earlier in 2014 after organizers switched the date, so that it did not fall on February's new stat holiday — Family Day.

"The FE&A program team is aware of WinterPRIDE's timelines," said a municipal communications spokesperson in an email.

"The RMOW (Resort Municipality of Whistler) will be considering proposals this fall and early into the New Year, similar to the timing last year."

Last year, 14 event/festival producers were contacted by email in October and asked to submit their proposals for funding. The municipality considered their requests of more than $1.78 million, almost double the $922,000 augmentation budget. WinterPRIDE was not successful.

Nelson said he remains "optimistic" but after a meeting with officials in the summer, and after the last-minute scrambles last year, he hoped to have confirmation of funding one way or another by September in order to secure talent, entice people to the festival, and plan ahead. WinterPRIDE is a signature winter festival in Whistler and recent research shows festivalgoers stay longer than the average winter guest and pay more for their hotel rooms.

The $105,000 in augmentation funding is designed to boost room nights and midweek skier visits by 20 per cent, enticing guests here with household name talent with cross-generational and cross-cultural appeal.

"Optically Whistler is a wonderful supporter of WinterPRIDE and the gay community. However, when you compare it do what other destinations are doing..." said Nelson.

Councillor Roger McCarthy, the council rep on the FE&A Oversight Committee, said he had not heard of WinterPRIDE's request.

"(It's) outside the cycle for what normally happens for FE&A," he said. "That doesn't mean it won't get looked at."

Just as WinterPRIDE needs early confirmation of funding, so too does the municipality for its festivals and events program. Its FE&A money isn't confirmed by the province until April. To deal with that lag, last week council, as it did last year, released $1.2 million from the RMI savings account to plan for the upcoming year.

"Securing the advance funding in October is adequate for 2014 planning and scheduling purposes," emailed the communications department. "The provision of early funding by the RMOW allows investment in the FE&A program to secure talent for original programming, invest in augmentation and maximize marketing opportunities. Advancement of 2014 funding in October enables the program to achieve these goals."



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