Has FE&A been successful? 

It might be too early to tell but after two years it's had a decent, if controversial, start

click to enlarge Summer of Festivals
  • Summer of Festivals

It was unquestionably a good summer. Buoyed by good weather in July and August, and driven by premier festivals, Tourism Whistler (TW) anticipates summer 2012 to be the third best on record.

Some of this success can be linked to the $2.68 million Festivals, Events and Animation (FE&A) program, which included summer-long concerts, street animation and other cultural events. While it's difficult to quantify, it at least appears that the RMOW has reached its intended goals of enhancing visitor experience (TW says it's so, based on visitor surveys) and driving incremental room nights.

The bustle in the village is due, in part, to the festivals Whistler played host to...but is the money being spent correctly? Jane Milner, managing director of the Whistler Film Festival, says the RMOW should consider aligning its funding policies with those of the provincial and federal governments, which only provide funding to not-for-profit organizations.

Milner says the issue is the RMOW is assisting for-profit (Wanderlust, GranFondo) organizations in the execution of their festivals through augmentation grants. None of this money was used to offset or recoup festival debts or expenditures, yet the augmentation is still used to drive the success of the festival.

Milner argues that the money given to Wanderlust, a for-profit organization based in New York, is problematic because the money does not stay in Whistler.

"They come, they make the profit, they leave," Milner says. "The profit doesn't stay in the community, for one thing, and if they grow, they may or may not choose to come back. It's more valuable for the resort to invest in things that are ours."

Milner, formerly the B.C. assistant deputy minister of arts and culture, says the same revenue streams are not available to not-for-profits as they are to for-profit or private business, which is why governments offer these subsidies in the first place.

"If you look at the BC Arts Council or the Canada Council of the Arts, or any of the arts councils across the country, to qualify for that kind of grant, you have to be a not-for-profit. If you look at Western Economic Diversification, the Cultural Heritage Spaces grant, those capital grants, it has to go to a not-for-profit and not a for-profit organization," she says. "This is something that we don't even seem to be aware of.

"We should be very aware when we go outside (the status quo)," Milner continues. "I'm not one to be such a stickler for the rules but I want to know when I'm breaking them. I want to know when I'm pushing the envelope. For us, it might be a good thing but when you read through the criteria (for RMI funding for local organizations), it's exactly the opposite. If this organization can't be self-sustaining, then we're less interested in investing in it, which is the opposite of what the standard across Canada is."


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