After 13-and-a-half years at the helm of the Whistler Arts Council (WAC), executive director Doti Niedermayer is leaving.
To call it the end of an extraordinary era for the resort's arts and culture scene would be appropriate.
Niedermayer oversaw the arts council during the 2010 Winter Olympics and Cultural Olympiad, and steered it through the growth of programming and WAC staffing numbers, bringing in innovations like last year's pop-up gallery at the Westin.
She leaves for a new role as manager of cultural development for the District of West Vancouver in mid-February.
"As I told the board and the staff, I've put everything I have into being at the arts council. It just consumed me and became my complete passion. I am so embedded in Whistler — I ski, I'm a mountain girl," she says.
"I've had such a run, from a little organization that had no staff, to where we are today with 20 staff.
"We've been given so many opportunities over the years — the Olympics, Millennium Place (recently renamed the Maury Young Arts Centre) — and the community has grown and cultural tourism has grown. We've had a great municipal council and partners in the community."
Niedermayer says that until she'd arrived at the WAC, she hadn't been in a job for longer than four years. She describes Whistler as a get-it-done kind of place.
"This job kept changing and being a new challenge. I kept having to step it up and learn something new; it's been fantastic," Niedermayer says.
"I want to say how much this job has given to me, my career and my personal life. I have never lived in a community that is so tight and works so well together... it's unique. It breaks my heart to leave because it's the job I've loved the most."
With that bombshell out of the way, Niedermayer is keen to talk about WAC's plans for 2016. Now entering its 34th year, it will be a year of action and introspection.
The action side of things means plenty to see and experience, particularly through the WAC's Performance Series of music, theatre and art.
One just-announced event bound to raise a few smiles, chuckles and guffaws is This is That — CBC Radio's satirical public affairs program starring Pat Kelly and Peter Oldring. Its live show comes to Whistler next month as part of the arts council's Performance Series.
"It was a late addition to our program guide," says Niedermayer.
"They were going to be in Vancouver and had an extra date. We said, 'Yeah, we'll do it. For sure!' and we grabbed it.... it's going to be so much fun. It's always good to get on these national shows. It will be, 'Coming to you from Whistler!'"
The fact that the radio show approached WAC is a nod to the relationships they've built among entertainment programmers and managers.
"Events like This is That come through our connections, the people we talk to every year for the Performance Series. These are longtime relationships," says Niedermayer.
The series is growing, but the quality has long been there, she adds.
"We've had all kinds of amazing performers throughout the years, so when people say to me that the Performance Series has gotten really good, I think 'I don't know where you were 10 years ago! It was good back then, too,'" she says.
"I think there is more awareness. People have slowly found this gem, even though it has been there all along."
Niedermayer believes the 2010 Olympics and its legacy, the Whistler Olympic Plaza, has focused on the potential of the resort as an event location.
"People saw that there was a great cultural component," Niedermayer says.
The introspections side of 2016 means the WAC will be consolidating its future, something that will be handed to whoever replaces Niedermayer at the helm.
She says the WAC five-year strategic planning exercise, completed late last year, looked at who they are, where they were and what was going on around them at the resort.
"In 2016, we're going to focus on reviewing all of our programs, all of these things we've been doing for years," Niedermayer says.
"We're going to step back and look at them because we have been doing valued and valuable things, the Children's Festival, the Performance Series, Artwalk, but the environment has now changed.
"Whistler isn't the same place it was 30 years ago, or even 15 years ago. While a lot of our programs have evolved — the Children's Festival is nothing like it used to be — for us at the arts council, we often feel like we're on a hamster wheel. We never get a chance to catch our breaths and look at what we are doing and who we are serving."
Niedermayer says it is now time to check if the current way of delivering entertainment is the best way to deliver the WAC vision and services to Whistler.
"We're developing the tools by which to do that, a program review template. Different people love different programs for different reasons, so how do you evaluate that on a more even playing field?" she says.
She is also keen to find ways to increase resources offered to local artists.
"It came up in our strategic planning — ensuring that local artists continue to be empowered and developed," she says.
The opening of the Audain Art Museum, across the street from the Maury Young Arts Centre, will have an impact on arts awareness at the resort, as will the creation later this year of the Cultural Connector route through Whistler.
"We've been working with the museum, the library, the Audain and the Passiv Haus and the SLCC (Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre) and debating this whole new Cultural Connector," Niedermayer says.
"That's new for Whistler. Now we've got cultural mapping as part of our offering that has nothing to do with nature, necessarily."
Niedermayer says they are now exploring the idea of an artist-in-residence program for Whistler, to be launched later this year.
As well, the Sea to Sky Arts Council — formed by the region's arts councils to promote the arts from Bowen Island to Pemberton — has been meeting regularly to establish common goals. A collaborative website — www.seatoskyarts.ca — has been launched.
Asked what's on her wishlist for Whistler as she leaves, Niedermayer says:
"I just want to see more of what has been happening, with really good partnerships with local groups. It's a collaborative effort and it says so much for arts and culture in Whistler, we're creating programming that is really rich.
"It has blown my mind over the last 15 years how much the arts have grown, and the capacity of those producers, partners, programmers, artists and festival producers."
This is That is a 19-plus show and takes place on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $27 for WAC members and $29 for non-members, and can be purchased online and at the Maury Young Arts Centre box office.
For more information and tickets to all WAC events, visit www.artswhistler.com.
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