No free clowning around 

Not in Whistler, local clown discovers

By Vivian Moreau

When Greg Isaacson came to Whistler last month he thought he’d quickly settle into what he knows best, clowning. But when the Australian approached several public agencies about performing in the village this winter he discovered Whistler’s tight public entertainment rules made it next to impossible for the clown to ply his trade.

After talking with Tourism Whistler, Whistler Arts Council and a local bylaw officer he was not a happy clown.

“Unfortunately I don’t think it’s something that Whistler is prepared to allow to be offered in the community.

Isaacson, a.k.a. Giggi the clown, has done balloon sculptures, magic, and juggling for five years but was told not only is busking not allowed in Whistler but there are no provisions for street entertainment in winter.

Street entertainers, funded by Tourism Whistler and organized by Maurice Young Millennium Place, are hired to perform in the village for three months during the summer. And Dennis Marriott, general manager of Millennium Place, says there are opportunities for street performers to pick up some work during North Pole central, the seasonal festivities in the village during December.

Marriott suggested aspiring street performers sign up with Tourism Whistler’s database of street performers.

“So when we’re looking for a clown or juggler we have ideas of who they are,” Marriott said.

Whistler Arts Council’s Doti Niedermayer says the subject of street entertainers and busking is an ongoing debate in Whistler.

“I like the way the Skytrain does it in Vancouver, where it’s juried and they have to go to an audition and then wear a tag to say they’re authorized,” Niedermayer said. But Whistler doesn’t have a similar system and the arts council’s executive director said one reason is a reluctance to ask visitors yet again to shell out.

“Asking people for more money for something else when they’ve just paid so much for their hotel and this much for their meal and $5 for a cup of coffee — I know there’s some issues about it.”

This spring Whistler council turned down Tourism Whistler’s request to relax bylaws and allow street entertainers to ask for donations, but asked staff to prepare a report with recommendations to council.

Tourism Whistler had funded summer street performers programs for nearly 20 years, and spent over $100,000 in 2005 for entertainers for the summer and for festivals throughout the year.

Marriott says he thinks Whistler council is interested but cautious about allowing buskers.

“They want to make sure they make the right decision and develop a plan that still gives artistic freedom to the buskers but doesn’t turn us into street person capital.”

Mayor Ken Melamed confirms Marriott’s thinking.

“There are some buskers that really shouldn’t be out there. We do have an image and we want the quality of visitors’ experiences to be high and we don’t want buskers that perhaps might offend people. We can’t have it wide open but there may be a way of crafting a bylaw so we do have some control over standards.”

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