A mainstream celebrity, who commands more than a quarter of a million dollars per appearance, is waiting in the wings for approval of municipal funding to appear during WinterPRiDE ski week.
Dean Nelson, CEO and executive producer of Alpenglow Productions, which puts on the annual gay ski week in Whistler, is keeping mum on the act, tentatively on hold, while he awaits word from the municipality's Festivals, Events and Animation program — a program that has more applicants scrambling for a piece of the FE&A pie than ever before, with a festival season stretching longer than ever and three new big-name investments in 2013 — Tough Mudder in June, Ironman in August and the Fall Festival in September.
How the money — more than $2.6 million — gets divvied up next year remains to be seen. But the difficult decisions ahead are perhaps a sign of good things to come on the 2013 Whistler event calendar.
"To be quite honest with you, I hope it is really tough," said Sue Adams, who sits on the FE&A Oversight Committee. "I think the more varied and the more people that are putting proposals forward, I think that's a good thing. That's just Sue Adams' point of view, I'm not speaking for the committee."
It is the first time Nelson has applied for FE&A funding for his festival, which has become a mainstay in the Whistler's winter calendar.
"For us to bring in this type of artist, we at the festival would have never considered it in the past just because the tickets would be at such a price that it would be cost prohibitive," he explained.
But with augmentation funding, courtesy of FE&A, the impossible becomes possible.
Roughly 12 event producers like Nelson have submitted requests by deadline last week for "augmentation" funding — or money to fatten up existing festivals primarily with a goal of driving more room nights to the resorts — from the FE&A budget. Last year that augmentation budget was roughly $500,000, approximately one-fifth of the overall $2.6 million FE&A budget, which also funds original programming and resort animation.
Event producers responded to an email request from the municipality at the end of October.
"The FE&A program reached out to approximately 12 festivals/events regarding potential investment opportunities that would help the FE&A program reach its goals," stated the RMOW communications department in an email. "FE&A has received replies from all the events contacted."
Nelson, for example, presented a "shopping list" of options to the FE&A Working Group between $30,000 and $100,000. "Our proposal was geared for mid-week exposure to encourage people to come up earlier in the week to be able to hang out with the star and see the performance and get really excited about it," he said.
"We're suggesting a Wednesday/Thursday headline performance and the artist that we're looking at and currently put on hold (has) a really strong social media following and we thought that was a really cool aspect of our proposal to engage an artist that is very active on social media. It's great to get those images and get the message out to their network that Whistler is the place to come."
The artist on hold appeals not just to the LGBT community but to a mainstream audience as well. The deal for the Whistler show would be at a charity discount rate.
As much as Nelson would like confirmation of funding as soon as possible — he had been hoping to hear by early November so he could promote the act along with the early booking deadline — there is still work to be done before the money can be allocated.
"We really do need to look at the results (of 2012) before we move forward," said Adams of the oversight committee, which considers the recommendations for the FE&A Working Group.
"The oversight committee has to have an in-depth review as to what happened last year — where the money went and what was the bang for the buck there," she added.
Council got a first high-level glimpse of that review at last week's council meeting. Crankworx, Whistler's summer mountain biking festival, received $100,000 in augmentation funding this past summer The money was primarily used on the first weekend of the 10-day festival. There was a 13 per cent increase in room nights compared to the same time in 2010, when the event was held in August.
Likewise the Wanderlust Festival, a yoga, musical celebration, saw a 15 per cent increase in room nights in its first year in Whistler, over the same weekend the year before which had no festival. It too had $100,000 in augmentation funding.
Wanderlust is coming back from Aug. 1-4 in 2013. It is not clear how much funding will be part of the 2013 line-up but the move is good news. The change means the Ironman event, new to Whistler this year, will be the stand-alone event on the Aug. 25 weekend.
This year, however, there are more applicants looking for FE&A funding, and the festival season is longer than before, potentially beginning in January 2013, as opposed to May.
Adams stressed a point that Councillor Roger McCarthy, the council FE&A rep, is continually making — the program needs to be year-round to capitalize on marketing to a captive audience, visiting the resort.
"We need to have this planning in place so we can be promoting to the visitors that are here in the winter because they're the kind of visitors I think that will drive economic impact to the resort and a lot of them I'm sure they don't know what a wonderful place it is in the summer. A lot more big picture thinking," she said.
Here's a snapshot of some pitches to the FE&A Working Group:
Whistler Readers and Writers Festival
It has grown from a dozen people to a few hundred in its 11 years, attracting bigger authors and a more varied line-up of events with each successive anniversary.
Festival director and founder Stella Harvey has applied for funding again this year. Last year Harvey asked for $25,000 in FE&A per year for three years to help market the festival. Council awarded the festival $4,000 last year out of the test and development budget.
Harvey has asked for more in 2013 for the October event.
"Basically the request is to augment our festival by adding two new events, one on Thursday night and one Sunday afternoon in order to increase attendance, profile for the festival and the resort and of course, room nights during Whistler's shoulder season," she said.
The Whistler Intercultural Festival
Unlike the Writers Festival, the Whistler Intercultural Festival is just a nascent event, the brainchild of organizer William Roberts.
It too is in the running for funding this year. For a few years now the festival has transformed Main Street into a mini cultural expo, with food vendors and tents set up showcasing Whistler's cultural community. There are Filipino dancers and Japanese calligraphy and restaurateurs showing off Persian, Thai, Chinese food.
Roberts has asked again for $25,000 to help foster and grow the budding event at the end of June.
Last year Roberts got $5,000 from FE&A funding while the federal government kicked in more than $13,000.
The Spirit Within
The festival was awarded $35,000 in FE&A funding last year, its first year celebrating First Nations culture. Casey Vanden Heuvel of the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre has asked for the same again in 2013.
"This type of commitment from the RMOW allows us to meet criteria from Heritage Canada... so we can be pitching for a much larger sum," said Vanden Heuvel.
That sum is up to $250,000.
"(The Spirit Within festival) could be the largest in the province or potentially the country," he added.
"The RMOW is not alone in understanding the value of investing in cultural celebrations.
"The FE&A support last year allowed us the opportunity to demonstrate our ability to produce compelling and engaging cultural content."
It was done on a total budget of $75,000, including in-kind contributions from the centre and the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations.
There has been talk of combining the Spirit Within festival as part of the new fall festival the municipality is in the process of developing. That, however, depends on what the funding partners, namely Heritage Canada, would like to see happen, said Vanden Heuvel.
He applied for the 2013 monies out of the small test and development budget that is part of FE&A. Because the festival is so new, generating significant room nights may not be feasible in year two. But the investment is in the potential of what may come.
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