VSO and others keen to explore educational opportunities in Whistler 

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The potential to develop musical education opportunities in Whistler is music to the ears of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra president Jeff Alexander.

It is one of a host of educational opportunities that will be part of the upcoming municipal education open house on Thursday, April 4.

The VSO was invited to speak to the Whistler Leading and Education Task Force in recent months with the suggestion that Whistler may be interested in developing some kind of educational opportunities.

"We'd be delighted to work with them on that," confirmed Alexander this week.

"We're very active in education."

He pointed to the 70 musicians at the VSO many of whom are skilled in pedagogy, as well as the host of educational programs the VSO offers in the Lower Mainland from elementary school concerts to Tiny Tots Concerts for children up to five years old.

Building on the success of last year's two-night, plaza-packed performances from the VSO, both sides see a potential to expand thanks to Whistler's close proximity and the existing relationship, which could see the VSO performing here on an annual basis.

"It seemed like a natural next step," added Alexander, tempering that with the caveat that it's still in the exploratory stages.

That's exactly what the task force has been charged with — exploring potential economic development opportunities for Whistler within the field of learning and education.

Though the details were thin at last week's Committee of the Whole meeting updating council on Whistler's education initiative, there appears to be strong interest in the concept from a range of parties.

They include established universities like the Sauder School of Business at UBC and Quest University, to brand new concepts like Whistler International Campus, to the VSO and Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

"As you can see, quite a diverse group," said Gwyn Symmons principal of CitySpaces Consulting, a community planning and development consulting company, hired by the municipality as project manager of the task force.

There is a project in the five-year financial plan called "Educational and Learning Strategy," with a budget of $40,000.

Terry Deutscher, task force volunteer member and former professor of business administration at the Richard Ivey School of Business, told council that the opportunities exist from niche areas to brand new building proposals.

"I think there's potential for several," he said.

The challenge, he added, will be figuring out the best fit while analyzing the potential risks and the success factors.

An open house on Thursday, April 4 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Whistler Conference Centre will display the bulk of information gathered by the Learning and Education Task Force these past six months and there will be questionnaires there for the public to fill out.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said there would be new information at the meeting and she hopes to hear from the community.

"We are really counting on input from the public at that point," she said.

The task force is expected to present a draft report to council in June with its recommendations.

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