Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Feature -Mountain culture and performance art

Alien observations of Celebration 2010

The circus is coming to town!

A travelling caravan of IOC members, officials, media and assorted clingers-on, for whom Whistler will crank up its charm-meter, like debs at a ball looking to lose their virginity. With the arts council taking the conductor’s baton, Whistler groups have been tuning up for over a fortnight of festivities and celebration; all to play to a score composed by the bid corporation to convey the image of a thriving, energized place that’s simply ideal for hosting a globally telecast event like, uh, say, how about the Winter Olympics?

Celebration 2010 (Feb. 14-March 8) is being touted as a province-wide celebration of Canadian culture in support of the Games bid. The $880,000 behind Celebration 2010 has been kicked in by all three levels of government. The money is a clear acknowledgement that a key aspect to a successful bid is a thriving and diverse arts and cultural community. With the spotlight on, a host country suddenly drags its neglected artists to centre stage, to show off its incredibly enlightened culture. (This might best be exemplified by the Australian government’s eagerness to embrace and showcase indigenous art during Sydney 2000, even as they simultaneously refused to offer the aboriginal people any kind of apology for a systematic forced removal of young Aboriginal kids from their families into mission schools during the ’50s and ’60s.)

The Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation has also implied that if we are successful in the Vancouver/Whistler bid, the pot will suddenly be overflowing for local cultural initiatives. And we can showcase to the world a place humming with mountain culture.

But hang on there. Mountain culture? Isn’t that like military intelligence. Government organization? Or a sustainable Whistler? An anthropologist from another galaxy (let’s use an alien to assume a level of objectivity that Olympic officials are hardly renowned for) sitting on Citta’s patio and observing the local bipedal wildlife would surely be forgiven for drawing a question mark next to that entry in their notepad.


: ? Abundance of fleece and Gore-tex. Always armed with some kind of prop – wheeled contraptions, decorated planks, either broad, or long and narrower in pairs. Subjects smoke profusion of a forbidden weed. No other signs of significant cultural development or advancement.

Culture, from the Latin word for cultivating or tilling, encompasses both a growing medium, and the fruits of that work. Alexander Solzhenitsyn defined "culture" as the development, enrichment and improvement of non-material life. Our alien observer might hypothesise, uncannily astutely, that culture, meaning a thriving, vibrant, energized, artistically inspired community, can’t exist where the average family dwelling is… galactically priced. Yawn. People’s resources are already stretched thin just scrambling to meet the demands of material life. Assuming they’re interested in anything other than snow sports and real estate, anyway.

Identifying Characteristics: Mountain Towns

Mountain towns can be spotted, even on cloudy days when identifying markings like peaks and cliffs and summits are invisible, by the plethora of property investors and tourists.

Property investors leave an identifiable scat such as real estate windows and magazines, time-share, and salespeople who feel at liberty to interrupt your coffee

Tourists’ distinguishing features include coverings of brand new outdoor clothing without local markings (dirt, Duct tape) and armloads of shopping bags. Tendency to ask inane questions.

"Artists help explain a culture." That’s according to the Celebration 2010 program. Artists also typically live in poverty in order to pursue their vocation, to answer their calling, and yet the fruits of their efforts, their life’s work, actually define and create the culture. Through performance and creation, the cultural workers of a community contribute to its depth and substance. Kerry Clarke, a volunteer with the Whistler Museum, argues, "Our current resort community is very heavily based on recreation and sports. That’s great, but it is also important to have a historical and cultural context. Residents and visitors alike need to know that Whistler extends beyond the vacation experience." 

Cultural Underground:

Whereas dominant conversational strands tend to focus on cliffs hucked, sleds purchased and money made in real estate, there is a cultural underground. Members of said underground meet in living rooms, cafes, bars, and undertake such strange things as discussing books they’ve read or stories they’ve written, jamming together, bringing films to town, recording oral histories of ageing pioneers.

As for those ageing pioneers, they aren’t defying time’s hoary hands. You can’t sup from the Fountain of Youth forever, and Whistler’s Museum and Archives Society is overwhelmed by the responsibility of recording the oral histories, and protecting and archiving memories and artifacts from Whistler’s past, while those people with the memories are still alive. The museum has been housed in a "temporary" trailer for eight years now, and it may be required a little longer, since the Capital Campaign has gone into "temporary" hiatus to ponder whether a new facility at the cost of $10 million is so important to the community after all.

For a community with such a remarkable history – fishing resort, railway town, hippie paradise, locus of four previous Olympic bids – welcoming 2 million international visitors a year, it seems incredible that a state-of-the-art interpretive museum facility isn’t at the forefront of Whistler’s agenda. The museum’s holdings include close to 400,000 photographs and 1,000 artifacts dating from the early 1900s through to present day, and it is a cutting edge institution in the use of new media technologies such as digital video, searchable databases, and interactive Web sites. Perhaps a further legacy of this Olympic bid might be a commitment to a building to house Whistler’s virtual treasure trove and to showcase the town’s heritage to the world, seeing as the world is coming here on a pretty regular basis, regardless of the Olympics.

The Whistler Museum and Archives Society isn’t the only local cultural group operating on a shoestring and putting on a free community event as part of Celebration 2010. (An Olympics History and Trivia Night featuring local athletes will be held by the Museum at MY Place on Saturday, Feb. 22 from 7 p.m.)

Since May 2001, the Whistler Writers Group has been meeting in a lounge room or a bar to discuss stories and present open mic readings or enjoy workshops the group has brought to Whistler. Says group founder Stella Harvey: "Through the open mic readings, we've seen the blossoming of young talent that has had no previous outlet in this community. The Writers Group believes we should use every opportunity to promote awareness of the skills of local writers. As flagrant extroverts with a desperate need to be heard we covet every opportunity to read our work in public."

The Writers Group will be putting on two gala readings featuring local and Vancouver writers on Sunday and Monday, Feb. 23 and 24 at 8:30 p.m. at Uli’s Flipside at Creekside. In the present barren publishing climate, the Group will also publish a collection of their work using funds made available by Celebration 2010.

Local writer, and a driving force behind many of the group’s public reading events, Stephen Vogler, says:

"I don't particularly support the Olympic bid, but I'm willing to help spend some of the money that the government suddenly found on a cultural event.

"I'm also confident that if the government decided to spend $1.3 billion on a two week arts festival, we'd be glad to share a little with the sporting groups."

Even though the cynical might regard the Celebration 2010 Showcase as a slick marketing event for the bid corporation, local artists are so glad for an opportunity for recognition, performance and some financial assistance to increase their group’s profile and serve the community, that they are willing and enthusiastic participants.

But then again, what’s so unusual about becoming a part of Whistler’s performance art? Aren’t we all cajoled to create a positive guest experience for the town’s primary industry?

The word "legacy" has been thrown around a bit in conjunction with the Olympic bid. A more inclusive word might be "impact." What will the impact of the bid, and the Olympics itself be?

Questions that have been skirted over during "legacy" discussions include: Where will the staff you need for such an event, sleep? Or is an hour bus commute what the unlanded deserve, while the gentry gouge descending Olympic visitors, renting out their pads and suites? Will there be a negative environmental impact to such plans as developing the Callaghan? Obviously, local businesses stand to make some money, but is money all there is to it?


Despite galactically unique and beautiful surrounds, subjects seem often willing to ignore negative impacts on mountains in favour of wide-spread, grubby pieces of paper that are primary method for trade and exchange. Cultural trait not unique to mountain communities – is exhibited on macro level across entire planet.

It's unfortunate the kind of money that has been made available for this "performance" isn't available all the time for struggling arts groups, so that, even when the world’s spotlight is shining elsewhere, we still enjoy a culturally rich life.

To be fair, Doti Niedermayer of Whistler’s Arts Council notes, "The government has been investing in the arts prior to this. Maybe not as much as they should but the provincial government, City of Vancouver and RMOW have made commitments to arts funding. Currently the RMOW funds the arts council."

However, the Whistler Community Arts Council is not so much a community of artists as an independent quasi-governmental committee. Its mandate is to co-ordinate, stimulate and promote the growth of and participation in the arts in the Whistler area.

"Our mission is to enrich the Whistler experience through the arts. Historically the arts council has been a ‘presenter’ of the arts in Whistler. Encouraging participation in the arts by organizing the Whistler Children's Art Festivals, school theatre residencies, art awards and bursaries to secondary students, presenting a performance series, a craft fair, visual art shows, etc," explains Niedermayer.

One benefit of Celebration 2010 may be the active role the arts council has taken in co-ordinating Whistler’s diverse arts groups. By acting as an umbrella organization and submitting a proposal for funding for the showcase that incorporated nine different groups, the arts council ensured that Whistler’s smaller groups had a better chance of being included in the showcase.

Niedermayer continues: "I believe that this is the first time that so many groups came together to even talk about putting together a mass proposal. It's the first time that everyone has been collected together like this. Celebration 2010 certainly gave our community this opportunity. It isn't very often that this kind of funding comes along for a community. It takes a Celebration 2010 opportunity to have a reason for everyone to get together."

It’s pretty obvious to anyone with one eye open that we humans have a massive impact on the mountains. By recreating and creating here, we are all everyday artists. And the fruits of our labours is what we call mountain culture. The best impact we can hope to have is a culture that invokes honour, reverence, stewardship and creativity.

Equation and Analysis:

Mountain culture can be calibrated with sufficient data. It equals the sum of its parts. Combination of impact of all subjects – includes businesses, mega-corporations, individuals and the apathetic. Very volatile mix. This observer sees many sparks amongst subjects. Very high proportion of valley dwellers with great passion for vertical topography.

Recommended Areas for Further Study:

Subjects provide interesting blend of reverence and disdain, inspiration and unawareness, pleasure and misery. Recommend further study in this area. Observer proposes to go undercover here for study period. Detailed analysis may take years. Embassy should not expect observer for quite some time.