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Arts Experience post-mortem to determine future directions

Organizers of last month’s Whistler Arts Experience say the event is important to developing continuity in the local arts community but still needs some re-working to insure its ongoing success.

Organizers of last month’s Whistler Arts Experience say the event is important to developing continuity in the local arts community but still needs some re-working to insure its ongoing success.

This was the first year Arts Experience had been extended through a full week, as opposed to a weekend. Nearly a dozen workshops, ranging from dark room printing, to dance, to water-colours and calligraphy had been planned, but to the disappointment of artists and organizers, many of those were cancelled due to lack of interest.

"We’re going to be asking the public and the artisans a lot of questions before next year’s event," says organizer and Whistler Community Arts Council administrator, Donna Savage. "We’ve just got our own observations for now, but perhaps summer is not the right time to be holding Arts Experience. Perhaps people didn’t want the workshops because they were indoors. The number of workshops was actually a little excessive too, so we may look at scaling that back a bit."

Arts Experience, in particular the workshops, grew out of the annual Whistler Children’s Art Festival, where parents could be seen getting a little "over-involved" in all the fun. Last month’s event was aimed at giving adults the same opportunities as the children, however, it was still the Kids’ Zone that drew the most participants. Savage speculates this could be because the children’s interactive sessions were held outdoors on a drop-in basis, which allowed for last minute participation without any great time or dollar commitments.

The Artists at Work series was also a highlight this year. The opportunity for artisans to show off their craft on the village streets as pedestrians stopped to ask questions seemed to appeal to all parties involved.

"We’d like to see a free flow demonstration of artists, not necessarily offering workshops, but offering a medium that is interactive," says Savage.

Whistler artist, Gavin Livingstone, participated in the Artists at Work series and agrees it was highly successful. The idea had been a bit touchy in its inception, as street vending is prohibited by bylaw. A little creativity on the part of organizers, artists and local businesses solved that problem, allowing artists to demonstrate and sell. Livingstone sold a piece of art each day that he set up in the village but says the simple exposure was just as important.

"Basically I just had a fun time," says Livingstone. "Arts Experience is going to continue to evolve over the next few years and I personally would just like to see more and more artists getting involved."

The marquis event of the week was ArtRageous. The annual art exhibit always draws large numbers of both artists and guests. While this year was about on par with last, Livingstone and ArtRageous co-ordinator, Erin Pimm, both wonder why the numbers didn’t increase as speculated.

"We did a lot of advertising too," says Pimm. "We had ads in the local papers for four consecutive weeks as well as flyers around the village. We can’t really explain it."

Sponsorship is a possibility ArtRageous organizers will be considering for the future. The idea had come up this year, but just a little too late in the process. Pimm says the board isn’t entirely opposed to the idea, as it would offer greater resources for the artists, as well as doing away with public admission prices.

The point will be particularly relevant as the event’s major source of marketing funds determines the size of its future role. Tourism Whistler was responsible for marketing Arts Experience within the resort and beyond. Advertising for the event was seen in the Lower Mainland and Washington state, including the Art Guide to B.C., Vancouver Sun , Northshore News and Vancouver Courier . Although Tourism Whistler couldn’t confirm how many hotel rooms they filled with their multi-night Arts Experience packages, it does say it will re-evaluate how far-reaching marketing will be for next year.

"Where the festival is going will determine our strategy," says Gwen Young, Festivals Co-ordinator for Tourism Whistler. "It definitely fulfills Tourism Whistler’s mandate of creating ambience and culture in the village for the visitor to enjoy, and to attract visitorship and increase return visitorship. But whether or not we continue to market it as a regional draw or more of a local thing is what we’ll be looking at. For example, are we going to add more components or do they stay the same? It all has to be part of the evaluation process."

All parties agree, 2001 has been a coming out for the Whistler arts community. The shape of Arts Experience and the general direction of all artistic events will take shape as the Whistler Community Arts Council begins strategic planning talks under its new "umbrella structure" mandate for the arts. All of the observations from Arts Experience will be passed on to the council, which will soon include a paid full-time executive director, who should offer more consistent direction with such affairs. And if the leadership of the arts council is followed not only artisans, but of everyone who calls this valley home, could begin to fill that gap separating the "resort" and the "community."