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Arts Whistler spread the local love in 2021

With COVID health orders and reduced capacities, arts council focused on lifting community last year 
The Anonymous Art Show was one of several locally geared events produced by Arts Whistler in 2021.

You wouldn’t think an arts organization that lives off in-person events would come out the other end of the past two years the better for it. But according to Arts Whistler executive director Mo Douglas, that’s exactly what happened. 

“COVID made us, I think, even more creative, better decision-makers, a stronger team, and we feel closer to the community in some ways having done a number of events to really help strengthen the heart and soul that is this town,” she said at Arts Whistler’s annual general meeting, held last Wednesday, May 11 at the Maury Young Arts Centre. 

Local was the name of the game for Arts Whistler in 2021, when provincial health orders and reduced capacities gave the long-running arts council the impetus to hone in even further on events and programming that supported the resort community through a trying period.

“We’ve really worked to lift community spirits, using the arts as a tool through the pandemic, and we carried that from 2020 into 2021,” Douglas said. 

There was the ReachOut! enamel pin, designed by Whistler artist Aurora Moore, a partnership with the Whistler Community Services Society to raise awareness and funds for well-being programs available locally. 

There was the LIFTing the Community initiative, which saw 15 local artists transform retired Catskinner chairs into works of art, reflecting the theme of belonging, and “making the heart and soul of Whistler more visible to our visitors as well,” Douglas said. 

There was the Hear and Now festival, which welcomed 18 different local bands to shoot their own original live video content instead of its usual in-person event. Emerging out of that was Creative Catalyst, essentially a music industry boot camp for five Hear and Now artists and bands that were selected to take part. 

“I’m seeing the results of that with the work they’re doing out in the community now,” Douglas noted. “These bands, their names are more prominent, their work is more prominent.” 

Then there was the slate of events, both new and old, that offered a welcome dose of culture to an entertainment-starved town, like the second annual Art on the Lake event, which will expand to two days this August; the popular Tour de Pumpkins, which more than doubled its attendance ahead of Halloween last year; and the sold-out 15-week run of Laugh Out LIVE, the improv and sketch comedy show that launched in December. 

The success of Laugh Out LIVE is a total reflection of the work we’re trying to do, which is take the talent in this community and work with them to keep elevating them to a more and more professional level,” Douglas said. 

Rental business at the Maury Young Arts Centre understandably took a hit in 2021, and building that business back is a priority this year. 

“It hasn’t been without its challenges but the phones are ringing, which is great, so we’ll see where we end up by the end of the year,” said Douglas. 

This year not only represents the first of Arts Whistler’s new three-year strategic plan, but is also the council’s 40th anniversary, with plenty of upcoming events and fundraisers on the horizon. 

“We think we look pretty good for 40,” Douglas quipped. 

For the calendar year, Arts Whistler excess revenue over expenses was $24,118, compared to $52,980 in 2020.* The council took advantage of two COVID-related governments subsidies last year: a $10,000 Canada Emergency Business Account loan, and $235,709 in Canada’s Emergency Wage Subsidy.  

Arts Whistler also named new members to its board for a two-year term: Shelagh Thiessen, Kimberly Stanger, Liz Peacock, Katie Willamson and municipal appointee Jeannette Bruce. They join current board members Murray Hunt, Jeff Murl, Theresa LaRose, Brianna Beacom, Brad Nichols, Jessie Morden and Cathy Jewett. Departing board members who have reached the end of their term were Joan Richoz, Michelle Ratcliffe and John Rae. 

*This story has been updated to include Arts Whistler's excess revenue over expenses for 2021.