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Reinventing the Whistler Museum

Organization receives total of $364,000 in funding from community-based organizations

Jehanne Burns knows just how hard it is to stay in the public eye when you don't have a storefront location, so to speak.

Burns is the education manager for the Whistler Museum, which closed its doors last summer. But the museum has remained active as a society as it prepares to move into a new space.

"People think that the museum is closed and though our exhibits are closed, we're actually working behind the scenes on a lot of exciting things," she said. "...I catch myself going, 'we're closed, but we're open!' and it's confusing."

The museum board and staff are currently executing plans for a total "reinvention" of the museum as we know it, moving ahead with plans to relocate to the former library building next door, retrofitting the facility and customizing it specifically for their needs, which include a new exhibit.

"The idea is that we have money from the municipality to retrofit the building and make some really good, clear signage so you can see it from the street side and just enhance it to make it more attractive, which is really nice for the museum because we are quite tucked away now and people can't find us," she explained.

On April 1, Burns announced that the museum has received funding of $250,000 in funding from the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), $50,000 from the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation (WBF), $30,000 from the Community Foundation of Whistler (CFW), $20,000 from American Friends of Whistler (AFOW), and $14,000 from the provincial government, for a grand total of $364,000 to go towards the retrofitting of the building and development of the new exhibit.

"We're very excited that we have such strong local support," Burns said.

The new space is larger than the last, and offers a "relatively blank canvas" for the museum to design a purpose-built space.

"So there should be much better flow to the new exhibit," Burns said.

The new space should also allow better museum practices - for example, moving the archives out of the kitchen, where they are currently stored, and into one space.

"With the opportunity to move and have a different floor plan, that really gives us the opportunity to do some things behind the scenes that the public doesn't see," Burns said. "So it really is a giant step forward for the museum from the public's point of view, but also from the back of house."

They've hired Vancouver-based Panther Constructors, a full-service international project management company that specializes in themed attractions, museum exhibits and design-build projects, for the design and construction of the exhibit. Currently, they are in the process of finalizing timelines, so Burns could only say that they plan to reopen later this year.

Previously, the museum had several exhibits, whereas the new facility will house one central exhibit, which they've been hard at work developing specifically for this new space, entitled "Whistler's Olympic Journey."

"Its not like we're opening just a new exhibit and keeping some of our old ones, we're really doing one huge, comprehensive exhibit with the idea to tell Whistler's stories in sort of the frame of the timeline of 2010, basically asking the question, 'How did we get to here?'"

As the name implies, the new exhibit will focus on telling the story of Whistler's growth and quest to host the Olympics, which actually began almost 50 years ago, using four central themes: natural history, pioneer influence, Olympic visions, and mountain and resort development.

"A very commonly asked question is, 'how did all this happen?' So we want to answer it comprehensively," Burns explained.

"Those four themes, they all bleed into each other and that's part of the story you want to tell, is that things are interrelated and connected."

But first and foremost, the people of Whistler have been fundamental to the development of the community, and for that reason, the new exhibit will feature a large section dubbed "The Hall of Characters," chock-full of Whistler legends who helped shape the town.

They've also hired an expert to help them to articulate the overall story of Whistler to visitors. Meghan Long, an exhibit writer from the Interior who works with Panther Constructors, has come on board to help develop the new exhibit for the Whistler Museum.

"Actually writing an exhibit is a very technical field," Burns said. "We originally thought we would hire a local writer, because only a local could really tell this story, but as we got into the process and we got some expert advice from other museums, we found that hiring a technical exhibit writer is very important because people don't read books on walls."