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Strength in numbers

New regional economic impact study aims to quantify arts in the Sea to Sky corridor

What is arts worth in the Sea to Sky corridor?

A new regional economic impact study of arts and culture in the Sea to Sky corridor will answer that question, and perhaps lead to more business support for the arts.

“We will do some basic analysis to determine the size of the cultural sector and use it as a baseline to measure progress,” said arts advocate Anne Popma. “We have a lot of opportunities coming up with the Olympics and other factors and we need to have some idea of where we are now and use it to demonstrate how our cultural sector is a lot larger than most people would expect and how it’s good for business.”

Building on needs identified by Whistler 2020 taskforces, the study will gather baseline data on the scope and economic benefit of existing cultural activities and develop strategies for future growth in the corridor. The study will also help support the development of the Sea to Sky Cultural Alliance, a regional arts umbrella.

The $55,000 study is being funded by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, Arts Now and the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

"Our Whistler 2020 vision and sustainability plan discusses diversification of the tourism economy as a success factor,” said Mayor Ken Melamed. “Building and expanding the arts and culture aspect of the corridor is one way to diversify our tourism economy. This study will help us measure and build support for arts and culture and unleash the creative potential found in the corridor. The municipality feels that supporting arts and culture helps us move toward social and economic sustainability; enhanced arts and culture benefits both local residents and visitors alike."

Originally, the Whistler 2020 proposal only encompassed Whistler, but after 100 arts and community leaders gathered for a round table discussion on arts and culture in the corridor last year as part of the Sea to Sky Cultural Alliance, the need for a more regional approach was identified.

“I think when we started meeting with other arts representatives in the corridor, we saw a real opportunity in the future that was corridor wide,” said Doti Niedermayer, Whistler Arts Council executive director.

She noted Squamish’s growing art scene, especially with the town signing on to run the Nordic centre programming. Organizers are looking to link the town’s Wild At Art Festival with centre programming.

Pemberton is putting spud valley on the cultural map with events such as Slow Food Cycle Sunday, Winter Fest, the new Pemberton Arts Council and local art shows.

Mount Currie has a population of at least 100 artists, Britannia hosts the B.C. Museum of Mining and Lions Bay boasts a strong artist community, led by Mayor Max Wyman, one of Canada’s leading cultural commentators.

“We were pulling all of that together when looking at the Cultural Alliance and everyone was like, wow, what an amazing roster of activity across the corridor,” said Niedermayer. “What a way to build a voyage from Lions Bay to Mount Currie. What an incredible cultural corridor.”

And a financially beneficial one.

Popma said a “quick” survey of Whistler’s cultural landscape was previously conducted, estimating a total of $4.8 million in operating budgets for arts and culture.

“When you start hearing data like that, you start looking at economic indicators and see how that translates into economic benefits for the community,” Popma said. “We want to demonstrate the strength of the arts sector and indicators to monitor that progress.”

A regional committee is currently being organized with consultants to be hired in the near future.

“We will have a report out by next year,” Popma said. “It is going to be much stronger at a regional level, than just on a local level.… There is always strength in numbers.”