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WAC sheds some light on Whistler

Children's work illuminated alongside amateur artists at Arts Council exhibit

Anyone who has visited Millennium Place recently has probably noticed that things have changed a bit since the Whistler Arts Council took over the space this summer: Ticketmaster doesn't sell tickets there anymore, a lot more events are being held there, and every month, there's a new round of artwork lining the walls. And in just a few weeks, Whistler's only public gallery space will be getting much brighter, thanks in large part to the Whistler community.

Andrea Mueller is the visual arts programmer for the Whistler Arts Council, which means she is responsible for curating the Scotia Creek Gallery space located on the upper floor of Millennium Place, as well as coordinating large-scale visual arts-based events like ARTrageous. While the dust has barely settled at the WAC offices since ARTrageous (there are still stacks of canvases leaning against desks, waiting for their artists to come and claim them) Mueller is already hard at work on her next project: the Festival of Lights.

The concept isn't exactly new - cities around the world such as Lyon, France; Berlin, Germany; and even the Niagara region of Ontario, hold light exhibitions around the holiday season. But Whistler's interpretation will be a bit different, more akin to Vancouver's Illuminares, the summer-time lantern festival.

"The holiday season brings a lot of people into town, so just sort of leading up to that (we looked at) how we could involve the community and the schools into bringing a little bit more light into that time of year," Mueller explained, "For me, its really dark in December and January, so it's nice to have something illuminating."

WAC recently issued two calls for entries - one for artists and one for the general community.

Local artists are being asked to create "unique light sculptures in any medium. They can be as simple as decorating a pre-made lantern or a complex light sculpture (TVs, metal wire, new media...)" Unlike most of WAC's shows, which require submission, this is open to anyone, and basically anything goes (though pieces do have to be family-friendly) - specific forms and abstract shapes of all sizes are welcome!

"So it's just kind of sending it out there and hoping that there are artists in the community who want to do something like that," Mueller pointed out, "There's nowhere in town to show any pieces that are installation-type work on a public level, like this."

Mueller is also looking for Whistler residents to lend a hand to the exhibit, designing and transforming lanterns to be put on display in Millennium Place for the month of December.

And to help those who aren't artistically-inclined get involved in the illuminating art project, WAC is hosting four lantern-making workshops. The first, for children and teens, will be held at Bizarre Bazaar at the conference centre on Saturday, Nov. 27, from noon until 3 p.m., followed by three more sessions for all ages at Millennium Place on Dec. 2, 9 and 16 from 9 a.m. to noon. They'll host a final workshop on Monday, Dec. 20 as part of the Whistler Holiday Experience at the conference centre. It costs $5 to participate in the workshops (to cover materials) and another $5 if you decide to take your lantern home with you instead of adding it to the exhibit.

People can also swing by Millennium Place and for just $2 purchase their own lantern to take home and decorate. Then, once their project is complete, they can drop it off at Millennium Place for inclusion in the show.

They're also working with Myrtle Philip and Whistler Secondary students on the project and have ordered almost 400 star and sphere-shaped lanterns, 90 of which have already been dropped off to classes at Myrtle Philip.

Visitors to the gallery will be able to vote for their favourite lanterns in the categories of student, public and artist-made, and the top of each category will win a prize from the Arts Council.

"We're just sort of thinking of different ways to make Millennium Place a little bit more of a gathering area," Mueller explained, adding that they're hoping to have a hot cocoa and coffee machine installed by the time the Festival of Lights exhibit is up as well.

The concept is also a creative way of getting into the festive season, using a powerful but unconventional artistic medium - light - to unite a community.

"There are so many different people from so many different places coming to Whistler that time of year, it's just a great way to do something that isn't Santa-based," Mueller said.

She hopes that the Festival of Lights will become an annual event for the community, with hundreds of lanterns and light sculptures illuminating Millennium Place for the month of December.

"I am talking to the RMOW about incorporating it into actually becoming a parade, eventually," she added.

And the exhibit is sustainable, too - when the lanterns come down, WAC plans to save them and reuse them at the annual Children's Art Festival instead of balloons.

People must provide their own light source (a fire-safe light bulb or LED lights), as WAC doesn't have the funding available to provide this for all of the lanterns. But they're also accepting donations of LED lights, so if any businesses are interested in supporting the event they should contact Mueller.

Any artists interested in creating a larger piece for the exhibit, or in need of a place to work, can contact Mueller at . Pieces must be dropped off at Millennium Place no later than Nov. 30, as Mueller hopes to have everything installed by the first week of December. The exhibit will be on display and open to the public through the New Year.