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Community-funded programming gets the spotlight in Whistler

Whistler's mayor and council heard updates from five important community groups that receive funding through the municipality
Arts Whistler’s Art on the Lake event.

The RMOW recently received a whistle-stop update of the five organizations that received $1.2 million in funding from the municipality in 2023 under the fee for service program.

General manager of community engagement Karen Elliot described each of the five as having “achieved great things” in Whistler with the support of the funding when speaking ahead of the presentations at the May 28 committee of the whole in Whistler.

“I think it's important to remember that these organizations have been selected to participate in the fee-for-service program because they add to the quality of life in Whistler, they provide a really important service that council has deemed important and aligns well with the official community plan, and the goals we’re trying to achieve in the community,” she said.


Starting with the bikes, executive director of the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA),Trevor Ferrao, reported they spent every penny of the $269,000 they received through the program in 2023, and a little extra too, with another $1,641 from donations and fundraising rounding out the $270,641 the association plowed into trail maintenance over the year. Another $40k goes into new trail construction, though that money is not funded through the RMOW-backed program.

Ferrao gave a quick update on projects WORCA worked on, saying they completed work on 85 different trails—noted to be a lot and too much for detail—so in brief, work included rock armouring in the Cheakamus area and fixing climb sections; fixing trails in the Rainbow area after fuel-thinning work; as well as lots of new bridge work across the network.

Ferrao reported trailforks data showed a seven-per-cent increase in trail users for Westside trails in 2023, together with an 18-per-cent increase for Cheakamus area trails.

Commenting on the increase of use on the Cheakamus trails, Councillor Cathy Jewett asked whether that was due to the addition of more intermediate trails in a wider network famed for being highly technical.

Ferrao said it was “part of the reason,” but added there is a lot of new housing in the Cheakamus area, and more local users. 

Whistler Museum

Brad Nichols of the Whistler Museum reported 2023 was “the busiest year in the museum’s history,”,with 16,290 visitors—an increase of 43 per cent over 2022, and 19 per cent over the last pre-COVID year in 2019.

By the numbers, the museum had a big year in its archives, with 1,200 images scanned into the digital collection and more than 4,000 items donated. “Everything we do grows out of our collection,” said Nichols.

The fee for service funding of $208,000 in 2023 represented about 47.2 per cent of the Whistler Museum’s budget, with much of the remainder coming from donations, grants, and revenues. 

Nichols said funding primarily went towards supporting core staff to maintain consistency through the year in offering regular exhibits on mountain life.

Jewett asked how plans were going for a new museum in Whistler, to which Nichols replied the museum is working with a new architect and re-doing plans, which it hopes to have refined by mid-summer in 2024. He said the museum is working on ways to make a new building more cost-effective. Speaking to Pique in late 2023, Nichols said the new build was expected to be a $10-million, state-of-the-art facility to open in 2028.

Arts Whistler

Mo Douglas from Arts Whistler said fee for service supports a little over 40 per cent of Arts Whistler’s annual budget, with $550,000 flowing to the organization.

Douglas ran through the numbers of engagement across various programs, festivals, markets and events which she said appealed to people across the spectrum of Whistler.

She reported Arts Whistler was building back from 2022, when it ran a $100,000 deficit it managed with its reserves.

To do that, Douglas said Arts Whistler leaned into all available programming, didn't hire to replace any roles, and endured some natural attrition, and has since posted a $40,000 surplus at the end of 2023.

“Going forward we are really striving to build back those reserves as a result of some of the COVID challenges … we are feeling excited and positive,” she said.

Coun. Arthur De Jong asked whether Whistler was regarded as a benchmark community in the arts space, to which Douglas replied that Arts Whistler didn’t spend a lot of time comparing itself to others.

“We do get calls from other arts councils, including resort communities. This partnership is a huge difference,” she said, explaining the funding from fee for service allowed Arts Whistler to take some risks, and gave it certainty in its programming.

Representatives from Whistler Animals Galore, and the Sea to Sky Invasive Species Council also made presentations.

All five organizations re-qualified for funding for 2024, and each received a slight bump in funding of $61,000 across all five. The spending of that money will be reported on in May 2025. Funds for fee for service come from the RMOW’s MRDT allocation (taxes from overnight stays at hotels in the community) and the general operations fund (property taxes).