A work in progress: building cultural tourism piece by piece 

Part two

click to flip through (4) PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE - The playground at Whistler Olympic Plaza has become a popular hangout for visitors.
  • Photo by Mike Crane
  • The playground at Whistler Olympic Plaza has become a popular hangout for visitors.

This is the second of a two-part feature. Last week, we lifted the lid on this thing called cultural tourism at Whistler — place-based cultural tourism, to be exact — what it is, and why it's important.

This week we'll look at the "how" of it — how cultural tourism is unfolding, how to keep it on track, how it can result in more visitors than ever coming to soak it all up, keeping the economy humming and creating even more of the unique local vibe that makes Whistler, Whistler.

Thrilling, amazing, a game-changer — these were the kinds of reactions last week to the news that talks are underway for an 2,500-square-metre art museum at Whistler as a permanent home for the extraordinary private art collection of Michael Audain and his wife, Yoshiko Karasawa. A collection described by the Vancouver Art Gallery as the most important private collection of B.C. art. A collection which includes hundreds of works by some of the world's top artists, from Emily Carr (Audain has the largest private collection of her work), to Jeff Wall, Brian Jungen and Andy Warhol. A collection whose depth and breadth was on fine display last year when the VAG staged a major exhibition based on it.

If the art museum goes ahead as planned — and there's no reason to think it won't — it will make Whistler a gold star on the cultural tourism map, much as the McMichael Canadian Art Collection has made Kleinburg, Ontario. Or as the Maeght Foundation has done for the France's Saint Paul de Vence, which Audain and his wife visited years ago and inspired them to choose the same kind of beautiful forested setting that Whistler could offer for their collection.

All this on the heels of a commitment from the provincial government that secures for Whistler $34 million in Resort Municipality Initiative funding over five years. These are monies that must be used to support tourism, and Whistler in the past has put them to good use, in part, for cultural initiatives like festivals and street entertainment (to the tune of $340,000 this year alone); operating Olympic Plaza which, since the Games, has been "furnished" with amenities like a fire pit and playground that have made it a magnet for something fundamental to place-based tourism — just hanging out; and, most importantly, the development this year of a community-based cultural plan.

Between the two announcements, cultural tourism at Whistler couldn't have dreamt up a better week if it had its own imagination.

"What (the art museum) will do for us is develop a bit of a cultural precinct, so we'll have Millennium Place with its theatre and public gallery, and immediately across the street will be the art museum, then around the corner is the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre," says Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who has long been a champion of the arts at Whistler and made developing a cultural plan part of her election platform.


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