Add a little arts to the election mix 

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We have two mayoral candidates and 10 wanna-be councillors running in the 2014 Whistler municipal election.

Voting day is on Saturday, Nov. 15.

The chatter from these 12 will be loud in the next month, and should provide a contrast to the relatively tight political consensus that Whistler council has projected since the last election.

Perhaps it will even mirror the lively political chatter on Facebook that can be read any given day of the week. (Check out the Whistler Politico page if you haven't already.)

Arts and culture and its role in Whistler should be part of it. Twelve minds can come up with at least 12 directions to take the arts beyond the amazing plans now being made.

Anne Popma, Whistler's newly appointed community cultural officer, gave a report to council about the work ahead at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Oct. 7.

High-profile projects such as the Audain Art Museum grab the headlines, while Popma plans to quietly streamline the many recommendations regarding arts and culture that were found in seven studies and work plans created by the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) over the years.

She has already whittled 106 recommendations down to 31, with two, the regeneration of the Rainbow Theatre and the hiring of a community cultural officer — herself — already accomplished.

Cultural tourism is now a phrase that is firmly part of the Whistler lexicon. In a conversation after her presentation, Popma wanted to look beyond it.

While she said she would like to see the importance of the cultural sector promoted during the election, she wanted any debate to support not only cultural tourism but also the quality of life here.

She said: "There has been a strong push over the past several years to get R.O.I, return on investment — let's fill hotel rooms — and we're doing that, quite successfully.

"But I would like to see a greater understanding of the importance of arts, culture and creativity for quality of life... What does it take to attract and retain creative workers, who are really global workers? They can live anywhere in the world, so what does it take to create the opportunities?"

She cited education opportunities and recreation as key reasons artistic business owners would want to relocate, as well as any opportunities for them to earn a living at their chosen craft.

In the past, when Popma was on the board of the arts council, local cultural organizations convened a debate during the election campaign.

"I think it was very significant in terms of bringing the topic into public debate because we forced the candidates to think about what it meant for them personally," she said.

The executive director of the Whistler Arts Council, Doti Neidermayer, said arts and culture is now the "third leg of the stool" propping up the resort.

It is too big to ignore and she hopes Whistler's creative world will be on candidates' minds.

"Anybody running for council should have a grip on what's happening in the arts in Whistler," she told me this week.

The arts council is not running an all-candidates debate during this campaign. Instead, said Neidermayer, they will be providing the venue — Millennium Place — for an upcoming Whistler Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event.

But, she adds, they are already planning questions on arts and culture for the candidates.

So what are your questions, all you painters, filmmakers, photographers, writers, designers and business owners? Now is the time to prepare them.

Some of my own questions for the candidates would be:

1) What are the challenges for home-based artists and creatives — and how can council help them and get their work out to the thousands of visitors to the resort?

2) What should happen if the provincial government either fully or partly withdraws the millions in Resort Municipality Initiative funding following their planned review?

3) Should there be an artisan's market? How can it be operated in a way that would satisfy bricks-and-mortar arts business owners?

4) What in the arts needs developing?

5) Some educational initiatives in the arts had trouble taking flight this year (Emily Carr University of Art + Design's teen summer satellite course was one program that was postponed). What do you see as the difficulties for such programs, and can anything be done to support them differently and improve their chances of success?

6) Where does arts and culture fit in your vision for Whistler?

7) What would your arts and culture priorities be for the next RMOW council term?

I came up with those questions in about 10 minutes. I encourage you to spend the same amount of time and think up a few of your own. What bugs you about arts and culture here? What do you love about it? How do you see its future?

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