Art for art's tourism's sake 

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Strike summer 2016, cue... good question?

Labour Day, a day originally meant to celebrate the labour movement and those who toiled to create the wealth of society, has, ironically, morphed into a last summer fling, the end of which is marked by the return to labour, be it work or school.

In Whistler, it used to end with an exhalation of relief as Tiny Town slipped quietly into the shoulder season, fevered renovations began with hope they'd be finished before the start of ski season and fear they wouldn't, those who could travelled somewhere warm to surf or simply recharge, and the rest of us just enjoyed a quiet break from our daily job of exceeding guests' expectations.

Not any more.

Whistler no longer takes a breather. There is no shoulder season, no down time, no recharging. We can't stop, can't pause, can't take a moment to reflect. If we do, there will be even more tourist beds without heads, more empty restaurant seats, more T-shirts left on the racks and bicycles un-rented.

There is, in fact, no longer anything Whistler does that isn't focused on bringing more tourists to town. OK, maybe a few things. But I suspect it's only a matter of time before they too disappear.

Way back in the day, back when the Whistler Arts Council was, well, the Whistler Arts Council instead of the snappy, if bureaucratically named, Arts Whistler — conjures up such inventive names as Canada Post, Revenue Canada, et. al. — Arts and Culture was something vaguely local, disorganized, messy like art itself, and low key.

One of the early, and longest-running offerings, the Whistler Children's Art Festival, was so low key it was almost off the radar screen. Except, that is, for children who were growing up in Whistler; in other words, local children. They had a great time messing around with art stuff at Myrtle Philip school and later Creekside.

The Whistler Children's Art Festival doesn't exist any more. It, too, has been polished up and branded and shortened to the Whistler Children's Festival, better perhaps to appeal to the attention-deficient generation of parents. Judging from this year's instalment at, of course, Whistler Olympic Plaza, there may or may not have been much in the way of a local contingent, it was hard to know for sure amid the cacophony of tents and branded sponsor offerings, throngs and throngs of children, numbering far more than even the burgeoning baby boomlets growing at Cheakamus Crossing and Rainbow could conjure.

For you see, the Festival isn't really about either art or children any more, let alone local children messin' around with art. It's about the Art Industrial Complex. It's about heads in beds. It's about driving tourism because that's what we're about and that's pretty much all we're about. Sorry, local kids; you can come but it's not about you any more. But hey, at least you still have Halloween at Tapley's. Oh damn, I shouldn't have mentioned that. I'm sure some group dedicated to driving tourism — which is to say all of them — will be looking at a way to turn that into a destination event later this fall, what with all the opportunity for face painting and dressing up.

And now we have the Fall of the Arts, er, Fall for Arts extravaganza. Something for everyone... assuming you're not one of those local folks who work weekends when, it coincidentally seems, almost everything is happening. From now until snow-time something old, something new, something co-opted, something cool has been stitched together into a nonstop, festivalized effort to "... align well with the older cultural traveller...," the kind of tourist who event organizers can "... drive... to all the businesses and other locations acting as galleries...."

Art, schmart; it's all about tourists.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to pick on Arts Whistler, a group of very dedicated people I've worked closely with over the years and whom I hold in high esteem. They're just doing what they've been charged to do, use art and culture to capture more wandering tourists and weekend visitors. And what the heck, anything that gives a boost to local artists is a good thing.

But it's that mindset I take issue with. Whether it's art, sport, entertainment, hell, even walking on nearby trails, it is no longer about the activity; it's about how to leverage it to bring more and more people here to fill our vastly overbuilt lodging sector. What next? Tours to watch locals shop for groceries?

There was a time, admittedly a very small window of time, when council of the day took a tiny breather from making Whistler a world-class destination and focused on community building, something earlier councils didn't have to focus on too much because all there was here was community. No more. Community building in Whistler has been reduced to arguments about how much and how quickly to build employee housing. And the only reason that's on the radar is because businesses desperately need more employees to serve the food, clean the rooms, rent the bikes and do the thousand and one other things to keep the tourist machine rolling to fill the overbuilt beds.

Which, of course, begs the question of why Whistler Blackcomb, er, Vail North, wants so badly to build still more beds to fill.

But I digress.

The myopic drive for all things tourist has reached absurd proportions twice this summer and in both instances the ultimate price has been paid by Whistler bears. First during Ironman and more recently when no one at muni hall was willing to close down a couple of Lost Lake trails to accommodate a bear family. Bears? Screw 'em; they don't rent hotel rooms.

That we can't continue down this path is obvious to anyone who attempted to drive between Squamish and Whistler — which included a lot of people trying to just pass through Whistler — last Friday evening. The grinding conga line snaking north from well south of town most of the way to Pemberton was moving about as fast as traffic on the Lions Gate Bridge at rush hour. And Friday was by no means unique.

But like the diehards who make their living off Alberta's tarsands, enough of the local political class and business owners believe that's just the smell — or in our case the sound — of money.

At the same time, more and more of the worker bees who have chosen to live here are wondering whether they made the right choice. We are quickly becoming a town with no soul, a town all about money, lifestyle be damned. Too many of us are beginning to wonder whether we are the frogs in the increasingly hot water. But damn, that hot water feels good... right up to the point where it begins to burn.




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