Arts council forum draws enthusiastic group 

Everyone agreed at the first annual open forum for the Whistler Community Arts Council that there is a strong place for art in the community.

And most seemed happy with the way the forum was orgnized as it tackled some of the issues facing artists in Whistler today.

"I thought that someone might stand up and suggest an alternate way of presenting these questions or protest the set of questions, but that didn’t happen," said John Hewson, president of the Whistler Community Arts Council which held the forum Feb. 23.

"You never really know."

The audience members also seemed keen to contribute their time.

"I was surprised and delighted (about the enthusiasm for) volunteerism, as you always need volunteers, but sometimes it’s tough to rally," he added.

Attendees descended on the Sutcliffe Room at the Delta Whistler Resort, post ski-day and otherwise, promptly at 4:25 p.m. for a 4:30 start.

Around 50 people came. Representatives from adele-campbell, Black Tusk and Plaza Galleries, as well as artists, and theatre performers were present.

After introductory remarks by Hewson, a series of roundtable discussions took place. A powerpoint presentation was also used as each question progressed.

Five to seven people at each table addressed the issue of what the Arts Council should prioritize over the next fiscal year, what the top three objectives of the council should be, and how these requests can be accomplished.

Hewson said he was pleased to welcome entrepeneurs to the meeting and hoped more would come in time.

"Art always depends on the generosity of local businesses, and it was great to see the chamber of commerce representatives at the meeting," he said.

"It would be great to see more of general business, and I think that will come in time."

Community members agreed that art is important to an enriched life.

Some were concerned that artists just pass through Whistler but don’t stay and so requests were put forward for subsidized rents or "artists-in residence" programs.

Other topics of discussion included creating artist spaces and grant-giving assistance for local art programs.

"It’s a popular idea because it gives focus to a creative project and it is intense," said Joan Richoz, current treasurer with the WCAC.

A grant could bring an artist here to teach others since many cannot get away for a week-long intensive seminar she said.

Where art should be displayed, was also of great interest.

Libraries, community halls, and a walkway, modelled on the artwalk in Nelson, B.C., and communities like Telluride and Banff, were suggested as models for making Whistler a creative hotspot.

Additional requests included a school or a very visible art program, and more space allotted for local artists.

Linking up with festivals based in Vancouver, so an artist might travel on sponsorship from the WCAC, was also suggested.

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, and members of the 2010 Olympic Bid Committee were also present.

"My overall feeling was that it was fabulous," says Richoz.

The WCAC is currently recruiting an executive director. The new director will begin duties May 1, and is viewed as a key link in implementing these priorities.

A summary of the findings of the meeting will be compiled and available by March 15.

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