Becoming a Cultural Capital 

How will Whistler use $500,000 for the arts, culture and heritage sector?

Back in January, Whistler’s arts community received a hefty chunk of change, and a pretty prestigious designation; we were named one of Canada’s Cultural Capitals, an honour which comes along with $500,000 in funding to support various arts, culture and heritage projects within the community.

John McCormick is a consultant for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the central organization that has worked on developing Whistler’s plan for spending that money.

“I think we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to do this; we’re thrilled to be a part of that… Cultural Capitals of Canada family,” McCormick said.

That plan is entitled, “Celebration 2020: a natural step towards cultural sustainability,” and it contains a number of initiatives that are designed to carry forward after the 2010 Olympics.

“This is seed money we’re getting — this is not core money, so the intent is not that, ‘oh, we’ve got this money and that will pay for everything,’” McCormick explained. “The intent is that we get this funding and it helps us either increase our funding through the year for the programs that are identified, and it also helps us move forward in 2010 and beyond.”

While a bit of the programming began in April, it isn’t until 2009 that the majority of the funding will be unleashed onto Whistler’s arts and cultural sector.

The RMOW and the local partnering arts agencies were waiting for final approval on their spending plans, and it looks like they’ve finally received the go-ahead.

Some of the funding has already gone into boosting existing projects, like the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, and doing some background research and testing for brand-new arts offerings, like the Crankworx Art in Technology Project.

“It’s a really interesting and groundbreaking project that uses the mountain as a canvas and the bikers as the paintbrush, if you will, with GPS as the connecting point, and then artists who come out of the major animations and effects studios in the States… create sort of a wild, almost psychedelic artistic film, of sorts,” McCormick explained.

Funds will also go towards things like artists’ agreements and the development of the Whistler Arts, Culture and Heritage (WATCH) plan, a comprehensive cultural plan to help Whistler reach their 2020 objectives in an organized manner. The WATCH plan will give local stakeholders an idea of where the arts, culture and heritage sector is heading.

“That’s important, because it helps everyone work towards the same objectives,” McCormick added.

Another key part of the plan is the reinvigoration of the Whistler Theatre Project, which has been defunct for a few years now, due to lack of funding.

“It won’t be the same, it won’t be as large — what they did was a $400,000 project. So we’re not doing that this year,” he said.

Rather, the project will be scaled down significantly, producing “MountainHeart” a new Canadian theatrical work that will “explore the magic of Whistler, its history and array of great explorers and community builders.” The new production will be presented in the summer of 2009 with a cast of local youth and emerging artists, First Nations and internationally acclaimed actors.

The plan also includes programming for a First Nations youth paddle carving program at the new Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre, tying the new facility into the arts, culture and heritage sector.

“It’s great that we got the funding in anticipation of the Games, because it helps us to test out the way things are going to operate in 2010,” McCormick said. “It also is really helping to highlight the role that arts and culture can play in this community — the connection to cultural tourism, the opportunity to build capacity locally. Not only performance capacity, potentially, but also technical capacity.”

The comprehensive plan is the result of a lot of time, effort and extensive planning by not only the RMOW, but a myriad of other groups, like WAC, WFFS, and MY Millennium Place.

“We did our best. What we couldn’t do is have a room of a hundred people — that wasn’t workable. What we did do, though, was canvas opinions,” he explained.

A website outlining Whistler’s Cultural Capital programming is currently under development, and should be up and running in a few weeks, and signage will be put up along Highway 99, alerting visitors to the new designation.

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