Bridge over cultural divide 

Artrageous energy gave birth to week-long Whistler Arts Experience

Artrageous was first held in 1991 in the Whistler Mountain Ski Cabin as an evening to showcase new and established local artisans. The brain child of Whistler artist, Christina Nick, the event quickly gained popularity and was the beginning of a bridge over the cultural gap in the community.

Artrageous was MIA for a few years, but returned in 1997 with greater support and momentum as part of the ‘The Town Party’, a carefree event thrown by locals for locals. Artrageous proved to be the perfect complement with over 800 people attending the show.

Fast forward a few years to 2000. The Whistler Community Arts Council wished to expand on the local excitement created by Artrageous, and hence a weekend art festival, Arts Experience, was born.

And in 2001, what started as a single evening of art and music has grown to include a week-long celebration of Whistler’s artistic community.

"The parents of the children participating in the Whistler Children’s Art Festival kept saying ‘we need something like this for ourselves’," says Arts Experience co-ordinator, Donna Savage. "So the workshops were developed last year. I hadn’t moved up (to Whistler) yet, but I was a participant. I did flower arranging, which was wonderful. This year though, we’ve made it very inclusive."

"We did partner last year with Tourism Whistler," continues Savage, "and we wanted to expand it with a view for the future. We want to make it a really big week, an arts experience that’s good for the locals and that will also encourage and bring visitors and increase the visibility and awareness of culture here in Whistler."

Part of that plan is Artists At Work, an opportunity for artisans and artists to show their works in progress throughout the streets of the village. Artists will set up a workspace for the afternoon where pedestrians can observe them in action. However, due to a bylaw, the artists are not permitted to actually sell their work on the street.

This program has drawn the criticism of at least one Whistler artist. In a letter to the editor published in the May 18, 2001 edition of Pique , Janet Young uses the word "exploitation" to describe Artists At Work.

"Why not ask our lawyers, doctors, dentists and architects to show the public how they create? Would this population of professionals give away their expertise for free, on the street?" writes Young. Since Young’s letter, Lotus Art Supplies has offered to act as headquarters for participants, taking care of the money, should someone want to purchase a piece of art from one of the street demonstrations. In a follow up conversation, Young applauds the local shop owners for making the effort, but contends the overall concept of Artists At Work still misses the mark.

Young says the mandate of Tourism Whistler is just to bring more guests to the resort. TWA is actively marketing the week through its Central Reservations office, offering packaged rates for a three night stay. In doing so, it generates revenue for area hotels, restaurants and shops, but Young argues only a very small amount of cash, if any, actually makes it into the hands of the artists. Young questions why only the artists leading workshops during Arts Experience are being paid. Why not pay the Artists At Work, just as the performers in Tourism Whistler’s street entertainment line up are paid?

"The mandate of Tourism Whistler is indeed to bring guests to the resort," says TWA communications director, Connie Rabold, "and therefore bring business to the community and our members. While we’re not directly delivering the business to the artists we are delivering the audience and the market to the artists. Therefore, a connection can be made at that point. That’s where the Arts Council takes over."

"(The Whistler Arts Council) is still a small organization and we frankly can’t afford to do that yet," confides Savage. "But we are providing a venue at no cost for the artists to showcase their work. They can hand out business cards and now they can sell (through Lotus). We are doing our best to help the artists. And there are a lot of local artists that are just delighted. I just had a carver call me and say ‘you mean I can carve and showcase my work under a tent for nothing all week?’.

"The rest of the arts community does seem very excited over this event," continues Rabold. "We just want to stress that the outdoor venue is the only place where one can’t sell any type of goods due to the bylaw. But there is certainly lots of opportunity during this festival to sell indoors (at Artrageous). This is a win-win for everybody, in that it’s creating awareness of our arts community and presenting this community to the public and the tourists that may come here."

Aside from the concerns raised by Young, Arts Experience does promise to be an outstanding event. There are nearly 20 workshops to choose from, with a wide variety to capture just about anyone’s interest.

The opening of Maurice Young Millenium Place coincides well with the festival. MY Place will debut workshops in its new video, audio and theatre facilities during Arts Experience.

Jim Budge will offer his expertise in shooting and editing beginner or advanced videos. Local musician and world recording artist, Kibwe, will show students how to record and program music on the their own CD which they will take home at the conclusion of the course. Whistler Dance Society Artistic Director, Trina Eby, invites all to sample techniques from five dance disciplines. Other workshops being offered include photography and darkroom printing, clown characterization, balloon sculpting, hand lettering, miniature keepsake books, handmade cards, a crash course in drama for teens, the art of airbrushing, an open discussion and demonstration with artist Lyle MacDonald and a lesson in acrylics with Mike Svob.

Svob will also be the subject of an Artist’s Dinner where he will illustrate his work and artistic career path in a slide show.

"This is the first time we’ve done the dinner, and (Mike Svob) has a good story to tell," says Savage. ‘He’s a successful B.C. artist. Imagine going from telling your wife ‘honey, I’m going to paint’, to unveiling your work before royalty. He’s going to show his development, so it’s sort of like a little workshop on how to become an artist and how to make it work."

If you prefer something a little more leisurely — and free — you’re invited to enjoy guided art walk tours, an interactive art zone for six- to 12-year-olds and daily street performers including lessons in clown history and make up application with Tickles.

Space is limited at the dinner and workshops. For information on prices and registration contact the Arts Council.

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