Culmination of culture 

2009 Cultural Olympiad comes to the Sea to Sky region from Feb. 1 to March 21

click to enlarge Toxique Trio Street performers Toxique Trottoir are just one of the groups included in the Sea to Sky’s 2009 Cultural Olympiad programming.
  • Toxique Trio Street performers Toxique Trottoir are just one of the groups included in the Sea to Sky’s 2009 Cultural Olympiad programming.

You may not be able to medal in song or dance during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, but you can be sure that there will be plenty of arts and cultural related activities on VANOC's agenda.

Robert Kerr is the program director for VANOC's Cultural Olympiad program. He is responsible for the development, production and delivery of the extensive Cultural Olympiad programming.

"The Games are definitely more than sport - sport, culture and sustainability are the three pillars and it really creates a much broader and deeper experience for the host cities, the host province, and the host country," he said.

The arts have been an integral part of the Games since 1894, when the modern Olympic movement was founded. But as Kerr points out, the tradition is actually rooted much deeper than that.

"It goes right back to the beginning of the ancient Games, back to ancient Greece, where musicians, poets and actors would be there alongside the athletes to share their culture and act, in a way, as the media of the day," he said.

The Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad does, however, stand apart from the rest, as it is the first Olympic Games that has featured a multi-year cultural program.

"In the past, the Winter Games have always just focused on the year of the Games itself, so that's a major accomplishment in and of itself, and we're very proud of the fact that we're out there early with the community, building the cultural program and building the awareness of it," Kerr said.

They're also taking a modern approach to programming, examining Canada's cultural identity in the 21st century, and its relation to international arts and pop culture.

"We have a strong contemporary focus, and I think that sets us apart, for a large degree, as well."

This year's Cultural Olympiad programming actually officially kicked off on Feb. 1, and the province-wide roster includes a number of impressive activities, including a massive concert in Vancouver with Sarah McLachlan, Joel Plaskett and others performing.

"It's really developed through a very strong team effort," Kerr said, adding that aside from the VANOC effort, they have partnered with a number of community agencies, like the Whistler Arts Council, to create events that are tailored to specific areas.

Whistler has been celebrating the arts and the Games each February for the last five years with a series of events under the Celebration 2010 banner. This year it's called the Whistler Winter Arts Festival, and Kerr stresses that they've tried to incorporate local artists into the programming wherever possible.

"It's really important that we involve the community there, and that there is an expression of the community within the Cultural Olympiad."

Doti Niedermayer, executive director of the Whistler Arts Council, said there was a definite effort to include local artists in the celebrations, as well as expand their reach throughout the country.

"It's bigger than the Cultural Olympiad, because it's also produced this program in partnership with the Cultural Capitals of Canada, so our programming this year has sort of got the local components we've always had, but its also got the representation of artists from across Canada," she said. For instance, this year's Celebrate Live event features performers from across Canada, not just B.C., as in previous year's Celebration 2010 festivals.

Niedermayer explained that local arts agencies, like WAC, have primarily developed the local Cultural Olympiad events, with VANOC offering both financial support and expertise from staff members.

So what's in store for us here in the Sea to Sky region? At least 15 events in Pemberton, Whistler and Squamish.

The Whistler Winter Arts Festival started on Jan. 15 with snow sculpting at the Whistler Olympic Park. The schedule also includes Celebrate Live , four days of free concerts in Village Square Feb. 12-15; public rehearsals of Inspired by Place , a commissioned interdisciplinary performance; the annual Literary Leanings event Feb. 18; a screening of Community Now: Year Five , a film about Whistler's history, on Feb. 19; Whistler Film Festival's snow screen Feb. 21 and 22; musical performances by classical guitarist Daniel Bolshoy Feb. 25 and Quebec folk group, Le Vent du Nord March 12, and the magic of Ted Outerbridge on Feb. 28. For a detailed schedule of events for the Whistler Winter Arts Festival, go to www.whistlerartscouncil.com.

"We have a really great relationship, and a pretty significant event, with the Whistler Winter Arts Festival," Kerr said.

"...We're working closely with Whistler to really build on the history of Celebration 2010, what's been done there to date, and to really build an excellent winter festival event for Whistler that has great potential to be a really strong post-Games legacy for the community," he said.

Also in Whistler from Feb. 18 to 22, Toxique Trottoir , a mysterious trio out of Quebec, will rove the village, transforming public spaces into adventure grounds with poetry, burlesque and theatrics.

About 45 minutes south on Highway 99, in Squamish, VANOC will host the Logger Day Show Down on March 14. The event features the Vancouver TheatreSports League kings and queens, who take on the theme of logging during an evening of audience-driven improv. Also, foodies can sate their appetites for cuisine, wine and entertainment at one or both installments of Wild For Food , where two chefs whip up amazing culinary creations on March 9 and 10.

The community of Pemberton is being brought into Cultural Olympiad action, with the Northern Lights Showcase , an outdoor art, music, video and photography extravaganza that will flood the streets of the village from Feb. 13 until Feb. 22. And during the evenings of Feb. 14 and Feb. 15, the streets come alive for the two-day Pemberton Winterfest Street Party , which features concerts, performances, arts and crafts.

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