Feature - To make a stone stony 

Whistler's arts underground comes up for air and an audience

Making art is a pointless thing. What you create is essentially useless, and it's not going to get you rich. In fact, in data compiled by the federal Culture Statistics Program (2000), artisans and craftspersons were found among the 25 lowest paying occupations in Canada in 1995, while painters, sculptors and other visual artists, as well as musicians and singers, were found in the bottom 35. No culture occupations were found in the country's 25 highest paying occupations (which make on average $80,200).

Whistler is home-base for plenty of people who have chosen, at least for a time, "lifestyle". Most of us are willing to forego certain opportunities, like a six-figure or even an $80,000 salary to be able to pursue our physical and athletic passions in this playground.

Artists, however, in following their bliss, are generally committing to a life of poverty. Particularly in Whistler, where the cost of living is high, business and rent costs are prohibitive and landlords continue squeezing the canary just to its point of asphyxiation, the barriers to entry to life as a self-supporting artist require Olympic-standard pole-vaulting skills.

Cost of living aside, Whistler is not a particularly arts-friendly town. The local galleries rarely showcase art from local artists, generally citing inferior quality and an inability to afford to take risks on work that won't move, particularly considering their own overheads. Public art commissions are more widely enjoyed by artists from out of town. There's not a big sense of community as far as artists gathering, collaborating, banging ideas around. Space is at a premium, and artists struggle to find the space to work, or showcase their work.

"I'm surprised there isn't a more active artistic life in the visual arts in Whistler," says long-time resident and the principal of Art Junction @ Function gallery, Jan Holmberg. "Compared to other North American ski resorts, like Vail and Aspen, Vail has about 30 different galleries, whereas Whistler has only about five. This probably has something to do with the maturity of the resort - Vail is a lot older. And it has a more affluent customer base. It's been tough for galleries to establish themselves here. Doing business in the town centre is prohibitively expensive, and there's no forecasting data, so you can't really make concrete business plans, you just have to go with the flow."

The Whistler Arts Council is trying to do something about that. Since its inception in 1982, the Arts Council has worked to promote the arts in Whistler and provide cultural opportunities. Its inaugural event was an art exhibit and sale featuring 17 local artists. The current Arts Council's vision is that Whistler become world renowned for both the arts and recreation.


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