May 31, 2012 Features & Images » Feature Story

Imagine a world without art 

Celebrating 30 years of Whistler Arts Council doing the opposite

Page 2 of 8

But the efforts weren't sustained.

Maybe an arts council could help. And 30 years later, I'd have to say it has — in glorious, multi-hued spades.

So what is an arts council — what does it do?

"That's a very large question, but essentially an arts council is to promote and expand the availability of the arts in a given community," says Jeremy Long, former executive director for British Columbia Arts Council who also ran his own theatre company, the popular Tamanhous Theatre.

According to Long, outside of major cities community arts councils play two key roles. They're the main contacts for touring groups like Tamanhous. They also extend art throughout the province while keeping larger umbrella cultural organizations like BC Arts Council — the provincial funding agency for the arts — in touch with what's happening on the ground, ensuring support for the arts gets to where it belongs.

But there are arts councils and there are arts councils. In some cases, they become little fiefdoms — insular and defensive.

"What happens sometimes is a very small group of people take control and they cease to be open, and that's when they run into trouble," Long says.

But Whistler Arts Council (WAC) is the polar opposite.

"In my opinion, it's definitely one of the best and that comes down to the people involved," he says.

Ask three key Whistlerites — mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden; Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler; and John Rae, who handles strategic alliances for the municipality — what makes Whistler Arts Council such a positive partner to work with, and they all say "the people."

You can count my vote there, too. Building a community is an exercise in creativity. Much like good theatre, timing is everything. Whistler circa 1982 was virtually a blank slate — a tabula rasa, as they say in cultural theory. Everything needed to be done. Certainly the arts council could have foundered, but it not only stuck — it flourished. And all because of the people.

Starting with no money but a handful of determined, starry-eyed souls who first gathered in a meeting room donated by the Delta Hotel (hotels, restaurants and other businesses have been generous partners in the arts council's success, donating everything from free rooms and dinner for touring dancers to paints for children's workshops), Whistler Arts Council has evolved into a dynamo.

In 2011 alone, some 72,000 people attended WAC-produced events, and that doesn't include the village street entertainment it also organizes.

These days the arts council operates with an annual budget of $1.4 million, 40 per cent of which are grants; nine full-time talented employees; a powerhouse board of directors; and more than 250 active members. It runs numerous arts-based spaces, including Maurice Young Millennium Place, and organizes a roster of festivals and events that makes larger centres enviously green, or some such colour. (See Putting art into Whistler's heART.)

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