May 31, 2012 Features & Images » Feature Story

Imagine a world without art 

Celebrating 30 years of Whistler Arts Council doing the opposite

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Since the Resort Municipality of Whistler designated it as the community's umbrella arts organization in the 2001 Whistler Arts Plan, the arts council has taken the leading role in arts advocacy and community cultural development while working with key players like the municipality and Tourism Whistler as well as other local arts and cultural organizations. It's newest role: leading the community's comprehensive cultural plan.

"Whistler is a model for arts councils because we've been so successful in building partnerships," says Joan Richoz, the arts council's dynamic chair, who first got involved in 1983 doing calligraphy for Children's Art Festival posters. Later, she picked up the torch to build and run Whistler's library — a concept first bounced around the arts council table — and served on Arts BC's board, currently as president.

"One of the biggest challenges that arts organizations and, really, any organization has is creating those partnerships, especially in small towns where there is often so much competition and territorialism."

Partnerships — and future success — have been further solidified by including important stakeholders as directors. This includes Tourism Whistler's Barrett Fisher as well as Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who, after years of involvement with the arts council and its events, including as a previous director, appointed herself to the board even after she was elected mayor.

"It's important to me to be there," she said by phone while attending a mayoral conference in Penticton. "I think culture is really coming into the mainstream in Whistler. We've seen with the economic recession that we need to do some economic diversification and I see cultural tourism as doing that."

Cultural tourism is definitely on the radar screen, which has further implications for WAC.

"It [cultural tourism] is an important piece in the overall fabric of what we promote," says Fisher. "Whistler has been known as a sport tourism destination, but more and more feedback that comes from our guests highlights the importance of the cultural component... Certainly the arts council can take a leadership role in all this."

A concerted team effort between the municipality and the arts council was instrumental to Whistler's designation as a Cultural Capital of Canada in 2009. But it was the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games that really put the arts council — and many local artists — front and centre.

After seven years of successfully producing Celebration 2010 each February to herald the winter Olympics, the arts council entered a whole new league as co-producer of Whistler Live! — a $7-million program of live events featuring five per cent First Nations and 20 per cent local artists that was the cultural showpiece of the Olympics at Whistler.

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