Talks begin with municipality over possible new Whistler Museum facility 

Size, location of current facility continues to be a challenge, says museum director

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Between the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) and the incoming Audain Art Museum, Whistler is becoming known as much for its cultural offerings as for its world-class outdoor recreation.

The Whistler Museum facility, however, doesn't quite fit this mould. Housed in four small portable buildings tucked behind the Village library since 2009, president John Hetherington has a five-year goal of moving the museum to a new facility and is seeking the municipality's help to do so.

"We feel we've made really good use of the building we have and we will continue to do that, but we feel like we've reached a ceiling and we can't go much further forward," said museum executive director Sarah Drewery at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, Dec.3.

"(The current building) doesn't really represent Whistler and Whistler's culture the way the other facilities in town do."

Drewery estimated the current buildings to be between 20 and 25 years old and said it's unclear how much longer they will be operationally viable. The meeting with municipal officials was intended to put the issue on council's radar and to enlist the RMOW's assistance in locating a new facility or identifying an existing building that would be suitable.

The existing 3,000-square-foot facility isn't large enough to house some of the museum's most notable artifacts, like early Whistler pioneer Myrtle Philip's 16-foot cedar strip canoe, which is currently displayed at the Whistler Public Library. Drewery proposed a new facility be at least 10,000 square feet in size, or 8,000 if there is off-site storage space.

In its current location, the museum is also difficult to locate, according to Drewery.

"A new museum could take a lot of forms; it could be a building by itself or it could be part of another existing building or one that could be built," she said. "We don't want to pigeonhole ourselves."

Some ideas for a new facility floated at the meeting include attaching it to the Whistler Conference Centre, locating it somewhere in or around Celebration Plaza, housing it underground at the former bowling alley next to Village 8 Cinemas or erecting a new two-storey building at its current site and possibly attaching it to the library next door, Hetherington said. Funds for the new facility would likely come from various government sources and foundation grants, he added.

"We really can't move forward until we decide on a location," Hetherington said.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden commended the team's openness to exploring all potential options for a new facility, but noted municipal staff's heavy workload with four major reports due for implementation over the remainder of council's term.

"We do have our ears to the ground and to the extent that we can free up some staff time to get things moving along, we certainly will," she said.

The Community Cultural Plan, the resort's long-term vision for arts, culture and heritage that was received by council in September, specifically recommended the development of a new interactive Whistler Museum facility to be paid for primarily with Resort Municipality Initiative funds.

The Economic Partnership Initiative Report, endorsed by council last month, highlighted the need to offer more weather-independent attractions in the resort. Drewery noted that the museum saw it's busiest September on record this year during a month of rainy weather.

There's also been discussion of making the Whistler Museum a part of the resort's proposed "cultural corridor," a bridge over Fitzsimmons Creek that would link the Audain Museum to other Village facilities like Millennium Place, the SLCC, the library and Olympic Plaza.

"You've got the SLCC, which is quite new, you have the Audain Musem, which is going to be an amazing building, and there's our little tiny museum stuck in some portable trailers, so we're not quite playing in the same league," said Hetherington.


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