Unifying for arts and culture 

Arts council and MY Place society consider amalgamation under one roof

There is strength in numbers, even when it comes to the cultural sector: that's the message contained in a study recently completed for local arts organizations.

Last fall, the Whistler Arts Council (WAC) and the municipality commissioned a functional review of two central community arts organizations: WAC and Maurice Young Millennium Place Society (MYMPS). Now, the results are in.

Professional Environmental Recreation Consultants (PERC) compiled the 20-page report, entitled the Whistler Arts Organizations and Facilities Review, after consultation with almost two-dozen community stakeholders and directors for WAC and MYMPS boards, who worked with PERC on a draft copy, which was distributed in January. PERC also completed an arts review for the municipality back in 2001, making a number of recommendations that have been implemented.

First and foremost, PERC's new study recommends that WAC and MYMPS collapse into one society to be housed within MY Place, which would become the dedicated arts and culture centre of the community.

Doti Niedermayer and Joan Richoz are both key figures of the local arts community. Niedermayer is the executive director of the WAC, while Richoz, the current chair of the WAC board of directors, has been involved in the arts council for almost 26 years.

"For a few years now there has been a desire on, I think, the RMOW's side - as well the arts council and probably Millennium Place - to look at the larger organizations... and look to see what synergies there were and what opportunities there were to share resources," Niedermayer said.

While finances are certainly a consideration, they aren't the sole motivation behind the study. Rather, the hope is to increase efficiency and streamline the operations of WAC and MYMPS. Existing staff would be restructured, and none would be cut.

"Both organizations are short-staffed and I don't think either kind of organization has any kind of meat or fat on them," Niedermayer said. "...But there is still that opportunity to say, 'OK, is there a way to share resources?'"

The report states that: "Fiscal realities have forced the RMOW to reduce its 2008 funding of both WAC and MYMPS by 30 per cent, resulting in significant financial challenges for both organizations... At the same time, preparing for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games is raising the bar of what is required of the community in delivering cultural programming."

PERC's recommendations all fit within WAC's current mandate, which is to integrate the arts into the fabric of the community. But it would mean that the organization would have to take on a new task: facility management.

WAC moved into the physical space of MY Place in early December, and for the most part, the two organizations have kept their operations separate. But now, staff members have begun to take small steps towards working together.

"There are actually things that we have moved ahead with that have been practical, that have been beneficial, that have saved both organizations time and effort," Niedermayer said.

The PERC report also suggests that MY Place should eventually be used solely as a hub for local arts and cultural activities, as consultants repeatedly heard that artists lacked affordable studio and exhibition space within the community. Private or non-profit groups that aren't central to the delivery of arts, cultural or heritage, like the Youth Centre, Whistler Village Host Program, and LUNA, would eventually be "phased out" of MY Place through a four-year transition plan that would be developed later this year.

"Personally, I was happy to see it in the report, but at the same time, I'm a realist," Niedermayer said.

She pointed out that there are financial considerations to be made, as artists wouldn't generate the same revenue that the current groups are able to afford, and added that she wouldn't want to see all of the other valuable community groups displaced.

Now, WAC and MYMPS have sent council a list of points of agreement between the two organizations, and are working on narrowing down the details with their steering committee.

"This is going to be part of a greater comprehensive cultural plan for Whistler," Richoz said. "So this is sort of a good framework, these recommendations, to move forward with that."

The organizations will be working on this throughout the year with the hopes of having a "changed organization" by the time the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games roll around. But there are significant legal matters that need to be sorted out. First of all, both groups are societies with charitable status.

"We have to figure out what the best way to move forward is," said Niedermayer. "And there are some logical decisions to make and then some legal implications."

In theory, both Richoz and Niedermayer agree that PERC's recommendations make sense, it's just the matter of figuring out how to make their ideas a reality.

"There are some questions," Niedermayer said. "I don't think that anybody was surprised with the recommendations, I don't think that anybody is against any of the recommendations."

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