Whistler culture, the world commits 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE COURTESY OF TOURISM WHISTLER. - Numbers count Crowds gather at Whistler Olympic Plaza in 2013 for the annual calendar staple — the outdoor free Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performances.
  • Photo by Mike Crane courtesy of Tourism Whistler.
  • Numbers count Crowds gather at Whistler Olympic Plaza in 2013 for the annual calendar staple — the outdoor free Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performances.

It may be only month three of 2015, but it already looks like this year will be a watershed one for the establishment of the cultural future of Whistler — and particularly in its aim to show itself to be a cultural tourism centre.

A moment when it all got real, when outside investment in us went to the next level.

By this I mean that along with the many homegrown cultural achievements built by our local artists, musicians, writers, film folks and festival makers, the outside world is showing more commitment. World-class organizations are establishing themselves here for the long haul and they are doing so in a way that can make Whistler's arts and culture as big a draw as our snow is to guests from Vancouver, Seattle, Sydney and Beijing.

Of course, it is our nature that initially nurtures this cultural growth. That which sets us apart from urban centres is a great initial draw, but it will be the quality of the cultural experience as well that will seal the deal for those discerning visitors.

It's fun to imagine a worldwide network of French horn, clarinet or timpani players all discussing Whistler's musical potential.

This is what happened when it came to drumming up interest in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Orchestral Institute (VSOI), which will take place throughout the resort for the first time from June 28 to July 5.

Congratulations is due to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) for almost tripling the number of applicants they'd hoped to get for the youth program. They aimed for a relatively modest 30 applicants; they got 80, all of whom are paying the $1,250 tuition and spending time and money here.

"The appeal of Whistler has been a real positive in this whole process," Christin Reardon MacLellan, the VSO's education and community program manager who oversaw the search for pupils, told me.

"I think it has really distinguished the institution. The union of the VSO and Whistler has really been an obvious draw for people. We thought it would be a match made in heaven and I think it is showing that it is becoming like that. We're really excited."

The students are from everywhere. Eighteen are from Greater Vancouver to Whistler. The remainder are from across Canada, the U.S., Columbia, Britain, China, Japan and Singapore.

They are fast-tracked to becoming professional musicians, which is what the VSO had expected.

Does this success mean the education plans for the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) have turned a corner?

Two years ago, when the RMOW's post-secondary education task force held its first public open house at the Whistler Conference Centre, nine potential education partners for the resort were identified. These included the established and those who did not, eventually, move forward: Quest University Canada, The Sauder School of Business, Capilano University, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, The Whistler Education Group and Whistler International Campus.

There have been false starts, most recently in 2014 when Emily Carr University of Art + Design postponed its summer satellite course for young artists in Whistler due to lack of enrollment.

The Emily Carr partnership was announced to fanfare in December 2013 and the disappointment was palpable, but Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said this week that the lessons were learned and the summer satellite program is on course for this summer.

But perhaps it is the Audain Art Museum where the cultural hopes of Whistler's great and good are firmly embraced.

Due to open this fall, the $30-million-plus building is rising across the street from municipal hall like the ark it is; contained within will be a dream of a fine arts future that could become like a mini-Bilbao Guggenheim, a new and unique reason to make the trip up the Sea to Sky Highway.

The gallery will house dozens of unique works by artists such as Emily Carr and E.J. Hughes, donated by Michael Audain and Yoshi Karasawa. Now other donors are being drawn to this vision.

Suzanne Greening, the museum's executive director, tells Pique this week that they have already raised $6.3 million towards the creation of a permanent $25 million endowment fund.

Part of this is thanks to a $500,000 donation by the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, and more money will be added to this fund after this weekend's first official fundraiser at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

Greening says the endowment fund is necessary to ensure a successful operating budget given that such galleries still tend to lose money.

This paper will be writing up these stories of Whistler's cultural tourism future, the trials and the victories, for years to come. What is clear is that mixing boldness with caution and good timing is key.

As other ski resorts in Canada and south of the border look to mixed weather fortunes this year, with many places already closed, the growth of cultural Whistler could be seen as prescient as building the Peak 2 Peak Gondola has proved this season in keeping our customers happy in the high snowline.

It's an exciting time to be building what is essentially Whistler's other legacy.


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