Whistler partners shore up WSSF for second year 

Third-party event producers move to plan B with less FE&A money

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For the second year running there will be no title sponsor for the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, and municipal investment in the festival is down too.

But Whistler Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler will not let the flagship end-of-season festival fall by the wayside as it rounds the corner on its 19th year. The partners came to the table to fill the hole left by Telus and, more important, about one-third of the $1 million-plus WSSF budget.

"Everything is whole," said Sue Eckersley, president of Watermark Communications, which produces WSSF. "There is no impact again. The partners have invested in the festival again, which is great.

"There has been no financial challenge."

WSSF was not alone in its challenges; just one of the 11 third-party events got an increase in funding from the municipality this year, one stayed the same and all others decreased.

The Festivals, Events & Animation (FE&A) requests to the municipality were double what the program had in its Attract, Retain, and Augment program budget for 2014. More than $1.3 million was requested. There was $632,000 in the program (that does not include the $250,000 for Ironman which is an annual contribution for five years).

Eckersley first made the WSSF'S case to the municipality for third-party Festivals, Events and Animation (FE&A) funding last year. It received $135,000 in 2013, this year $107,000.

Though decreased, Eckersley called the continued financial support "amazing."

"While the investments into WSSF are not meant to help us out in this period of time when we're without a title sponsor, there's no question that it has," she said, referring to the last two years of municipal funding.

Cornucopia, likewise, received less this year, down to $55,000 from $75,000 last year. Watermark produces that festival too.

Last year's investment, Eckersley said, helped grow the festival from five days to 11 days.

She calls WSSF and Cornucopia the "poster children" of Whistler events.

"If we didn't exist they'd be looking at creating a GO Festival in April and a GO Festival in November," said Eckersley, referring to May's new festival that is kicking off this year with a $290,000 FE&A investment.

Shauna Hardy Mishaw, executive director of the Whistler Film Festival, is likewise grateful for the funding even if it has gone down $11,000 to $79,000.

Municipal support of the film festival, she said, was once eight per cent of its budget; now it's five.

"That three per cent, it doesn't seem like a lot but in the big scheme of things, it really is," she said.

Compounding the issue is the fact that the Whistler Film Festival is a not-for-profit. "We tend to feel the impact more so than a for-profit model," said Hardy Mishaw. "We do rely on other sources of government funding and when other levels of government look at municipal participation as one of the key beneficiaries of the economic impact, that's where it becomes more challenging for us to continue to get increased levels of other government support, particularly at the federal level."

While admittedly disappointed that FE&A funding has decreased for the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival (down $10,000 to $20,000), founder Stella Harvey said last year's investment truly gave the festival such a leg up, she's hoping to capitalize on that with less money.

"Last year really gave us a big boost," she said, of the biggest year to date.

"We're grateful... it makes such a difference for us."

The two biggest investments from the program remain Ironman, locked in a negotiated contract at $250,000, and Tough Mudder, the only event to see an increase in funding to $128,000 this year.

"The cautionary tale is that those are two organizations that can pick up and leave at any time and leave a hole," said Eckersley. "So it's nice that only portions of the money go to things like that, and other things go to homegrown events that will always be here, and that will benefit in the long, long term of the investment."

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