Write or not Whistler’s got culture 

RMOW Policy and Program Development

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The arts, culture and heritage sector in Whistler has developed as fast as Village North, but it hasn’t been real estate driving the growth, it’s been real people looking to make our little piece of paradise as authentic, vibrant and diverse as possible.

“For Whistler especially, the growth of arts and culture is a crucial and timely evolution in terms of building this community,” says Doti Niedermayer, Executive Director of the Whistler Arts Council. “There is a lot of competition out there in terms of where people can go for a vacation. Generally, most will choose a destination with a real sense of place, and that place is generally built on cultural offerings.”

According to Niedermayer, the evolution of arts and culture in Whistler has been supported by, and supportive of, Whistler’s successful evolution as a leading mountain resort community. The community worked to build infrastructure (roads and subdivisions), recreation (mountain sports and marketing) and now culture and heritage (art and artists). Whistler has always been home to painters, writers, sculptors and other “arty” types. In the early 1900s, Alex Philip, founder of the Rainbow Lodge with his partner Myrtle, wrote a series of successful romance novels with Alta Lake as the setting. Our surroundings hold copious natural inspiration and the same beauty that draws guests here from around the globe also entices art out of the musty scented social fringes.

But what about Whistler’s current arts, culture and heritage sector? The sector that contributes to enriching community life, enhancing the resort community and ensuring economic viability — three of the five Whistler2020 priorities. According to a 2006 report entitled “The Whistler Cultural Landscape,” the “…operating budgets of cultural organizations (in Whistler) are in excess of $4.8 million, which includes over $3.1 million in event-related costs.”

The Whistler2020 Arts, Culture and Heritage Strategy Task Force of community members has recommended many actions to help develop, promote and support Whistler’s culture and artists.

“The Whistler2020 task forces are very important as people in diverse sectors like arts and culture don’t often get a chance to come together around a table as they are too busy,” says Niedermayer. “With the Arts, Culture and Heritage Task Force, we have hammered out a good description of success and we have created action items that allow people to work together. The task forces have been very successful on figuring out where the holes are.”

A significant hole identified this spring is the lack of a comprehensive arts, culture and heritage plan, which is recommended as a priority action for 2008 by the Arts, Culture and Heritage Task Force. A 2007 action currently underway is the creation of a Whistler “Artist in Residence Program.” A cooperative effort between the Whistler Arts Council, the RMOW Resort Experience Department and Whistler’s arts groups has refurbished an historic cabin at Alta Lake Station in which artists will reside on the west side of Alta Lake.

The first artist to reside in the Alta Lake Park House will be hosted by the Whistler Writers Group. Writer in residence Paulette Bourgeois, author of the highly successful Franklin the Turtle stories for children, will work with 10 local writers throughout September. Bourgeois’ stint on the lakeshore is a component of the sixth annual Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Sept. 14-16, 2007. Festival Coordinator and writers group founder, Stella Harvey, says every year Whistler’s cultural train gathers more steam.

“Whistler is so many more things than a skiing and mountain biking town. Even though these are key to Whistler, I believe Whistler is so much more,” Harvey says. “The last couple municipal councils have put more focus on arts and understanding what a driver they are for diversifying the value of our resort.”

A critical combination of “artists’ brains and grant money” is what keeps the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival rolling, and according to Harvey, the Whistler Writers Group’s biggest annual fundraiser (aside from grants) is the Bookish Boozehounds Bottle Drive, set for Sunday, July 22 at the Whistler Bottle Depot on Nesters Road. BYO bottles, books or bucks to support this innovative combination of used books and recycled bottles being held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We have the fundraiser so we can keep the festival as intimate, inclusive and affordable as possible, as well as invite the highest quality presenters and instructors,” Harvey says. “It’s not just for writers; there are plenty of discussions and workshops for people who are readers and for those interested in writing.” For more on the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival check out www.thevicouscircle.ca.

To KNOW MORE about other actions that are moving our community toward Whistler2020, or to find out how we’re performing visit www.whistler2020.ca.

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