Members of Whistler’s arts community are eager to get together to talk shop and get to know one another.
About 30 artists from a vast range of disciplines, almost half of whom have lived in the community for more than five years, were in attendance to offer feedback on the local arts scene at a meeting held by the Whistler Arts Council (WAC) last Thursday evening.
The meeting, which was held at The Path Gallery, was the first of its kind in almost five years.
Anne Popma, a contract worker for WAC, facilitated the session, remarking that if a similar meeting were held about 20 years ago, only about four or five artists would have come out.
Popma opened the meeting by explaining that the mandate of WAC is to “interweave the arts into the fabric of the Whistler community,” and went through an extensive list of activities and events WAC produces each year, which include, but are not limited to, the Art Walk, Artrageous, and Bizarre Bazaar.
Artists were broken off into groups to discuss four central questions: what is working (or not working) for you as a working artist in Whistler; what major challenges do you face; what has changed for better or worse over the past five years; and what can the arts council do to make your life as an artist more meaningful and productive?
The discussions that ensued produced a variety of answers to these questions, but one thing was evident: there are some passionate and talented people in Whistler who have great ideas to help unify and strengthen the artistic community.
There was some discussion over the commercial success of some key annual events, like Bizarre Bazaar and Art Walk. While one artist pointed out that these events don’t typically result in high sales for artists, organizers and other artists pointed out that they attract large crowds, and help with exposure.
Many also seemed to feel that there was a lack of a central “hub” for artists, which has resulted in a somewhat isolated, disjointed arts community.
All of the artists in attendance seemed to feel that the central problem for artists in Whistler is finding an affordable venue space, pointing out that MY Millennium Place has become an expensive option for many.
WAC representatives pointed out that they have recently launched a new, updated database of local artists, and suggestions were made to organize more themed group collaboration projects to help both unite the community and challenge artists’ abilities.
Doti Niedermayer, executive director of WAC, was very pleased with the turnout at the meeting, and said they now hope to host informal artist meetings on a regular basis to encourage further dialogue.
“I think it would be really valuable in the long run to have a much more connected arts community from the artist level, not from the organizational level,” said Niedermayer.
They may even use the Alta Lake Station House to host summer meetings, and in the winter months, look for donated space from other local galleries.
Some issues that came up at the meeting, like the lack of venues and the price of storefront spaces, are things the WAC won’t be able to change. But Niedermayer said WAC hopes to find some simple strategies to implement at a grassroots level to strengthen the local arts community.
While the goal of the meeting was to offer WAC a few key priorities to work on, Niedermayer said they still have to go over the notes from the meeting to determine which are realistic ideas, and present them to the WAC board.
“There are lots of needs and lots of issues, and it’s all about space and money — those things, I think, are going to be ongoing and they’re going to be a real challenge in Whistler no matter what,” she said. “…There are always great ideas that come out of when people get together, and I think that’s fantastic, but in the end, it always comes down to things like logistics, like money and insurance.”
But she added that some practical and realistic ideas are bound to come out of these artists meetings and brainstorming sessions.
• New blog for WAC website to act as interactive “hub” for artistic community;
• Extending the Farmers’ Market to last throughout the winter to provide a year-round commercial opportunity for local artists;
• With the co-operation of Whistler-Blackcomb, exhibiting work at the Roundhouse and Rendezvous;
• Using WAC to organize a weekly art supply order from Vancouver;
• Petition local property developers for use of empty space to display work in windows;
• Developing an artist exchange program between arts councils in other communities;
• Holding arts medals ceremonies during the Olympics Games.