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Arts legacy focus will help beat post-Olympic hangover

Salt Lake City arts director shares wisdom of experience at Chamber luncheon

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Vancouver and Whistler can soften the blow of the inevitable post-Olympic hangover by channeling energy into developing and maintaining arts legacies and cultivating a vibrant artistic culture rather than a temporary veneer of boosterism, former Salt Lake City Olympic arts director Raymond Grant said during a visit to Whistler last Thursday.

Appearing before an audience of 120 gathered for the Whistler Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon at the Westin Resort, Grant spoke from experience based on his pivotal roles as managing director of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, and the artistic director of the 2002 Cultural Olympiad – the Olympic arts festival for the 2002 Games.

Currently the executive director of programming at the Sundance Institute in Park City, Grant began his presentation by explaining that he would not be focusing on specific "lessons learned" from the Salt Lake City Games due to the satisfactory exposition of those issues in the Whistler Arts Council-commissioned report compiled by Arts Council Board Chair Anne Popma in September 2004, for which he was interviewed. The report, which was recently lauded as required Olympic Arts reading by the Georgia Straight, can be downloaded via the Arts Council website www.whistlerartscouncil.com.

Grant then went on to explain that looking beyond the Olympics was his focus.

"In Salt Lake City we spent so little time thinking about what happens after the Games," Grant said, "so little time that the legacy of the Games in Salt Lake City was little more than a photo album to offer our world visitors."

He described the general malaise that followed the Olympic high with examples of turnaround headlines from major U.S. media outlets that lauded Salt Lake’s achievement during the Games but then descended with criticism on issues such as the lack of downtown vibrancy in the following months.

His hind-sighted advice for Vancouver/Whistler was to focus on cultivating the arts both as a way to enhance the Olympic and Paralympic experience in February/March 2010, but also to keep the feeling alive, based on his concept of the Olympics not as a sporting event but as a "movement" with lasting impact.

Design the Cultural Olympiad, he suggested, as an annual arts festival. "Think February 2011," he quipped, emphasizing that this is the role of the community and not the Olympic Organizing Committee, whose job of putting on the Games will essentially terminate with the closing ceremonies of the Paralympics in March 2010.

Grant also honed in on the issue of cultivating a strong artistic community as a way to ensure a lasting Olympic experience for guests and visitors by creating a "sense of place."

He advised against booster-ism, which tends to turn off residents and doesn’t fool visiting media, in favour of honest portrayals of local stories and local issues. He cited a recent Sundance Institute summit on climate protection that he suggested would have been a great fit with the Salt Lake City Games.

"Use the Olympics as a call to action," Grant insisted, explaining that taking on issues such as melting mountains and the fate of the ski industry doesn’t put a negative spin on the Olympic experience. Rather, the aforementioned "sense of place" is fostered in a strong, vibrant community that embraces intelligent dialogue and the arts.

"Arts and culture encompasses all creative expression in support of or in opposition to a Nation’s or a community’s flavour and essence," Grant said.

"It can be read, viewed, heard or participated in."

"The Olympics is about storytelling," he challenged. "How will you feed the hunger for stories?"

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