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Arts Whistler reflects on strong year during AGM

Increases for gallery visits, artist sales and attendance outlined in annual report for 2017



The Maury Young Arts Centre was a busy place in 2017—around 71-per-cent busier, according to the numbers.

The Arts Whistler-run space— comprised of a theatre, gallery space and The Gift Shop—welcomed 97,705 visitors last year, up from 57,092 in 2016, the organization revealed at its annual general meeting in that building last Tuesday, May 29.

"We're a really cool place to stop and shop," said Heather Paul, Arts Whistler's board chair, during the meeting.

Last year, 103 artists were showcased in The Gallery with 10 exhibits while The Gift Shop saw an increase of 36 per cent in items sold. That added up to $20,170 in sales, a 12-per-cent increase over 2016. That space also featured 60 artists, up by 50 per cent from the last year.

"We really are here to represent our members and foster healthy arts and culture as a quality of life," Paul added. "We do that by developing, hiring and celebrating (artists)."

Some of the other programming highlights of the year outlined in the report: the Holiday Market saw a 27- per-cent increase in attendance with 6,989 visitors; 6,273 people attended the Whistler Children's Festival, and over 1,500 people watched the Canada 150 Winter Solstice Lantern Parade while over 600 people made lanterns.

"We were hoping to get a couple hundred people (to) make them and 500 people to watch the parade," added Maureen Douglas, executive director of Arts Whistler, during the meeting.

One of the major exhibits the organization hosted last year was The Chili Thom Experience, a multi-venue event to honour the late local artist. It grossed $66,887 in sales—$40,000 of which went to an endowment fund for the Chili Thom student art scholarship.

"It broke attendance records in every cultural building," Paul said. "It also raised $40,000 independently, directly going into a fund that's gone to Whistler Community Services for a fund that will live for infinity, we hope, for $1,500 for scholarships for (the) Whistler high school, Pemberton high school or Squamish high school."

On the flip side, a $489,500 Canadian Heritage grant that Arts Whistler received in 2016 reached the end of its two-year funding. "(It was) a game changer," Douglas said, reflecting on the funding. "It happened at a time when we knew we needed to take a stronger role. We wanted to try and raise the arts and culture and heritage sector—having people participate more, having higher awareness, really being able to share with the community and the Sea to Sky and visitors made all the difference in doing that."

Overall, the organization's balance sheet was "very strong" heading into this year, treasurer and board member David Wilcox said during the meeting.

"Revenue is very solid, expense control is solid," he said. "That success is attributable to a number of factors. Obviously our partnership with the municipality is incredibly important ... This year was the last for the Canadian Heritage Funding so that contributed to our overall success."

Having that strong balance sheet sets the organization up well for a "transition as we get comfortable with the new environment we're operating in," he said, referring to the end of the one-time federal funding.

Arts Whistler ended 2017 with $604,572 in assets, compared to $539,929 in 2016. The excess revenue over expenses was also up with $98,575 in 2017 compared to $18,305 in 2016.

"The picture (the report) paints is the organization is in a really good spot," Wilcox said.

Meanwhile, the Arts Whistler board said goodbye to two members whose six-year terms have come to an end. Wilcox replaced Karen Playfair and Shelagh Thiessen will take Lisa Geddes' spot.

Returning to the board will be Heather Paul, Michelle Ratcliffe and Joan Richoz.

"The last two years it's been about elevating our sector, the awareness, understanding and sharing what we have as a community and in the Sea to Sky," Douglas said. "The next two years are about doing the same thing, but focusing back again on the arts ... You'll see more collaboration and showcasing more local talent in this venue as well."