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culture sites

Signs of Whistler’s growth as a cultural centre are abundant: the number of art galleries has increased steadily in recent years, an Art Walk program promoting the galleries is being launched in two weeks, participants in the 1993 Whistler Symposium identified education and culture as likely second industries, and a few months ago the Globe and Mail even commented favourably on Whistler’s burgeoning arts scene. But Whistler is still lacking a cultural facility. Every time a theatre production or concert comes to town organizers have to scramble for a venue. While a theatre or concert hall is still some years away, local arts groups have recently begun planning for a cultural facility — or even facilities. There are two sites where a theatre or performing arts centre could be built: Lot 1 in Village North, which is zoned for a cultural or recreational facility, and a five-acre site on Blackcomb, south of Lorimer Road between Blackcomb Way and Fitzsimmons Creek. The Blackcomb site, which was set aside for cultural purposes in 1979 under the Blackcomb Land Use Contract, is to be used for schools, educational facilities, fine arts facilities and associated residential facilities. In addition to these two sites, some people are beginning to wonder about the viability of the conference centre as a conference facility in the future. The expansion of the Chateau Whistler will include additional conference facilities, as well as more rooms, and the plans for the Pan Pacific Hotel include the largest conference facility in the province. But before any decisions are made on what should be built or renovated — or where the money will come from for such projects — arts groups have begun discussing what their needs and the community’s needs are in terms of a cultural facility. The Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts, Whistler Community Arts Council and others are having a series of meetings to try and establish a common vision and the various scenarios that may bring that vision to life. "Once we have the vision, the building is not going to be the biggest problem," says Anne Popma, president of the Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts. The centre has received a planning grant from the municipality and Victoria to determine what could be built on the cultural site at Blackcomb. Another Whistler Symposium is also planned for the spring. Popma says a cultural site must be co-ordinated with existing and planned facilities in the valley, and adds the board of directors of the Centre for Business and the Arts is willing to be a catalyst for a performing arts facility. "It’s important to make the arts more visible, it’s part of visitors’ expectations," Popma says. Mayor Ted Nebbeling also has a vision for a cultural facility. He believes Lot 1 in Village North should house a theatre for the performing arts, but should also be the permanent home of the library, the museum and perhaps a restaurant. "Things that will draw people in at all times of the day, so that the building is always alive, not just at night when there’s a performance," he says. Nebbeling feels the cultural site on Blackcomb should be used for smaller buildings, perhaps studios and artisan workshops. The Blackcomb cultural site is Crown land, which the municipality is expected to make application for, at some point. WLC Developments had visions of using the land for 55 condominiums, but the municipality agreed several years ago to transfer those development rights to Lorimer Road, between Nesters Road and the Myrtle Philip Community School. The municipality has earmarked $1 million for a cultural facility in its capital review to buildout, but the money is not scheduled to be spent until 2002. Meanwhile, interest in theatre and concerts seems to be growing. The Whistler Community Arts Council presented three shows this fall and is presenting four performances this winter, beginning with Saturday’s presentation of Stuart Little. The Whistler Players mount at least one local production, for several performances, annually. Another company is interested in producing dinner-theatre shows for extended runs during the winter. The Arts Council’s Tamsin Miller admits to "an obsession" with bringing world-class summer theatre to Whistler. And Popma says the Centre for Business and the Arts’ Music in the Mountains concert series is outgrowing the conference centre atrium.