State of the Arts Chris Rose leaves the fight for recognition of local artists to others By Oona Woods A couple of Whistler’s long-time residents are making moves to leave the valley. Although the paper would be roughly the size of a Toronto area phone book if we paid editorial attention to every one leaving Whistler, you have to sit up and take notice when the people leaving are Chris Rose and his wife Margaret, a couple who have been involved in this area for the last 30 years. The couple are moving to Quadra Island simply to be nearer their family, so they aren’t "storming off" over fast development or the lack of artistic facilities, but Chris Rose still has some choice words on the subjects. As a soap stone sculptor Rose is famous — perhaps infamous — for seeking out a local arts scene in Whistler with the same certainty he uses to find shapes in the stone he carves. He founded the popular Art in the Garden exhibition, which has featured local talent over the last three summers, and has been campaigning for an arts festival in town. Chris has also complied a directory of local artists and is hoping this legacy will continue in his absence. His enthusiasm for local artistic expression has developed along with his own artistic talent. The first soapstone carving Rose created was back in 1969, although it was a number of years before he was able to return to the medium full time. Coincidentally that was also the same year he first set foot in Whistler. "The first time I came up here was in 1969, we were living in the East at that time. It was just a visit. There was no prospect of moving back West. Then it just happened all of a sudden." At the time Chris and Margaret moved to Vancouver, they decided to buy a smaller house so they could afford some property "in the mountains." They bought a plot on Nesters Road. They spent four years building and then moved up permanently after Chris retired. "In those days Alta Lake was wonderful," says Chris. "There were a few houses on the other side of Alta Vista, a few in Alpine Meadows and White Gold but only two here (off Nesters Road). Seppo was building his log house at that time and living in a trailer camper. Basically we were in the Boondocks. All the activity was down in Creekside. One of the guys down the street grew his grass right in front of his house. The RCMP may come along the highway but they wouldn’t get off the road. There was no need. There was no one there. Whistler Cay Heights was were we went picking bolitus mushrooms and the village was a bear pit." Chris admits he didn’t think Whistler was going to stay quiet for long. "There was no question it would be a popular place. If I like it why shouldn’t others? I’m no exception to that. Whistler Mountain was always a damn good mountain, and Blackcomb later on." But when did he first realize Whistler had changed beyond recognition? "It was when Blueberry Hill was developed, and then the Benchlands and then one condo and townhouse after another. It started to lose a little bit of its intimacy and switched from a village into a city." He admits to concerns about the social fabric of a town that grew too fast. "When you have extremes of rich and poor there is disruption in the social fabric... I grew up after what you might call a revolution in Germany. The ’20s were a period of revolution. I remember gunfire on the streets when I was a kid. It was the communists fighting the Weimar Republic. People didn’t talk about it. It was social discrepancy that caused it... I left Germany in 1952 because I wanted to get away and see the world. I was sick of this ‘Germany, Germany over all,’ ‘Over the world,’ propagated by the Nazis." Here Chris’s expression betrays memories of a place and time that couldn’t be further from the realities of daily life in the mountains. "I did live through that period and all its intimidating ways. No one can understand unless they’ve been through it. So, I got an opportunity to come to Canada. By God I got stuck here." Chris worked for years around the country in labour relations. "I worked for a Crown corporation from here to the Ontario border. I had lots of fun with crazy management types and some psychotic unions. Sometimes you wondered who was looking after the employees." This is a thought that Chris applies when looking at Whistler. He is afraid the town has developed too fast and is forgetting about the people. "Whistler is an economic engine," he says, uncertain what that means for its people. Chris would like to see an artistic community flourish to improve the quality of life for residents and provide exposure for artists. He compiled a registry of 180 local artists and presented it to council on July 7 with a letter stating some of his key concerns. "1) I have repeatedly encountered an apparent lack of awareness by the Whistler community’s key people of the names and type of work done by the majority of local artists. "2) As a result of 1), the artists from outside our area have been habitually used for various projects without due consideration given to local talent. "3) There is a complete lack of venues for visual artists from this area to exhibit their works. The exception is Artrageous and/or the commercial galleries/stores. "I trust this listing should resolve problems linked to my points 1) and 2). I hope it will also aid the decision making in selecting local artists to pursue local projects, before resorting to outside sources." Chris’s Art in the Garden show was an attempt to create a forum for interaction between local artists and the public. "But that only supports about six people. That leaves 174 people out there, that’s not even 10 per cent. I really feel we could run an arts show here strictly from local talent. We could add a little music, a little bit of poetry reading, put an ad on the web. That might bring tourists in." This is an idea further developed in his letter to council. "The Whistler Council and the WRA should initiate a program whereby all hotels and public spaces/areas would be encouraged (through their managers) to provide space in the lobbies/waiting areas to set-up display cases where local artists can show their work. Once initiated, the program co-ordination and supervision should be under the direction of the Whistler Community Arts Council... "The council and WRA should give serious consideration to providing space for an annual summer Art Show in Whistler. The resources of the WRA could be utilized toward extensive well thought out advertising. There are enough artists in the Whistler-Squamish area and there is certainly exceptional talent in this area for an Art Show to be broken down into specialities, i.e. one month of photography, followed by a month of painting, followed by sculpture, graphic arts etc. The performing arts could also find a venue at the same time. No doubt this art show would stimulate tourism, enhance and motivate the local arts community, which is currently in a dormant state. In my view the Whistler Community Arts Council should play a co-ordinating role in this effort." WRA President Suzanne Denbak complimented Chris on his comprehensive list of local artists and offered support to the various initiatives he described. The WRA is investigating the possibility of a local artists’ festival to be held in 1999. In another letter to council Chris outlined ways to increase recognition of local artists, but someone to pick up the ball and run with it. "Furthermore, it seems appropriate that the Whistler Community Arts Council pick up the ball and arrange for the distribution/sale of the inventory so the arts council will draw some benefit from the sale of the artists inventory. Certainly the local artist community could use the help from the arts council to enhance their existence which could be achieved by this activity. However, the arts council may need some money to commence this printing." Chris says that so much more should and could be done for local artists. "I hope the arts council will take more initiative," he says. Another issue limiting recognition of local artists is the lack of an artistic facility. Mayor Hugh O’Reilly has indicated recently that there may be room for an artistic facility in the Interfaith Chapel that is currently fund-raising under its status as the community millennium project. "Hugh O’Reilly was talking about having a theatre in the chapel. Acoustics are a major factor. It’s a community thing so then the muni doesn’t have to get involved in the church. If it is done sufficiently there can be other things involved as well. "I was saying what we need is a 500 seater with good acoustics, large auditorium, exhibitions for visual arts, studios, workshops, space for musicians to rehearse, blacksmiths’ kilns, pottery rooms, a museum’s permanent exhibit and the library, because people always go there. "All right, I didn’t think of religion. I guess it doesn’t really matter how you skin a cat as long as it’s skinned. But I believe art itself as a concept is worldly, while religion is in essence sacred, other worldly. As soon as two things conflict will there be proprietorial rights? Will they allow punk music here or anything that is not spiritual? Things that are carnal or obscene? Maybe I’m oversensitive. I have seen censorship in my life experience. It’s terrible when censorship may be couched in some other term but it’s still censorship." With Chris Rose’s pending departure from Whistler the campaign for local artists may wither. The ball is in the court of everyone left behind.