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Inside the Whistler Children's Arts Festival

Trials, tribulations and tireless commitment have marked Whistler's longest ongoing festival



Listening to Joan Richoz, Doti Niedermayer, Kelly Clarke and Allegra Geller you get the idea that putting on the Whistler Children’s Art Festival has definitely had its moments.

There have been performers with formidable body odour and a preference for enclosed spaces. An act called Matt the Safety Guy proved to be an insurance-challenging axe-juggler who plied his trade on a tight rope. A workshop dedicated to plaster mask making revealed the claustrophobics among Whistler’s younger set. In addition, murmurs still reverberate about a particular dedicated volunteer taking time for a good sob in the art supply room. Welcome to the Whistler Children’s Art Festival, the Whistler Arts Council’s (WAC) premiere event, which this year takes place July 15-16.

At 23, it is the longest, continuously running festival in Whistler. Initially created as way to supplement a lack of arts education at the local school, the homegrown affair held at the first Myrtle Philip elementary school really was for the kids of Whistler. Initially held within current village boundaries, the old school was situated where the Cascade Hotel now stands. When the school moved to its current location on Lorimer Road, the festival followed.

Last year, thanks to a move from Myrtle Philip Community School to Creekside, the festival attendance topped 3,000. What started as curriculum support has grown into an event that draws annual return visitors from the city and is well attended by families vacationing in Whistler.

"In 1983 was our first children’s festival," says WAC board member Joan Richoz. "Margaret Long and Sandra McCarthy – Sandra still lives here –were the coordinators and I got sort of roped in doing gopher kind of tasks. The main reason for starting it was there were no fine arts being taught in the school. The school, of course, at that time was fairly small. There were maybe 120 students? I had a daughter in school and those of us who believed strongly in the arts said, ‘let’s put on a festival for kids.’"

Richoz, the recently retired head of the Whistler library, recalls that artists from the Lower Mainland had to be invited to attend as there were very few artists in Whistler. Although other children’s festivals existed at the time, the closest one, The Vancouver Children’s Festival, was not suitable as either a model or a resource.

"They were always focused on performance," says Richoz. "Ours was really focused on arts, the majority of time was programmed for workshops."

That first year there was an art show at the Blackcomb Lodge that featured the works of the artists cum workshop leaders. The workshop instructors were artists whose work was represented by internationally recognized Vancouver galleries such as the Baux Xi, among them, multi-media artist Pat O’Hara.