It's really just the beginning. According to marketing and communications expert extraordinaire Maureen Douglas, the Resort Municipality of Whistler is simply finding its footing as event producers through the Festival Events and Animation program (FE&A). It's in its baby stage of development and there's a whole lot more learning still to come.
"They (RMOW) are in a process," says Douglas, former director of communications for VANOC and someone who has extensive experience producing events in Whistler for over 20 years. "There's a new foundation of how things can be produced and paid for and that's the RMI (Resort Municipality Initiative funds). Last year wasn't even a foundation year. It was a test year. It was getting things into that venue, seeing how it filled the space."
There has been some community concern within Whistler about how the RMI funds were being spent, and whether Whistler would see a return on investment with the FE&A program. Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden openly criticized the program in her campaign for office. With the creation of the FE&A and RMI Oversight Committee, some of these concerns have been laid to rest but there are still some who wonder whether FE&A is the right course of action for Whistler — and whether municipal staff are the right people for the job.
"The people running municipal hall are not adequately considering the community's interests. They're too interested in self-congratulation, being concert promoters and controlling everyone and everything," says Arnold Schwisberg, creator and producer of the Jazz on the Mountain at Whistler festival. The festival was cancelled after only one year due to a sizable $700,000 deficit and what Schwisberg perceives as low support from within the municipality.
Since the commercial failure of JOMAW 2011 on Labour Day, Schwisberg has turned from invested part-time resident to perhaps Whistler's most outspoken critic. In short, he says the FE&A program, the free Whistler Presents concert series and the oversight committee and its working groups are little more than an "opaque black box" because, he says, all deliberations and voting by these groups are behind closed doors.
"I want the FE&A department to end. I think that would be a great benefit to Whistler, if the municipality did what Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said in her campaign, (that) it's back to business for Whistler. Well, I don't see it. I see the exact opposite," he says.
For its part, the RMOW is trying to shift the thinking around FE&A this year so it's not all about the free concerts. It will be allocating funds equally to initiatives that are both room-night driving and experience enhancing, as per the Resort Municipality Initiative guidelines laid out by the province (the RMI being a provincial funding program directed to enhance the resort sector in British Columbia). At least one of the driving ideas is to make visitors trying to decide where to go for a getaway choose Whistler because they will learn that it doesn't really matter when you come; there will always be something to do, see and enjoy.