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Whistler’s longest running festival is just for children

WHAT: Whistler Children’s Art Festival

WHERE: Myrtle Philip school

WHEN: May 26-27

It’s the longest running festival in Whistler’s history, and it’s not geared towards tourists! Next weekend the Whistler Children’s Art Festival is celebrating its 19 th year of bringing artists and artisans together with our pre-teen community.

"Whistler was a much smaller place back then. And although there were a few artists here, there weren’t enough, so we started bringing in professional artists. We still feel that it’s important that our kids have the opportunity to work with professional artists," says Joan Richoz.

Richoz was one of the organizers of the first festival, along with Margaret Long and Sonya McCarthy. Back in 1983, there were no fine arts being offered in area schools. The Children’s Art Festival was concerned parents’ response.

"Unlike the Vancouver Children’s Festival, which focuses on performance, we focused on workshops," says Richoz. "The first year we had 30 workshops over two days. We have always tried to offer classes in the performing, literary, visual and media arts.

"We also had entertainment by Valdey, Pied Pear, a kid’s karate school, a storyteller, the children’s choir as well as an art exhibit and sale featuring seven artists, including work by a few locals who are still in the area, Isobel MacLaurin and Eugene Rickli. We had author readings. It was pretty ambitious when I think about it."

The location proved a little challenging early on. The event was initially held in the town centre under a tent.

"It was more of a roof," laughs Richoz. "We used to do it the second weekend of June and that’s a week when it typically rains, so it was really tricky. For the first few years we didn’t have a conference centre, and then afterwards we wanted to have a reason to bring people into the village. And we thought it was important to have something happening to bring people in because it was a bit difficult convincing people to come into the village. So we used to do everything out in the open, whereas now we do it all in the school."

Through the years, the location may have changed, but the focus has stayed true, bringing art experiences to local kids that they would never receive in a classroom. When was the last time you saw Fairy Drawings, Metal Tool Cards or Soapstone Carving on the school agenda? And with the growing local arts community, the majority of the artists leading the workshops now are also from Whistler.

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