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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.

"There are many more artists in the area, it’s just a challenge in finding out who’s new and hoping they might read an ad or article in the paper and call us up," says Richoz. "It’s a great opportunity for the artists as well. Most of them absolutely love doing it because a lot of them don’t usually work with kids. It’s a great way to share their talents."

This year’s lineup of workshops includes Frame Up with Bev Newell, Paper Making with Mark Droset, Fun Fur Purses with Carmen Traub and Glass Blasting with Duane Perrett. Glass blasting was new to the festival last year and is back by popular demand.

"We bring an air compressor in with a small sand blasting booth and the kids put their own design on glassware," says festival co-ordinator Aileen Durie. "We go through about 90 pieces of glassware and the Re-use-it Centre has donated almost all of that amount."

This year’s entertainment headliner is Rick Scott and Making Faces. Scott was actually part of the entertainment 19 years ago as a member of Pied Pear. This year he’s joined by Shari Ulrich and Allan Rodger. Scott’s interactive show combines humour and music to encourage everyone to discover their own musical potential.

The performance will have some extra local flair, as Whistler’s own Moving Chords Showchoir is preparing several pieces to be sung with the trio.

"We’re his backup for a large part of the program," says Moving Chords Director Sadie Culliford. "It’s a huge opportunity for the kids to see how a show is put together. They don’t just show up and sing. They get the chance to meet (Scott, Ulrich and Rodger) and rehearse with them for an hour and a half. They learn how to be flexible. For example, we may have rehearsed one way, and then they may say ‘Well, we’d like you to sing here instead of there, or how about putting this movement to it’.

"The music is funky and some of it is even a little political. You can really learn a lot from his music. My all time favourite is Yo Mo’ Concerto. It’s all about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart but he puts rap in it," says Culliford.

There is, however, one area of the festival that is lacking in local participation: volunteers. The number of parents eager to help in preparation and execution of the event has dropped by almost half.

"I’d like to thank all the people on the committee this year," adds Durie. "I had a lot of new people working with me and they really pulled together. I ended up doing a lot of the work myself and had to restructure the way a lot of things were organized. Usually we have about seven people just working on workshops. This year it’s just been two plus me. Sometimes small is good, but it has been difficult. One thing that we do have to stress is that if we don’t get the adults volunteering, there may not be a 20 th annual festival."

To encourage participation, the festival committee is offering an incentive to parents and their children. Those who volunteer for four hours or more will be put on a priority registration list for next year’s event, meaning their children will get first pick of workshops.

Anyone interested in volunteering for this year’s festival should call 938-0498. Workshops are always available the day of, so if you missed pre-registration, you can still head down to Myrtle Phillip Community School May 26 at 8 a.m. Most workshops are $5 with a few listed at $10 to cover the cost of materials. Registration for the pre-school activity tent is $10 and can be done the morning of the 26 th and 27 th .