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New time, space pays off for Children’s Art Festival

Move to Creekside signals rebirth for 23-year-old event

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The Whistler Children’s Art Festival overcame overwhelming administrative hurdles and naysayers and kicked off a bright future in its new time and space with a well-attended, high-energy event last weekend.

At 23 years young the event is Whistler’s longest-running festival, offering participating kids instruction from professional visual and performing artists from throughout the Sea to Sky corridor.

Until this year the festival was traditionally held in late May and took place in a community hall/school gym venue.

But times have changed since the festival’s early years. Originally created to provide unique creative opportunities for Sea to Sky corridor kids when there were few extracurricular options, Whistler kids these days have an overwhelming number of sports, arts and music activities to choose from.

As schedules filled up, organizers realized fewer and fewer families were blocking off the Children’s Art Festival weekend in May, former festival chair and longtime volunteer Dixx Milstein said.

"Anyone who was involved in the creating and running of (the festival) last year knew there had to be changes," Milstein added. "It’s something that was written in the cards."

In response to declining attendance, event organizers the Whistler Arts Council decided this year to hold the event in the summer, on the weekend of July 23-24, at the outdoor Franz’s Trail area in Creekside. It’s a more spacious venue that allows for a greater number of free workshops and entertainment performances. The new dates also align the festival with Tourism Whistler’s 2 nd Annual Music and Arts Festival, which took place at various venues in Whistler Village over the weekend.

Some Children’s Art Festival traditionalists were wary of the decision.

"Change brings chaos," Milstein mused. "People don’t like change."

Forging ahead with an increased number of free workshops and performers due to the more expansive venue, the Children’s Art Festival was dealt another blow when the Arts Council was forced to move its mobile office two weeks before the event due to encroaching construction on the adjacent Whistler Public Library. With less than one week to go, organizers were left in the administrative lurch when office services such as phone and Internet failed to materialize at the new location.

"We were literally working out of our cars," Arts Council event manager Kelly Clarke remarked. "We had five of us working off one computer. We had no phones. I don’t think anyone has any concept of how much people rely on e-mail these days."

In spite of the pre-event panic attacks, a serendipitous blend of great workshop instructors, quality roving and stage performers, families, atmosphere and weather saved the weekend.

Arts Council executive director Doti Niedermayer said by 11 a.m. Saturday morning, she knew that the decision to move the festival to Creekside had been the right one.

"I can’t even imagine doing it any other way," Niedermayer enthused. "It was just so much fun. It’s more of a festival at the new location."

The venue made for a more family-inclusive event she noted, with Franz’s Trail businesses and eateries benefiting from the increased traffic of parents hanging out while kids completed festival workshops.

"Once you saw it, once you were there, it just made complete sense," she recalled. "It was just this beautiful day in Creekside. There were people everywhere. Kids running all over the place."

Even one casualty of the administrative woes – the lack of pre-registration – turned out to have a positive spin, acting as an equalizer that gave all participants the same crack at the various workshops.

But while the new venue was an undeniable success, Niedermayer said one thing she will reconsider for next summer is the decision to hold the festival the same weekend as the Whistler Music and Arts Festival, which spreads volunteers thin and deprives those working at either event the opportunity to experience the other.

"I think they’re two totally different events," Niedermayer added. "I think it’s better for Whistler to focus on one event or another."

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