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No Spirit Within Festival this year

SLCC plans to offer First Nations programming to augment existing events



The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre's (SLCC) third annual Spirit Within Festival will not go ahead this year, but that doesn't mean Whistler's events calendar will be without First Nations programming.

The yearly celebration of aboriginal tradition and culture has been scheduled for late September in the past two years, and expanded from one day to four in 2013. But after attendance was lower than anticipated, the SLCC decided to focus on delivering First Nations programming at other already established events instead of producing a standalone festival.

"For now we're going to concentrate on maximizing our opportunity for exposure through existing established events," said Casey Vanden Heuvel, the SLCC's executive director. "That's going to be very rewarding for us."

The municipality gave the SLCC $35,000 in 2012 and in 2013 for the Spirit Within Festival through its Festival, Events and Animation (FE&A) funding.

This year the cultural centre received $10,000 in FE&A funding to develop augmentation programming for other events, like at last month's Whistler Children's Festival, where attendees could take part in a drum-making workshop, learning traditional First Nations song and dance.

It also means other event producers can dedicate some of their own FE&A funding to specialized Spirit Within programming.

The exposure gained from the children's festival, which saw over 1,000 attendees, was invaluable, Vanden Heuvel said.

"In that one weekend we had more of an impact on a larger audience than we did for an entire weekend of a standalone festival," he said. "The impact value is much greater for us if we can augment an existing festival with our content that we know how to produce."

Vanden Heuvel, who didn't rule out a possible return for the Spirit Within Festival, said his staff learned some important lessons from producing the event over the last two years that can be applied in the future.

"We've learned ... we can produce great cultural content that's diverse and high quality ... (and) that we have the ability to produce in-house catering for a big event," he said. "So we see this as a positive because we ultimately are looking for meaningful awareness (of First Nations culture) and this will give us an opportunity to do even more of that, just in a different way."

The SLCC is currently in talks with local event producer Watermark Communications about potentially offering some programming at next year's World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Vanden Heuvel added.