Opinion » Alta States

Of culture and consumerism — developing an artistic hub at Whistler



"You have to create culture... create your own roadshow.... If you're worrying about (celebrities and media personalities), then you are disempowered; you're giving it all away to icons, icons that are maintained solely for...(commercial gain). This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion, and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears... So reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that's being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world."

- Philosopher/Author Terence McKenna

It's a pretty big deal. You know, the Whistler arts scene. Painters, potters, filmmakers, sculptors, actors, poets, writers, musicians... deep breath.... costume makers, set designers, make-up artists, producers, directors, curators, storytellers, comedians, clowns, dancers. I mean, it's about as uniquely colorful a tapestry of artistic expression as you'll find anywhere. Still, until recently I really didn't appreciate just how vital to Whistler's social health this particular segment of the community has become.

I mean, for a jock-town this place sure puts out a lot of good art. It's not always appreciated — and it's been woefully underfunded for years — but the local art scene has a heck of an impressive track record.

That particular reality was illustrated for me once again at this year's World Ski And Snowboard Festival. With its increasing focus on "off-mountain" events, the festival's management depends to a great degree on Whistler-based artists, performers and musicians to entertain the thousands of guests drawn to the resort each year for the ten-day extravaganza. And the Valley's creatives rarely disappoint. Year after year, hundreds of artsy characters (and no, I'm not exaggerating numbers to make a point) devote thousands of work hours to making the season-ending bash a success.

From the 72hr. Filmmaker Showdown to the Chairlift Review, from art shows to fashion shows (and everything in between), Whistler artists regularly step up and deliver the kind of high-quality content that's now become synonymous with the WSSF. Indeed, the festival's sterling reputation is in large part due to the inspired work of our local artistes.

And yet... few (if any) of these performers are paid for their work. Say what? It's true — a majority of those involved in these productions are doing it for "the love of the game." And please, let's drop the "it's good exposure for your art" canard. That's the biggest line of bull puckies going...

I mean, c'mon. We're all big kids here. Local artists aren't being paid for their work at events like the WSSF because they're the easiest group to exploit. The thinking among business folk goes something like: "Artists are so naïve (i.e. so passionate about their art) that they can easily be persuaded to work for free. So why pay them? They'll complain, sure, but when push comes to shove, heck, they'll literally line up to perform."

Seems to me that attitude needs a bit of a tweak... especially here in Whistler.

It was all brought home to me again a couple of weeks back when two very different art "events" occurred within a few days of each other. The first, amid great fanfare and pomp, was the public announcement in Vancouver that the new Audain Museum had already ballooned to twice its original size — and proudly claimed its eponymous donor — would become the largest in the province... after the Vancouver Art Gallery of course.

Mayor Nancy, usually such a cool, grounded individual, was gushing like a schoolgirl over the news. "Unbelievable," she was quoted as saying. "... such a fabulous gift for the Whistler community."

Hmm. If I were Madame Mayor, I might want to act more cautiously around strangers bearing gifts. But I digress...

OK. So on to the next event. This one, not surprisingly, was a more low-key affair. The annual fundraiser for The Point Artist Run Centre, this happy, unpretentious gathering was held at Creekside's Creekbread Restaurant. And all the usual suspects were in attendance. You know, the citizens you can usually count on. There was music and painting and prizes and a silent auction... and lots and lots of smiles.