Opinion » Editorial

Put optics aside for greater good



That you cannot please all the people all of the time goes without saying.

So it is little wonder that when it became public that members of council, including the mayor, were attending a swank fundraising gala for the Audain Art Museum at taxpayers' expense last weekend, water-cooler chat got heated.

Some argued that the $3,200 spent by council was out of line. The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has already leased the land to the museum for 199 years for the nominal amount of $100, is considering giving it a 10 year tax exemption and has facilitated the construction of the building at every turn.

Perhaps, argued some, the Audain Foundation — the organization working to raise a $25-million endowment fund to keep the museum running smoothly in perpetuity, should have invited council as guests to thank them?

One Facebook post went as far as to point out that, "... $3,600 (sic) is around the total property tax for the year for three average sized WHA townhouses in Whistler. So, 100 per cent of the tax that myself and two neighbours paid last year went toward a fancy dinner for some people that had the power to direct that money toward more pressing matters."

A valid point.

Really at play here are the optics of council's decision to buy tickets to the event — though the majority of the money paid will actually make it to the foundation itself, as opposed to paying for a ritzy evening.

Others, however, point to the incredible opportunity the Audain Museum is bringing to Whistler — and with no bed units attached.

As the resort continues to develop its idea of the Cultural Connector, there is little doubt that the art museum will be a cornerstone of this path.

Practically every major report commissioned and completed in the last few years for Whistler has not just shown the importance of its success to the tourism economy of the province, but also the importance of capitalizing on all our assets, just the awe-inspiring ski mountains we are famous for.

Today's successful resorts are diversified and offer more than just physical activities. Travellers are no longer content to travel to one-horse towns.

Cultural offerings are becoming more and more important, and as the RMOW embraces this, showing support by attending a gala function does not seem out of line, especially when you consider that the real winners will, in fact, be the residents of Whistler whose livelihoods rely on attracting travellers to the resort.

It is an underlying goal of all those in the business of tourism here to grow occupancy to and past the 60 per cent level that is considered the threshold for sustainability (the resort is at about 55 per cent).

Travellers looking for a cultural experience are also no longer content to visit exhibits where it is heavily focused on "artifact centricity." The focus is on learning and experiencing how the exhibits interface with the cultural history of the community and area surrounding the museum. This is one reason why the Audain is likely to be so popular — it will offer a unique glimpse, and chance for authentic learning, about B.C. In concert with the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre it will be powerful.

In responding to the criticism of the spending by council on the gala Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said: "To put the $3200 taxpayers' dollars this cost in perspective, last council meeting we gave the Whistler Museum and Archives Society $165,000 taxpayers' dollars.

"They receive this every year as do the Chamber, WAG, and the Whistler Arts Council. On Tuesday, we will be giving $155,000 taxpayers' dollars to 30 other charities including $21,500 to WORCA, $10,000 to Whistler Adaptive Sports, $3,500 to The Point and so on. This too happens every year.

"Every year we forgive the payment of tax dollars from Whistler Mountain Ski Club, the Catholic Church, the SLCC, and others. I point all of this out to illustrate the Municipality's support of the good work charitable organizations do here in Whistler."

There is a great deal of support for community organizations with taxpayer funds. Sometimes the long-time support for these is forgotten when the big ticket items get attention — the $800,000 for the skateboard park falls into this category, as do the gala tickets on a smaller scale.

The balance is always about supporting the vibrant community of Whistler and growing the tourism offerings to keep the community vibrant.

A significantly upgraded skatepark will help draw visitors, as will the Audain. And locals will benefit from both of these attractions as well.

As local government and the community continue to look to the future two further items that need consideration are an upgrade to the local museum — still housed in old portable trailers next to the $12-million library — and a new, relocated cenotaph.


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