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Rainbow Theatre looks for pot of gold

Whistler Film Festival Society seeking donors, donations to overhaul Rainbow Theatre and expand programming



Whistler has to get behind the rhetoric that surrounds cultural tourism strategies if it wants to see dividends in the community.

That's the message being promulgated by Shauna Hardy Mishaw, co-founder and president of the Whistler Film Festival Society (WFFS), who is asking locals to pull out their cheque books during this week's Whistler Film Festival. Money raised during the five-day event will go towards coffers earmarked for the Future in Focus campaign, a WFFS-run project looking to secure $5 million to renovate and upgrade the Rainbow Theatre and improve advanced programming and industry conferencing in Whistler year-round.

The hope is that renovations will be finished in time for next year's festival and the WFFS will have a permanent, state-of-the-art home for the annual festival. Without upgraded facilities, WFFS organizers say they simply cannot attract the cream of the entertainment industry and the municipality will lose out on a highly lucrative economic driver.

"The community needs to get behind this, they need to get engaged because the last thing we need in this town is another white elephant. We need this to be successful but the community needs to buy into it," said Hardy Mishaw.

"If Whistler really wants to embrace this cultural tourism strategy and diversify the offering... we all know it's been a tough few years here and I think we have to get really creative about what we're doing here. The entertainment industry is a trillion dollar business. It's a four billion dollar industry for Vancouver. The spirit of this is 'yes, we're a charitable organization, yes we are running cultural programming, but we're in business. We are in the business of Whistler.'"

In October, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, which owns the Rainbow Theatre, submitted an application for a $1.1 million grant from Canadian Heritage. To augment the funding, which will be announced in February, WFFS is fundraising throughout the WFF through a raffle, tours and donor-sponsored sections of the theatre.

WFFS has already signed a 20-year lease with Tourism Whistler, which operates the Rainbow Theatre, on the condition that money for the capital project comes through. It's expected to take up to six months to get a decision on the grant application from Canadian Heritage and Whistler council must also approve a $500,000 municipal contribution from the Resort Municipality Initiative (formerly known as hotel tax funding) during the upcoming municipal budget process for the project to move forward.

If the grant and municipal funding are approved and additional project funds are secured by WFFS, the municipality will oversee the renovation project.

WFFS director of development Jane Milner believes the project, which has been backed by a municipal feasibility study, has major legs.

"We have about $7 million of requests currently out there and I'm cautiously optimistic that we will be successful, even in this (economic) climate," she said.

"The festival is one of the most important cultural tourism endeavors Whistler has going right now, it actually draws tourists to the resort. The RMOW is embarking on a big cultural tourism strategy and that's why we are considered to be one of the foundations of the strategy."

Naming rights to the theatre are available for $1 million. All 300 seats in the new theatre are also up for grabs, with naming rights going for $1,000 to $2,500. At press time, 50 had been spoken for.

Patron rights for the red carpet entry and fireplace conversation nook can be purchased for $50,000. Other parts of the theatre available for patronization are the projection room, members lounge, bar and screening room.

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