The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) has received a $161,000 federal grant to plan and produce an exhibition to focus on the history and revitalization of traditional carving.
The Spirits Within program will create opportunities for the First Nations' youth and artists from the Sea to Sky corridor, including the creation of six major artworks that will grace the large Great Hall area alongside traditional and modern pieces and artifacts from both the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations, whose traditional territories surround Whistler.
West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country MP John Weston made the announcement on behalf of Culture and Heritage minister James Moore at the SLCC on Tuesday. The grant comes from the Museums Assistance program at Canadian Heritage.
Weston said the four-year-old centre was "so much more than wood and glass."
"It's easy to talk about the money that the Government of Canada is investing in certain programs and forget completely the deep commitment that has been made to work together. The Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations work together and we can imagine that it might not have worked out that way. I can recall... the concern that people would possibly not work together and this is magnificent proof of co-operation," he said.
Whistler was more than a world-class place for recreation and sport, Weston added, but also becoming a world-class place for art and culture, and the SLCC was very much part of this.
Along with the six large-scale sculptures, the lasting impact of the grant would be to build development opportunities for staff as well as create a fund to help build the museum's collection, and to push the SLCC towards financial stability, said Casey Vanden Heuvel, executive director of the museum, when introducing Weston.
"It will help us achieve our objectives. Every day we try to achieve three important goals: lasting and meaningful positive awareness, revitalized and renewed local First Nations culture, and develop a sustainable business model," he said.
Vanden Heuvel said the museum has had 100,000 paying visitors and a further 100,000 non-paying visitors since it opened, selling 150,000 items in its gift shop and art gallery. The centre has also trained 350 First Nations youth in its ambassador program.
One complaint Vanden Heuvel says he hears regularly "that our guests tell us they want more... that we're an awesome trophy case that still needs a few more trophies."
"So much of what we do every day depends on support from others. The cultural attractions industry requires a lot of help, love, and support," said Vanden Heuvel in an interview afterwards.
"We're trying to get to that break-even point and it's critical for us to acknowledge the support of organizations like Canadian Heritage today, they're allowing us to do an even better job of presenting First Nations culture in a meaningful way."
He added that the flow of federal funds would start once the work begins later this year. The money would also allow them to better advertise the centre and its programs.
"This museum is unique in terms of its width and breadth... We're very fortunate to have this facility to celebrate (First Nations culture). It gives unbelievable access to that culture to Whistler's international visitors. The key connection, though, is that unfortunately there is a great shortage of opportunities to truly learn about local First Nations culture and that's what we try to celebrate here."
The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre was recently named 2012 B.C. Cultural Centre of the year by Aboriginal Tourism British Columbia.