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The Unofficial Guide to the Olympic Arts

Unleash your inner author at the Whistler Writer’s Festival


By Rebecca Wood Barrett

To all appearances Whistler is the jock capital of Canada. It's a magnet for those addicted to sweating profusely, accumulating searing doses of lactic acid, firing their heart rates into cardio orbit and losing a few front teeth¾all in the name of outdoor "recreation."

If Whistler is so obsessed with sports, how did it receive its Cultural Capital of Canada designation? Do we really deserve it? Or was it a savvy political handout in light of the upcoming Ultimate Jock Party, the Games-that-shall-not-be-named?

The short answer is yes, we do deserve the designation (and the $500,000 that comes with it) and no, it is not a handout but an award we've earned. Further to that, the Olympics are not just about athletics even if the Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger). In fact, the modern Olympic Movement is built on three pillars of a different sort ¾ sport, culture and environment.

To connect the dots between Whistler and arts and culture, one only has to skim through this paper on any given week to realize there is more to folks who live here than the pursuit of physical perfection/destruction. Just ask your bartender what musical instrument he plays. Chances are your ski instructor moonlights as a filmmaker; the nanny you saw herding a passel of kids also paints cover designs for snowboards; and the ski bum you sat next to on the gondola just finished the next great Canadian novel. Most ¾ if not all ¾ liftys are poets.

The significance of arts, culture and heritage in our community is clearly evident through the many diverse events and organizations that celebrate history, painting, film, writing, music, pottery, sculpture and dance. But there's more to winning a Cultural Capital of Canada award than cultivating a vibrant grassroots arts movement.

Whistler achieved the title by creating an ambitious and original project called Celebration 2020: A Natural Step Towards Cultural Sustainability. The project not only supports a wide range of cultural activities, it involves people from across the community, including First Nations, artists with disabilities, professional and budding artists, Francophones and youth in a smorgasbord of cultural activities, workshops and events. Furthermore, ecology and the environment are integrated as key elements in the program. This seems fitting considering the inescapable connection artists in Whistler have to the mountains, the creatures that live here, and mountain culture. And although Whistler is a young community, those who've made it their home have worked hard to establish a cultural identity (whether they knew they were doing it or not), one that is inextricably formed and informed by our environment.