Locals have always known that Whistler has a lot more to offer than beautiful mountain views and great skiing, but now the federal government has weighed in by calling our small community a Canadian cultural destination.
With municipal, provincial and federal flags proudly on display at MY Millennium Place On Monday morning, Member of Parliament Jim Abbott, the Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage, announced Whistler had been designated as a 2009 Cultural Capital of Canada.
The Cultural Capital of Canada program was launched in 2002, providing recognition and financial backing to communities that fall within three population categories: over 125,000 people, 50,000 to 125,000, and under 50,000.
Five cultural capitals were chosen for 2009, with a total investment of $4.25 million to help these municipalities implement cultural programs over the course of the year.
Selected in the under 50,000 category, Whistler will be eligible to receive up to $500,000 in funding for arts and cultural projects in 2009.
“I was particularly pleased … that Whistler got this because it adds an extra element, it complements all of the hard work and all of the events surrounding the Olympics,” said Abbott.
Executive director of the Whistler Arts Council, Doti Niedermayer, said she was very excited to hear Whistler had received the designation, and explained that members of the local arts community and the municipality had been working together since early 2006 to develop the successful application package.
“I would say it was probably the first time that we’d collaborated like that, together as a cultural community, because we really did have to make some hard decisions about what would be funded and what projects would move forward,” said Niedermayer.
Mayor Ken Melamed, councillors and members of the local arts community were also in attendance at Monday’s press conference.
“The designation of this award reflects our community’s recognition that arts and culture play an important role in building a sustainable future,” said Melamed. “By the same token, it recognizes the importance of strategic planning and the role of the Whistler 2020 plan in our community, moving towards social sustainability.”
Niedermayer says the designation will help them grow Whistler’s artists and cultural community, and the subsequent funding will be used to develop existing projects like the Whistler Children’s Festival, Celebration 2010 and Art Walk.
“That shows a huge opportunity for local arts,” said Niedermayer. “For example, Art Walk artists in 2009 will have more work, more pay, more visibility because the contents of the application are all about the local artists.”
They will also introduce some new cultural activities and programs, like a partnership with the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre to start a youth paddle carving program.
One of the biggest uses of the funding will be the development of a comprehensive, long-term plan for arts and culture in Whistler after the Olympics.
“Everybody is very focused on 2010, but we knew from the get-go when we had this opportunity that we needed a plan for 2011,” said Niedermayer.
Since all of the funding has to be used in 2009, they will start developing their 2011 plan during that period.
Melamed says Whistler’s new reputation as a Cultural Capital of Canada will help create a cultural legacy for 2010 and beyond.
“Being named a cultural capital of Canada for 2009 exemplifies the importance of collaboration and significance of true partnerships in our community,” he said.