This fall marked the eighth and, unfortunately, final year for the annual Whistler Readers and Writers Festival.
After a board meeting a few weeks ago, the Vicious Circle, the local writer's group that organizes the event, decided it was better to focus their time and energy elsewhere. Despite seeing a 40 per cent increase in participation at the volunteer-run festival over the past two years, Stella Harvey, founder of the Vicious Circle, said it's not enough to sustain and grow the festivals.
"We'd really need to hire somebody and have somebody in place to take it up a notch," Harvey explained.
While some of their sessions were sold out, others were sparsely attended and weren't covering their costs. They considered trying to grow the event with outside funding, but since they are considered a community festival they could only apply for a limited number of grants. Those grants can only be used to pay instructors and not for other important costs like advertising, travel, administration or operations.
"Its kind of a double-edged sword, because while we have been told and I feel that we are a professional organization, and given our track record and how we put things on, we could apply at a different level for a grant, except for the requirement that you have to have a paid staff member to do that," Harvey explained.
They were actually on the brink of canceling the festival two years ago, but after a one-time infusion of over $13,000 from the Cultural Capitals of Canada program, they decided to keep it going.
"The hypothesis was if we expanded our advertising and had actual advertising dollars... that getting the word out would mean that more people (from outside of the Sea to Sky corridor) would come."
Their plan worked, to an extent. The festival was mentioned in major media like the Globe and Mail , the Vancouver Sun and CBC. But the festival still didn't draw as many people as organizers had hoped for and they ultimately decided that the local community simply couldn't sustain the festival alone.
"We've put everything we had into the last two years - we had more money in the last two years, we had more resources - anything and everything, we've tried," said Harvey.
They've decided to take another tack and focus on providing a number of writing workshops for interested readers and writers. Last year, the group began experimenting with offering beginner and intermediate level writing courses in Whistler and Pemberton, which both proved to be popular.
"That was very well-received," Harvey said. "We were sold out with the two courses we held in Whistler and close to sold out with the two courses we held in Pemberton."
They've also seen a demand for additional courses throughout the year, and since the workshops operate on a cost-recovery basis, the group doesn't risk losing money.
"It was a very, very difficult decision," Harvey said. "Eight years of building something, and to walk away from it is not an easy thing to do. I only feel good about it because we're experimenting with something else."
She also hopes to develop new partnerships with other local groups, like the library, to help with the organization and funding of special events for the literary community.
The Vicious Circle has just received $2,500 in funding from the 2010 Legacies Now Catalyst program, which will be used to create web casts for their website.