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Writing Society expands in a busy year

Financial health is good; Spring Reading Series and more Authors in Schools visits added: AGM Report

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In the year since it became a charitable non-profit, the Whistler Writing Society (WWS) has been busy running its flagship event, the Whistler Writers Festival, and piloting new ones.

Finances were also good, said executive director Stella Harvey at the society's annual general meeting (AGM) at the Whistler Public Library on Tuesday, Aug. 22.

That the meeting took place at the library was a first for the society.

"It's the first AGM that has ever taken place outside my house, which is funny," Harvey said.

"Our budget for the festival (and including other programs such as the writer-in-residence, the authors in schools, and the Spring Reading Series) is just over $100,000," Harvey said.

"At the end of June (2017), we had just over $58,000 in the bank. That is a result of grants received from the BC Arts Council, the municipality, Access Copyright, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the province of B.C. through the Lottery Commission.

"Since we've become a charitable organization, we've also made more of an effort to go after corporate sponsorship. And some of that money is from organizations that have donated to the festival."

At the end of the 2016 writers festival, the WWS initiated a GoFundMe campaign, which raised just over $15,000, and covered a few costs left over from the festival.

"For me, it was incredible that so many people provided so much support to the festival through donations," Harvey told the dozen members at the AGM.

This meant that after final outstanding amounts had been paid, a balance of $8,000 remained to carry over, after covering all final costs of the 2016 festival, which brought in 61 professional writers to Whistler.

"All our costs had to do with writers coming in, travel for writers, rentals, website updates and all our collateral," Harvey said.

"Our financial person said that starting from a position of $7,000 to $8,000 is a great place to be at the end of the festival."

With the society's fiscal year ending on June 30, its finances were reviewed by BDO Canada, as is required by funders BC Arts Council or the Canada Council for the Arts, among others.

"(BDO) said that everything is according to the schedule of what was presented to them. I've gone through the (report) with the board and they have signed off on it," Harvey said.

"From a financial perspective, we are up-to-date in terms of the Societies Act."

The Spring Reading Series — a pilot program in May and June 2017, which brought in 12 writers for three reading events — was deemed a success with an average of 70 attendees on each night. Harvey said they were considering bringing it back in 2018 and expanding it.

Something new planned for the writers festival is a "Walk With a Writer" event, in which an author will explore the resort with a group, she said.

Harvey emphasized that ticket sales alone cannot support the events the WWS offers, whether the festival or the reading series. She added that tickets cover a third of the festival's costs ($41,000 last year).

Harvey noted that all positions in the society, including her own role as executive director, remain unpaid and manned by volunteers.

There were no vacancies to the society's board of directors, she added.

The WWS, partnering with the Whistler Public Library, was named as one of the charities supported by Cornucopia, Whistler's food and drink festival, which takes place in November.

Having been a charitable organization since July 2016, Harvey says this has opened up new opportunities for the society such as Cornucopia's support.

Harvey said tickets for the 2017 Whistler Writers Festival, with guest writers including Globe and Mail journalist Doug Saunders and indigenous author Lee Maracle, have been on sale for a week with 153 people having already purchased tickets and passes. The festival runs from Oct. 12 to 15.

The program is available online at www.whistlerwritersfest.com.

Best-selling author KC Dyer (Finding Fraser) led a workshop following the AGM on travel and research for writers. The Lions Bay-based Dyer offered practical tips, and knowledge from two decades of writing on the cheapest ways to travel, what funding is available to even unpublished writers, and how travel has impacted her own work.

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