Undoubtedly, it can be said that a multi-million dollar art museum in Whistler that houses an extensive private collection of West Coast Canadian art is an amazing opportunity to expand the resort’s cultural tourism efforts.
Cultural tourism, as we all know, is a regularly occurring buzzword throughout certain circles of influence here. It is backed up with an entire 2010 cultural tourism development strategy, A Tapestry of Place, prepared by Steven Thorne Consulting for the municipality.
That community cultural planning document clearly identifies the fact that Whistler does not have a public art museum as a gap in cultural tourism offerings.
“This gap diminishes Whistler’s appeal to cultural travelers generally, and to visual arts enthusiasts in particular,” states the strategy.
With the announcement this week, that situation changes. The museum proposed by philanthropist and real estate mogul Michael Audain and his wife, would house their extensive collection of art, including works by Emily Carr and E.J. Hughes.
It would be a major art museum run by a non-profit foundation fitting the definition of a public facility as “a civic cultural institution that collects and curates works of art, mounts exhibitions, offers a range of education-based programs and presents the world of visual art to residents and visitors.”
But, maybe we are splitting hairs. What the announcement can be heralded as, is a major addition to the cultural assets of Whistler that will undoubtedly drive visitors to the resort.
Just as people visit ski hills, they also visit museums and cultural attractions. Statistics Canada data shows that in 2008, Canadians made 7.4 million trips to museums and 17 per cent of Canadians reported that visiting historical sites, museums and art galleries was the main purpose of at least one trip in the two years prior. Meanwhile, 53.5 per cent of Americans who travel to Canada report visiting museums for that same period of time. For 17.6 per cent of those particular visitors, that was the main purpose of at least one trip.
Quite specifically, this is attraction-based cultural tourism being proposed. The museum would act as an anchor along with Millennium Place and the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre for a local cultural hub.
Place-based cultural tourism, on the other hand, looks at a destination as a whole and one cannot do that without acknowledging the local community.
But it is the local community that may have been left out of this major decision.
The potential site is a three-acre portion of municipally-owned land between Day Lots 3 and 4 with room for a park to display art outdoors. At a press conference, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said the land will be transferred to the Audain Foundation “by way of lease or fee simple for $1.”
Translation: the municipality is giving away a parcel of prime publicly-owned real estate in the Village to an outside group in order to house a private art collection. Granted, it will have public access and likely show exhibits from other museums, which is good for residents and visitors alike.
Yet it seems the push for a major tourism product has left the community out of the equation. This is great for cultural tourism, but is it an equally great use of public land through a decision making process that didn’t consult the community?