The province awarding $34 million to the RMOW over five years under the Resort Municipality Initiate (RMI) is great news.
The RMOW’s participation in the program has been in the pilot stage for the past couple of years. This infusion of provincial money makes it possible to enhance the physical resort by adding new amenities (such as the well-used and much-debated ice rink at Olympic Plaza) and increasing Whistler’s festival and event and animation programming. Festivals, events and animation, commonly referred to as FE&A by that in the know, play an important role in Whistler.
Street entertainment, which runs the gamut from acrobatic unicycle acts that gather huge audiences to the kamikaze comedy of the Fashion Police, enlivens the village on even the dreariest of days and provides visitors, particularly families, with unique experiences. The same thing goes for events and festivals.
Currently, the resort hosts more than a dozen major annual events and festivals that generate guest visits, often at times when there’s no snow to guarantee high hotel occupancy rates or busy restaurants. Many are free or feature significant gratis components. This is something else that the RMI fund, channeled through FE&A streams, helps happen. In fact, the RMOW’s access to these funds is why there have been great concerts at Olympic Plaza the past two summers.
The assurance of sustained funding over the next five years will allow FE&A programming to grow in the village. Hopefully, that will mean the addition of new and different events. We don’t really need to create another opportunity for aging rockers to top off their retirement funds by providing a few well-placed flourishes of cowbell and guaranteed sing-a-long choruses. We’ve got that one covered. Ditto events that seem only to serve the egos of those intimately involved in the creation of said events. And of course, there’s events produced by well-meaning folk with audiences so specific that success is sure to remain an elusive goal.
Those should be discouraged just because their outcomes are usually sad and expensive.
What we really need are new events with broad appeal. We need fresh ideas that may seem a little “out there,” ideas that will still seem innovative and creative by the time they are actually produced.
To ensure this, I propose the idea of the RMOW having it’s own subdivision of FE&A funding called something like: “Money for cool ideas to get people to come here.” While I’ll admit the program title needs a little work, I think it’s an idea worth exploring. What would happen if there was money available to young, creative types who wanted to try something? Or for established producers who wanted to step outside of the box and try something truly innovative?
What would we get? Chances are, if allowed to let their imaginations run wild we would get some pretty interesting new events. Doubt this? Just look around. Whistler is full of creative, clever people. Some might need a little help with management or marketing to get their idea out of their heads and into production. Others might need to come up with a viable business plan before making their dream a reality. Some might just need a few bucks to get their low-cost, but oh-so-appealing project up and running. These are all things an events and festival incubator program could help achieve.
Silent discos at Whistler Olympic Park? Music festivals for the middle aged? (Rest Fest, anyone?) Travelling palm readers slash troubadours? I don’t know what kind of ideas an FE&A incubator would generate, but they’d be a change from what we have. And isn’t change fundamental to growth?