Local events are set to receive a pick-me-up from council.
At last week’s Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) council meeting, local initiatives received a boost following Whistler’s Festivals, Events and Animation (FE&A) oversight committee’s announcement of this year’s funding recipients.
“We were looking more to invest in originally produced events, rather than third-party producers, because we really want to encourage the holding of events that are unique to Whistler,” Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said.
As set out by the proposed FE&A budget, $3.16 million dollars — the same amount as last year — will be invested amongst a wide variety of initiatives aimed at attracting visitors to the resort.
This funding is made possible the provincial government’s Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) program, from which the municipality expects to receive about $6 million again this year.
Pending approval by the municipality’s budget process, 16 third-party events will split $737,6000 as part of the Attract, Retain, Augment (ARA) event category.
This category includes the events that are set to receive the highest investments this year, including Ironman ($250,000), Tough Mudder ($112,500) and the World Ski and Snowboard Festival ($100,000), with many other returning local events earning a spot on the list.
While funding for third-party events is slightly lower this year - down to $ 737,600 from $844,500 last year - the RMOW is allocating more funds toward original programming in the resort, such as GO Fest and the Whistler Presents Outdoor Concert Series.
“Tough Mudder, for example, could simply cancel the Whistler event and move it somewhere else… whereas an originally produced Whistler event is much more likely to stay in Whistler,” Wilhelm-Morden said, explaining resort officials’ reasoning.
Some newcomers to this year’s program include a high-profile guest speaker at the Audain Art Museum ($17,000), as well as the Whistler Half Marathon ($10,000).
“We’re just super excited about some of the things that we’ve put in front of the committee for FE&A and as we continue to grow our event and create more of a festival atmosphere around running here in Whistler these funds that we will receive from the municipality will only support that and help grow business and everyone in town will benefit, as well as our participants that are coming in from out of town,” said Dave Clark, race director and founder of the Whistler Half Marathon. “It’s a win-win, really,”
For many event organizers, FE&A funding is crucial to their event’s success.
“We are very grateful that we had received RMI funding for this year’s Whistler Pride Festival,” Whistler Pride director Dean Nelson said, whose event will receive $25,000 in FE&A funding this year, adding that last year’s “investment into the festival was able to help us secure headline artist, Pam Ann, which helped to drive midweek visits and extend the festival’s average length of stay.”
The RMI program, now in its seventh year, is widely considered to be a success for Whistler, but the province has yet to determine whether the program will continue beyond the end of this year.
“We talked to our partners about what they thought about the FE&A program, and it was very interesting to see the responses that came back. One and all commended the program, some said it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to Whistler,” Wilhelm-Morden said.
Local officials remain optimistic that the program has yet to see its final days.
“We’ve been getting some very positive responses feedback but nothing definitive… We’re very hopeful that the province will carry on with this program. The return on investment is substantial,” Wilhelm-Morden said, noting that Whistler generates $1.53 billion annually in GDP for the province.