Nearly three decades ago the Whistler Arts Council (WAC) held the inaugural Children’s Art Festival and in that time the event has gone from having a few art workshops offered in the gymnasium of the Myrtle Philip Community School to being one of the biggest arts events of the year.
Now featuring a plethora of performers, workshops and attractions, the Children’s Art Festival, currently in its 29th year, is a far cry from how it started.
Part of that evolution can be attributed to Doti Niedermayer, WAC executive director, who arrived in Whistler some ten years ago.
“When I first arrived, the festival was held in May and held at the Myrtle Philip,” she recalled. “If you look at the other children’s festivals like the ones in Surrey or Vancouver, they’re also held in May and the reason for that is that kids are still in school and so what they do is create a huge audience by organizing groups of kids in school buses in the lower mainland.”
However, Niedermayer noted that the formula may not have been working as well for Whistler’s iteration of the festival.
“It was very small and very local, most of the attendance was from families with a few people from Washington who had discovered it but it wasn’t highly advertised,” explained Niedermayer. “It was a really great event but it wasn’t a really highly-advertised tourist destination event at all. So I felt that it needed a change. It was sort of feeling as if the festival had been going on for a long time but it had always felt the same.”
That change came around 2005 when Niedermayer was touring Creekside for a completely unrelated reason when she came across the space at the bottom of the mountain right by Dusty’s. It was there that Niedermayer had an epiphany.
“I was just thinking ‘This is the perfect spot for the festival,’ because Creekside is so contained,” she explained.
After some more discussion with the WAC, the festival was moved to Creekside shortly afterwards as well as put over to a date in July. More performers were also added to the mix, which, along with the already in-depth art workshops, made the festival one of the WAC’s largest of the year.
It’s a formula that’s been going strong since, and is showing no sign of slowing down.
“It worked out really well and after seeing it for the first year in Creekside and that it still kept its core mandate and roots and soul, people realized it was way better to switch it up a bit,” she explained.
Given the event’s longevity, Niedermayer noted that it’s also given rise to a new generation of art-lovers.
“Now we have staff who went to the event when they were kids, so it’s kind of come full-circle,” said Niedermayer.
One of those staffers is Kyla Greig, a workshop coordinator for this year’s festivals.
According Greig, who attended the festival in the late 1990s as a child, the change in what the festival is today compared with how she experienced it is huge.
“It was more workshop-based than an actual festival,” she said. “It was fun, and it’s a little hard to remember all the way back then but it was definitely different.”
Having experienced the event first hand, Greig said that she’s taken that involvement and is using it to coordinate things for this year.
“We’re bringing back some workshops from back then like the soapstone carving,” she said. “I’ve taken some ideas that I have from back then and I’m putting them to use today.”
The Whistler Children’s Art Festival runs Saturday and Sunday (July 14 and 15) in Creekside by Dusty’s. Entertainment includes magic, music, arts and crafts and much more. For a full rundown of the festival, as well as to sign up for workshops go to www.artswhistler.com