The Whistler Children’s Festival has come a long way in 40 years.
Organized as one of Arts Whistler’s (then the Whistler Arts Council) first major events, it began in the Myrtle Philip Community School with local artists such as Isobel MacLaurin teaching workshops alongside well-meaning volunteers with a little less experience.
“Others were teaching how to tie-dye shirts—maybe they were learning the night before,” Mo Douglas, executive director of Arts Whistler, speculates with a laugh.
“It’s a really important memory for a lot of locals, kids who were raised here.”
The festival has undergone many changes since that time, most recently when it moved last year from one weekend in July to two weekends in May. Format-wise, the two Saturdays (May 20 and 27) are dedicated to ticketed, indoor shows at the Maury Young Arts Centre, while the Sundays (May 21 and 28) are focused more on workshops. (Though other events, including free entertainment at Whistler Olympic Plaza, take place throughout both weekends.) A free opening party will kick things off on Friday, May 19 at 4 p.m.
Both the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and Tourism Whistler have embraced the new May dates, with the former doling out more Festivals, Events and Animation funding this year to help enhance the animation throughout the village. (The May long weekend has historically been problematic in Whistler with violent incidents and rowdy parties. That has largely changed due, in part, to the now-defunct, muni-run GO Fest and then the pandemic.)
“Both the municipality and Tourism Whistler recognized that the children’s festival, particularly on the May long weekend, can have a positive impact on the village on those weekends. We’re getting strong marketing support from Tourism Whistler, which is appreciated,” Douglas says.
To that end, if you’re keen to attend the ticketed events, you should snap up tickets asap as many are selling quickly.
Beloved Canadian children’s performer Fred Penner is on track to sell out both his children’s show and the “after dark” adults’ show, as is Science World on the Road, puppeteer Kelly Haines and Circus of Thrills.
“We really encourage the local community to get any tickets for stage shows now,” Douglas says. “We don’t want to disappoint people who come to the front desk and we’ve sold out.”
While there will be plenty of free activities over both weekends, ticket buyers will also have the option of purchasing tickets to pass on to those who might not be able to spend the extra money.
“We’re doing the Helping Hands tickets again,” says Imogen Osborne, programming director at Arts Whistler. “People purchasing tickets to the performances can buy additional tickets [distributed through the Whistler Community Services Society] or the Howe Sound Women’s Centre.”
A new addition to the festival this year is the Anonymous Art Show Kids, already on display at The Gallery at the Maury Young Arts Centre. The exhibit is similar to the adult version, which took place this year in April, in that artists submit their work but their identity isn’t revealed until it’s purchased.
“It’s something we’ve been asked about for a few years now—doing a variation on it,” Douglas says.
On the art front, the festival will once again host the Family Art Adventure. Five participating stops on the Cultural Connector will host events—ranging from local musicians to Lego, balloons, craft stations and face painting—all laid out in the Cultural Connector Passport, available at the Maury Young Arts Centre.
“There will be special activities and live music from local musicians,” Douglas says. “There will be some people who do some kids’ music amongst their set, but a lot will be what you would normally see from local musicians. We try to make sure the programming is really for the kids—and they’re our primary market—but we also try to make sure we have programming that parents will enjoy.”
For more information or tickets, visit whistlerchildrensfestival.com.