Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

A Call to Action

“Action is the foundational key to success.” Pablo Picasso

I need your help. But before I get into that let me start at the beginning.  

In 2002 there were only 20 of us. We chatted, talked, learned. For many of us this was the start of a writing life. Since those humble beginnings we have grown steadily, but most impressively in the last six years−from 395 participants in 2011 to 1810 in 2016. We’ve been lucky enough to host multi-award winning authors (Jane Urquhart, Joseph Boyden, Lawrence Hill, Madeline Thien, Will Ferguson, Emma Donoghue, Lisa Moore, Peter Robinson to name a few) on the same stage as emerging authors (Gillian Wigmore, Jennifer Manuel, Meagan Williams, Steven Price). And now, the Whistler Writers Festival is only one component of the literary programming we organize every year.

We have steadily expanded to provide concentrated support to emerging writers through our Writer In Residence Program (since 2007) and have established an Author in the Schools Program (since 2011), which sees us provide students in the Sea to Sky corridor with class sets of a visiting author’s books. The students read the books, and in some cases, study them as part of their curriculum. The author then meets the students to discuss the book and answer questions.

In the first year of this program, we had 86 students, a handful of teachers and one very nervous organizer. Me.

As I watched the kids file into the auditorium at the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre that year, buds in ears, cell phones at the ready, some kidding around with their peers, I wondered what the hell I was thinking. Why did I think a program like this could work with kids? But then, author Richard Wagamese took the stage and as he started to speak, the room got very quiet. The audience listened to Richard’s every word. They asked questions after his presentation and got his autograph.

Since then, the Author in the Schools program has drawn some 500 kids every year.

If even one student takes an interest in writing or reading I feel I’m making a difference. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

You can tell I’m pretty proud of our accomplishments. It hasn’t come easily. It’s taken a lot of hard work, determination (or naiveté), sacrifice and focus. And it’s taken generous contributions from sponsors, all levels of government, and several other organizations. For this, we are hugely grateful.

Participants in all our programs are ecstatic too. Each year they seek me out either in person or via email or text messages. They have repeatedly told me how much they enjoyed the intimacy, fellowship, the enthusiastic hospitality, our great choices of speakers and moderators, the accessibility of our programming and the innovative and varied events. Words, such as insightful, moving, creative and surprising are typically used. And everyone I’ve spoken to told me this was our very best year. “Wonder what you’ll do next year. How will you top this?”

The short answer is, I don’t know.

Before we can plan anything, we have to be sure we have sufficient revenue to cover costs. Yes, we do generate revenue from ticket sales, but because we want to keep our programming accessible, we also want to keep ticket prices low. And some of our events are free. And besides ticket sales only fund 40% of the festival’s overall budget.

Therefore, we write grant proposals, pitch our ideas to businesses in order to secure sponsorship and organize fundraising events. Then I hold my breath, cross my fingers and hope.

But the writing (no pun intended) is on the wall. Funding, particularly grant funding is shrinking because more organizations are applying, funds are tight and many funding bodies have made the decision to give smaller amounts to a greater number of initiatives, rather than larger amounts to fewer initiatives. We respect those decisions and we are grateful for the funding we do receive.

However, there’s still a gap between revenue and the cost of producing our annual Writers Festival, the Writer in Residence Program and the Author in the Schools Program.

So now it’s my turn to come to you, to email you. I need your help, as I said before. We’re launching a fundraising campaign, the likes of which we have not done in the past. Through social media and emails and direct appeal, I’m hoping you will support us through donations. With your support, we will continue to provide the quality programming you’ve come to expect and we plan to expand yet again to provide literary readings from February to June as a lead up to our existing fall literary programming. Why another expansion particularly since funds are tight? The simple answer: without growth, there is no long-term sustainability. Without this, how can anything last?

We’ve been here for 15 years and I’d like us to be here for many more years. But I know we can’t do it alone. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Any amount helps. And donations over $25 will receive an electronic tax receipt in the name of the donor if an email address is provided. You can donate on our gofundmesite. If you’d like to watch a very quick video of how the festival went in 2016, check out this video. Or watch videos of our other programs here.

Thanks again for your ongoing commitment and support for the literary arts. I appreciate it. Together we’ve made a difference. 

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