Dear Artistic Community

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The Valentine Studio in the Leighton Artists' Studio

The Valentine Studio in the Leighton Artists' Studio

Dear Artistic Community,

The abrupt, short-term suspension of programs and temporary closure of facilities at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity has created understandable apprehension about the future of this important Canadian arts and leadership education institution. Like you, we believe in the power of the arts and, as we move through this period of retraction during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are grounding our institutional vision around supporting artists. Providing artists the freedom to explore, create, collaborate, and inspire is – and will continue to be - the mission and mandate of this institution.
 
It is disappointing to all of us that Banff Centre has had to pause our in-person activities, and temporarily close facilities and spaces on campus. We are not an arts organization in the traditional sense, as we fulfill a broader mandate as a post-secondary education institution. As a post-secondary institution in Alberta, Banff Centre is following the guidelines of the Ministry of Advanced Education with respect to restrictions for on-campus activities. We are looking forward to the time when we can fully reopen our campus to artists and leadership program participants as soon as we are able to do so in a safe and financially viable manner.
 
In the meantime, Banff Centre must take the decision to be very thoughtful and deliberate around the resumption of activities to continue to serve our community into the future. We are starting by offering a selection of online programming and events until December 2020. We will slowly bring people back to our campus safely as soon as we can. The decision to move intentionally is, in part, to adapt to our new, very different fiscal reality.
 
We have historically applied revenue from the Centre's conference and hospitality enterprise to subsidize the cost of artists coming to Banff Centre, and these sectors have been hit very hard by the pandemic. As a result, we anticipate our operating budget at restart will be 50% less than the pre-COVID period, and Banff Centre's total budget is unlikely to return fully within the next three or four years.
 
It is also for these reasons – reduced levels of activities along with lower revenues from public, private, and enterprise sources – that we had to lay off many of our wonderfully talented staff across all departments and sectors at Banff Centre. This has represented one of the most devastating impacts of the history of this great institution.
 
As we move beyond this period, we are listening to the concerns of artists, and will continue to invite a constructive dialogue, so we can better serve artists and leaders, and work together to advance the sector as we recover from this dreadful pandemic.

Background

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Banff Centre particularly hard as a post-secondary institution, an arts centre, a performance venue, a gathering place, and a hospitality hub – all sectors that have been vulnerable to the pandemic and subsequent economic fallout. In March, when the pandemic was declared, we acted swiftly to protect the people on our campus, and close our facilities following all municipal, provincial, and federal government restrictions.

These directives included meeting spaces, studios, theatres, gallery, library, fitness facility, hotels, and restaurants. Though some restrictions have been lifted over time, like all other post-secondaries in Alberta, the Banff Centre campus – including all of our facilities and spaces, galleries, and gathering places - is still mandated by the Ministry of Advanced Education to be closed for non-essential student and participant activity.
 
While we serve many communities – local, provincial, national, and international across disciplines – we are governed by the Ministry of Advanced Education and are restricted by the ministry’s COVID-19 guidelines around re-opening, gathering sizes, offerings, and financial constraints.
 
As all post-secondary institutions look to reopening, individual institutions must determine if they can adhere to their local health guidelines in reopening facilities and public spaces, and feel comfortable they can deliver services safely. In addition, financial constraints continue with respect to providing the accommodation, food, and student services required to properly support on-campus activities.

Financial Constraints

Over many years, Banff Centre has developed a social enterprise funding model through a combination of public, private, and earned revenue which supports thousands of artists and leaders coming to our campus on partially or fully funded scholarship each year.

In recent years, the conference and hospitality business has generated about 40% of Banff Centre’s total revenue, with the balance of Banff Centre's income coming from provincial grants and private donations. The unrestricted revenue from conference and hospitality services has also partially supported Banff Centre’s yearly offering of more than 400 public – mostly free - events celebrating artists across all disciplines on our campus and contributed to the upkeep and public accessibility of facilities like the Walter Phillips Gallery and the Paul D. Fleck library. In previous years, this revenue stream allowed us to grow programming while also reducing the Centre's reliance on continually declining public sector funding.
 
Within one week in March, Banff Centre saw the cancellation of 100% of conference and hospitality business for the balance of its 2020-2021 fiscal year. We have not yet been able to restart services to recover this important source of revenue, while conference and hospitality clients have been reluctant to return to in-person meetings and dining.
 
As we move through the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, funding constraints and safety considerations will direct a slow and staggered restart of all artistic programming and presentation activities, as well as residency and hospitality services.

Current Plans

With the current level of critically important provincial government funding, which as previously announced will decline over the curent and next fiscal years by 20% from 2018 levels, and the steadfast commitment of our donor community and granting bodies, Banff Centre is stabilizing operations and looking to the future.
 
We will be offering select programs in Visual Arts, Literary Arts, Performing Arts, Indigenous Arts, and Indigenous and Cultural Leadership online beginning in September 2020.
 
Many of our marquee annual events have been and will continue to be offered online including National Indigenous Peoples’ Day (June 21), the Banff International String Quartet Festival (September 1-4), and the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival (October 31- November 8).

Forward-Looking Plans

In the current climate, it is difficult to plan with certainty too far into the future. Banff Centre’s programming team hopes to begin to invite single or small groups of artists back to campus this Fall, if possible under health safety guidelines. Artistic disciplines like Visual Arts and Literary Arts lend themselves particularly well to the splendid isolation of Banff Centre’s Leighton Artist studios to participate in self-directed and some thematic residencies.  The Walter Phillips Gallery, the Paul D. Fleck Library, studios, theatres, fitness facilities, hotels, and restaurants will all reopen gradually as safety protections and financial capacity allow.
 
Part of Banff Centre’s pedagogical approach is to offer artists a retreat with all personal and artistic needs met on campus. To commence programming and invite artists back to campus, we also need accommodation and hospitality services, and, for all artistic and gathering spaces to be safe.
 
Banff Centre is dedicated to a full offering of campus activities including access to the Walter Phillips Gallery and the Paul D. Fleck Library, responsibly reopened in alignment with government regulations and financial ability. We see the sharing of literary and visual art on campus, alongside supporting our performance venues, as vital to the Centre's educational model.
 
We are working deliberately and thoughtfully as a management team and governance board through the many decisions related to reopening of the Banff Centre campus to ensure that Banff Centre can fulfill its mission and vision of supporting artists long into the future while keeping those who come to our campus safe and healthy.
 
In addition, through this period, Banff Centre has accelerated the development of our strategic planning process which had begun in early 2020. The feedback provided by the artistic community will be helpful as we engage in this process. We are also committed to actively seeking artist and community feedback over the next several months as we finalize our plans for the near future. 

As we move forward, Banff Centre will also be working with our staff, Board, and community to more fully develop our commitments to equity, diversity, and inclusion that is reflected throughout all programs and operations of Banff Centre.
 
This has been an incredibly challenging and disruptive time for the staff, boards, and stakeholders who care deeply about the future of Banff Centre. We want to thank you for your commitment to supporting our work, and your resolute belief in our mission as an educational institution serving the arts community.
 
I assure you that Banff Centre will survive this period of closure, and will be ready to welcome artists back to our campus in the future to continue the long and proud tradition of learning, creation, production, and presentation that has been a hallmark of this institution for almost 90 years.
 
Janice Price
President and CEO of Banff Centre