InStudio: Leaving a Legacy in the West

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Banff Centre donor sits in an empty Eric Harvie Theatre.

Mrs. Jenny Belzberg, stage of Eric Harvie Theatre, Banff Centre. Photo Credit: Kari Medig 

Zack Belzberg has fond childhood memories of attending arts events with his grandmother, Calgary-born community builder and philanthropist Jenny Belzberg. Those experiences gave him the opportunity to see the arts through her eyes.

“Any intersection of young developing talent, Canadian content, and culture in Western Canada was always paramount to her,” Zack says.

That’s why he believes Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity was a perfect fit when it came to Jenny’s decision to make a transformational gift to revitalize the Centre’s Eric Harvie Theatre — one of the largest private gifts Banff Centre has ever received. The Centre was a fixture in Jenny’s life, Zack says, and by extension a fixture in the rest of the Belzbergs’ lives. Jenny served as chair of the Board of Governors from 1987 to 1991, and is still a regular concert attendee.

“In the summer I come to all the classical concerts. There’s something magical about this place,” Jenny says. “The arts have enriched my life and my [late] husband’s. [Art] just does something for your heart and your soul.”

"I think when we enhance the experience of the audience, it also helps the artists." - Jenny Belzberg

 

Zack says his grandmother grew up in a home where artists were often present. Her interest in the arts came from her family and it’s important to her that the tradition of supporting artists continues through her family.  

“She truly leads by example. I feel very lucky to have a front row seat as a witness to the incredible contributions she’s made,” he says.

The revitalization of the current Eric Harvie Theatre will begin in November 2019, slated to reopen fall 2020 as the newly named Jenny Belzberg Theatre. Banff Centre will honour the over 50-year history of the Eric Harvie Theatre with a permanent public installation in the lobby of the renewed space. The Belzberg family is excited about the theatre’s potential in many areas, including comfort, sightlines, accessibility, acoustics, amenities, common space, and modernization.

“Banff Centre is an international organization, so it helps everyone,” Jenny says. “This is an experimental lab…and it’s wonderful to be the audience watching it. I think when we enhance the experience of the audience, it also helps the artists.”

The Belzberg Family (Murray Belzberg, Leslie Belzberg, Jenny Belzberg, Brent Belzberg).

The theatre revitalization project was awarded to the team of KPMB Architects (Toronto) and MtA (Calgary) in February 2019. Marianne McKenna, Partner at KPMB Architects, says it was clear from her team’s evaluation of Banff Centre’s campus that the Eric Harvie Theatre is the building used most, by the broadest range of artists.

“Opportunities for cross-collaboration and dialogue can be supported by a building’s fabric. We used that as a precedent in our thinking,” she says.

The new theatre will be a room lined in timber, inspired by the forest surrounding the campus. It will be a more intimate environment with less – but more comfortable – audience seating, as well as newly-added side balconies.

"This project is Western Canada’s opportunity to put Canada centre stage." -Zack Belzberg

 

“From the perspective of the artist on the stage, the embrace will be more intimate. The ceiling and stage will remain the same. This revitalization values what parts of the theatre are working and focuses on the parts that don’t work,” Marianne says.

Zack says the Belzberg family feels a close tie to Banff Centre, both personally and through Jenny’s commitment and her emotional connection to the Centre.

“We want to continue to see Banff Centre thrive and continue to be a leader in the arts. This project is Western Canada’s opportunity to put Canada centre stage.”