Banff’s CEO wants her institution front and centre on the national and global stage

Banff Centre president and CEO Janice Price.

The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity has always seemed, from the outside, to be a bit like JRR Tolkein’s Rivendell — a place to aspire to, splendid but somewhat remote — a retreat if you will, where talented people go to gather their thoughts and hone their careers.

It is that, but, if Janice Price has her way, it won’t be in understated isolation any more.

Price is the president and CEO of the Banff Centre and has been since 2015 after leaving her post as the head of the Luminato Festival in Toronto.

“I have been in this job four years in March. … It has been about further honing something I shared with the search committee when I was a candidate for the job.

“It is about re-embracing and working hard to continue all the great work and services for artists that we have here on our campus. But it is also to reclaim and extend Banff Centre’s place on the national and global stage.”

Price is used to thinking big. In addition to running Luminato, she was the president and CEO of Philadelphia’s Kimmel Centre for the Performing Arts and acting executive director of the Lincoln Centre in New York.

She came to Luminato with prompting from the former CEO of the National Arts Centre Peter Herrndorf. He had suggested her name to the founders of Luminato, David Pecaut and Tony Gagliano.

“I had been in the U.S. a decade at the time.”

She regularly bumped into Herrndorf and he was always asking her when she would come home to Canada.

“I would say to him, not as egotistically as it sounds, ‘When you have something interesting’.”

Luminato was it.

“I’m not shy about saying we need to do for Banff what Peter Herrndorf did for the NAC. He said ‘I’m going to put the National back in the National Arts Centre’.”

For Price, Banff’s national role is exemplified in the appointment of the Gryphon Trio to run the centre’s classical music summer program starting in 2020. It’s also about putting on staff artists such as Joel Ivany, the head of the Against the Grain opera company and Emily Molnar of Ballet BC.

“Banff is complementary to the NAC and other arts partners because we are a post-secondary institution in Alberta. Our charter and funding says so.

“I see us having an obvious and logical place in the ecosystem of the arts in Canada. If we are the creation space, we partner with organizations like the NAC and with other commissioners and funders to help artists create work here. We are a presentation space. We are at the beginning of the process of creation at Banff as it goes full circle.”

As an example of that, choreographer Crystal Pite’s Olivier Award winning Betroffenheit was worked on at Banff.

“I love it that artists come here and create. Now, since I have arrived I have said, ‘Oh and by the way I’m glad you were nurtured here and we gave you what is our mission to give you, as you go around the world I want the role Banff played to be acknowledged’,” she said. “We are injecting ourselves back into that national conversation.”

This forceful statement reflects what Price discovered at Banff when she arrived.

“When I arrived here I said to my team ‘I have known about Banff forever.’ I always came to Banff, but when I arrived as CEO I knew I was coming to Shangri La but I didn’t know it was really Brigadoon.”

The centre needed “to wake up and be connected to the rest of the world.”

“We need to bring people here and partner with people and have our artistic leadership be people who are connecting us to the national and international artistic universe.”

Those kinds of leaders often are away from the centre, but no matter where they go they are carrying the Banff flag and are ambassadors for the centre, she said.

“Why does Banff feel sometimes like we are that closed safe place, well we have to be,” Price said. “The absolute core and the reason we have artists from Lawrence Hill to Margaret Atwood to Crystal Pite to Joel Ivany coming here is because we do preserve that sense of a place of creation” no strings attached.

But, she added, “We do have a very large obligation to be public facing nationally and internationally.” That means collaborating with other organizations.

“We are a small country. We do better when everybody bands together. What we all are meant to do is to ensure the work gets done at the highest level of excellence and finds stages in Canada and around the world.

“We are finding with more confidence and trust than in past how we do that and (along the way) build that network of national organizations working together to create more opportunities for artists.”

When Price took over Banff, she assumed command of a slightly traumatized organization that essentially had lost focus, she said.

“I took the entire first year on the job to rebuild relationships and bridges.” She launched a rebranding process and the development of a strategic plan.

“One of the things that came out of it was the name the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. I put our mission back in our name. and said that the various parts are part of one entity. That was simple and obvious. That needed to be done. It worked everybody embraced it” and they all got T-shirts.

Her thinking was “If we don’t know who we are and what we stand for, how can we be that in the world?”

After a lifetime working in the field, Price believes the arts have to be at the table in any civic conversation.

“The key for me is that everything starts with the artist. My business card should say arts enabler not president and CEO. I have given 40 years of my life to that.”

A recent alumni survey by the centre found that 75 per cent of them are still making living as working artists, she said.

“That’s part of what we bring to table. It is about balance sheets and budgets, but it’s more how to continue working as an artist.”

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.