I spoke with Banff Centre CEO and President Janice Price about how their organization has been affected by COVID-19 and their virtual offerings over the summer and fall.


Rob: The arts in general have been hit really hard by this pandemic. How has Banff Centre been weathering the storm?

Janice: You’re right. It’s been very tough on the arts and culture community. We are a post-secondary institution and that also does require people to convene. So the way we really tackled it once it became clear after suspending all of our summer on campus, teaching and programming, we also had to extend that into January. So we quickly pivoted to figuring out if there’s ways we could teach our participants through online programming. That’s why we’ve announced that we’re launching online programs in all of our artistic disciplines and some of our indigenous leadership programs as well beginning this fall.

Rob: Summer and fall is usually a hub of activity at Banff Centre. What are some of the programs that you’re going to be offering online to keep things going?

Janice: It will work best with programs that don’t require hands on activities, like our literary arts programs. But there are still things you can do in visual arts and in other programming areas, even when you can’t be in the same physical space. Those are the things that the arts and leadership teams have been focusing on.

Rob: I’d imagine that your instructors ever had to get pretty creative.

Janice: Definitely. Everything’s being done remotely. All of our meetings, we’re all working from home, but it has been extremely challenging to do so with the complete loss of over half of our revenue that we generate through our conference, meetings, and hospitality businesses.

Rob: A couple of the big events that I can think of that tend to happen in the fall are the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival and the Banff International String Quartet Festival. Are you going to be able to do those in some sort of virtual capacity?

Janice: That’s the plan as of now. Prerecorded things that we know will bring some great joy to our classical music lovers and some talks and masterclass type work for the International String Quartet Festival. The Mountain Book Festival – it’s just an iconic event here on our campus that attracts 10,000 people throughout that week, so we know there’s a massive appetite out there. Our mountain film team has just done an extraordinary job working with filmmakers, with authors, with photographers, there will be an online version of that film festival as well this fall,

Rob: Another big summer event at Banff Centre is your annual Midsummer Ball. What are you doing in place of that?

Janice: We are so grateful. We have amazing corporate partners and philanthropic donors who actually for the most part have stood by their financial commitment to us. So that’s another one that we’re taking online. We’re showcasing photos from previous years, so people can see themselves in all their finery and look at the beautiful mountains and begin to look forward to it coming back next year. We’ve dubbed it the Midsummer Gratitude, because it’s really our way of thanking all the donors and corporate sponsors who sent us the funds that they had committed to us despite the fact that the event won’t be happening on our campus as usual.

Rob: Looking at it from a silver lining perspective, your main large theatre was already shut down for major renovations going from the Eric Harvie to the Jenny Belzberg Theatre, so you wouldn’t have been able to have big shows in that space anyway. Are those renovations proceeding?

Janice: They are. It’s going to be so exciting. We’re going to give an update during the Midsummer Ball gratitude event. It remains on time and on budget. As soon as we can safely invite people into see performances live, we’re looking forward to some kind of a celebratory event. Even if we can’t do performances, we’re thinking we might do an open house where we invite people to come in, at least see the theatre and see how beautiful it is, and renew everybody’s faith that we will be coming back and we will be doing performances up here on campus again.

Rob: It’s been tough for Banff Centre and has been tough for Banff Centre staff. Do you see yourself bouncing back from this and getting back to the full capacity you’re were at before?

Janice: I do see us returning to delivering all the same kinds of programming we’ve been delivering. I think we’re going to learn a lot about ways that we might want to continue doing online programming. Maybe we can use this platform and these technologies on a regular basis, but the intention absolutely is to come back. Obviously it’ll take a awhile to build back up to the same scale that we were prior to the pandemic, but we’ll be back.


Keep an eye on their website for online programming announcements.

Filed under: Banff, Banff Centre, Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, covid-19