The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is home to some of Canada’s finest in the realm of arts and culture. With nearly a hundred years of excellence in the arts, The Banff Centre is prepared to continue inspiring people towards creativity. In this episode, Douglas Nelson sits down with the President and CEO of the Banff Centre Foundation, Janice Price, for a look at the foundation and its works. Ms. Price discusses the history of the foundation and how it has adapted not only to modern times, but to the spectre of the pandemic and its effects on the arts space. Tune in and learn more about the Banff Centre today.
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Banff Centre For Arts & Creativity With Janice Price
Our guest on the show is Janice Price. She’s the President and CEO of the Banff Centre and we’re thrilled to have her as a guest on the show. Welcome, Janice.
Thanks, Doug. I’m happy to be here.
Janice, you joined the Banff Centre in 2015 coming from Toronto. I’m really curious, what is it you found when you made your way across the prairies to that golden jewel in the mountains?
I had been at the Banff Centre. I’m a native Torontonian, born and raised, but had worked before being recruited back to Toronto to help launch the Luminato Festival which I did for eight years before arriving in Banff. I had also worked in Stratford at the Stratford Festival in New York City at Lincoln Center. I was the first CEO of the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. I came back to Toronto and had a fabulous homecoming there.
During that time, particularly when I was at Luminato, I was coming to Banff Centre where we, the center, partners with business in the arts on the annual meeting of Canadian arts leaders called the Canadian Arts Summit. I had been to Banff for that. During the Luminato Festival, we were commissioning work that was often being created at Banff. I would come out to see how the work was going and what we could expect to see at Luminato.
I was familiar with the organization and I did always see it as, honestly, one of the most important Seminole places in our country and around the globe in very Canadian fashion. Often we’re more recognized and lauded outside of Canada than we are here at home. I was very familiar with the Banff Centre and its impact and significance in arts creation, arts training, indigenous arts, etc. across Canada. Coming out to actually lead the organization is a different story.
Before you came out to be the President and CEO at Banff Centre, you were already recognized as one of the leaders in the Canadian art scene and very much viewed as a thought leader and a trailblazer in a lot of respects. What did people say to you when you stood up in Toronto and said, “That’s it. I’m going to Alberta?”
It was not a surprise. People in my field, in my sector for sure, understood. I say to people to this day, “I host people here at Banff Centre.” I talked to people about the center globally. I served for nine years on the board of the International Society for the Performing Arts which is a global organization of those of us in the field. Banff Centre was very well-known. I don’t think it was a surprise. I say to this day that I actually think this is a pinnacle job in the arts in Canada. It’s one of the most important jobs you could aspire to in the field. That wasn’t an issue at all.
I want to ask a little bit about the magic of the place. The Banff Centre is deeply rooted in being in the Canadian Rockies. It has tremendous advantages in terms of being able to be a place away for artists to come and for teaching and learning to happen. When you came to the Banff Centre and did the first strategic plan, you focused on the original mission of the Banff Centre but also doubled down on the importance of place. What have you found that meant to artists, to the people who were using the Banff Centre, learning at the Banff Centre to be a part of that place?
Obviously, we’d be crazy not to embrace and own that key differentiator of this place. There are lots of great places in the world, and I know many of them, where artists incubate and where new works are commissioned or created. They’re presented in festivals or in year-round performing arts environments, but none of them have the totally magical, unique confluence of being in Canada’s first National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It’s on the site of historic indigenous Treaty 7 territory. The indigenous stories are that Banff was always a gathering place. It’s a place where all different indigenous people from different communities or different tribes would come and it was acknowledged even if you were somewhat warring tribes in other venues. When you came to Banff, everyone laid down their arms. It was a place of trade, storytelling and cultural sharing.
How amazing is that? Many years ago, that’s exactly what motivated the founding of Banff Centre as that unique place. There’s this perception, which is true, yet I don’t want to overemphasize the tendency to think of it as the artists’ spa. Yes, you get away. Yes, you’re given a quiet solitary place to create. Yes, we make your bed and we feed you and we provide this warm embrace for artists to do what they do and the time they need.
Part of the magic is that because of the breadth of the arts that we present here and the arts that get created here and the artists who were given the opportunity to get away and have thinking time here, different artists from different disciplines interact with each other. You find that a dancer who’s walking down the hallway of the artist’s residence hears someone playing music. They knock on the door and the next thing you know, a collaboration is created that could only have happened to you in Banff.
They’re living together in this amazing, unique place, which is inspirational. There is some magic. For those of your readers who’ve never been to Banff, you can’t come here and not be transformed and impacted by the place. When we get the thank you note from artists or the notes they want to send to the donor whose scholarship they received to be here. The words we hear consistently are inspiring, transformational and life-changing. That’s the impact we have.
Those are the three things you want to be aiming for in your business. I want to go back a little bit because I’m fascinated by that, “Banff is a place of coming together for indigenous people.” One of the things we’ve heard through a number of the conversations we’ve had on this show and work that we’ve seen, working with clients across the country has been the role of the arts community in leading the conversation around truth and reconciliation and being out front. I know that’s something that’s been important in your messaging and how you’ve led the Banff Centre. What is it about the artistic community, the arts community in Canada that has made it such an ally to the importance of this issue?
When you’re talking about ways of recovering and ways of expressing hurt and pain, as well as the joy that has been the role of the arts from time immemorial. To be a place where conversations around humanity and feelings and coming together with people, most art forms, live art forms, even film art forms are consumed in a community setting. You’re sitting with 100, 200, 2,000 people in a place where you’re collectively hearing stories.
[bctt tweet=”You can’t have reconciliation until you’re willing to hear the truth.” username=””]
That’s so much a part of what the indigenous experience is about. It’s about sharing stories. Passing down fascinating, funny, interesting, magical tales. That is one of the things being here in Treaty 7 territory and having many years of history in indigenous leadership here at Banff Centre. Strategic planning, negotiation, women and indigenous leadership. We have a range of programs in our leadership division that partners with the art division that has given us longstanding knowledge.
When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission delivered its report, we welcomed and encouraged everyone else who was suddenly embracing this work and realizing they had to have these conversations for the first time. We didn’t stand up on a soapbox and say, “You’re late to the party. We’ve been doing this for years.” We could be at the summit in Banff on Truth and Reconciliation in 2016. Phil Fontaine and Marie Wilson were here. We gathered over 300 community members.
A year later, a report of all the conversations and the findings came out about that. We embraced that role. The first strategic plan was delivered under my leadership in 2016. There’s been a recent one since then. The first plan was called The Creative Voice. We made a commitment to the year-round Artistic Director of Indigenous Arts. That person, Reneltta Arluk, has now been with us for many years. She’s amazing. That’s the way we’re managing it. We’re trying to embed the indigenous point of view and perspective in every discipline that happens here at Banff Centre.
As an institution, you’ve had a very long relationship working on these indigenous issues with the indigenous leadership program. You’ve made that really deep commitment in 2016. What’s changed? What did the Banff Centre learn through that commitment and living that commitment over the years?
We’ve learned what we knew all along, but it became particularly clear after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report how hard the work was going to be, how much needed to be done and how authentically you had to come to the table. We had a wonderful group of speakers at the summit who helped clarify Truth and Reconciliation. The reason it’s called that is because you can’t have reconciliation until you’re willing to hear the truth.
We structured the summit and all the work we do. What grew out of that summit, which was we created a program at Banff Centre, a Right Relations program that sought to say, “Now, how do we put T&R into practice?” One of the programs that spun out of that program was Truth and Reconciliation for Non-indigenous People.
When you talk about what we learned, we learned that a lot of non-indigenous people were reading the T&R report and they were wanting to know how to engage and how to practice reconciliation in their own community or in their own lives. They weren’t quite sure how to do that. They were nervous about making missteps. We created an adjunct program, which is Truth and Reconciliation for Non-indigenous People.
Every energy company, big corporation and community group was sending their people to this program and we can’t even keep up with the demand. I think that’s a wonderful thing because it shows people wanted a safe space where they could learn and they could genuinely try to embrace the intention of the commission.
It’s reassuring to hear and not surprising. When you think of all that you’ve done so far, what you’ve learned so far, what’s next? What do you see as the next real opportunity for the Banff Centre to continue to show leadership in this area?
It’s to reground ourselves in our full submission, aside from all the new dynamics around Truth and Reconciliation and then BIPOC. Diversity, writ large, brings the challenge of, “How do we make sure that we continue to elevate our organization’s commitment to indigenous reconciliation and indigenous issues while still embracing all the diversity conversations that have been happening across the board?” We’re catching up on the diversity issues beyond indigenous, which makes sense in our community.
I think for me, it was when I arrived in 2015 and a lot of the impetus behind the 2016 strategic plan, which was called The Creative Voice, was around clarifying for people. The Banff Centre is a very complex, large organization. One of the largest arts and culture training and creative organizations in Canada, pre-COVID, with a $72 million budget was that the multiple streams of our activities, be it convening, conferences, meetings, hospitality, restaurants.
We have artists residences. We have a range of programs in arts training and presentation that spans every possible art form like literary, film, opera, dance, music, theater. I think that exactly what that center was and why we existed had become quite blurred. I wanted to work with my staff and my board to say, “We need to reground ourselves in our founding mission of being an arts and creativity organization.” That came first. All those other things are completely appropriate and important in our organization. I won’t even call it mission creep. It wasn’t creep.
It was just a fuzziness around understanding who we are and what we do. I worked on that and then I think we’ve refined it in the plan that was released this spring, which is now called Creative Pathways, which again, refocuses and makes it clear how we fulfill our mission, but what we’re grounded in as we approach our 90th anniversary of existence. We’re older than Stratford or the National Arts Center. We’re one of the oldest. The Vancouver Symphony is over 100 years old but other than that, there aren’t as many organizations that have long lived as the Banff Centre.
Janice, I want to go back. You skipped over probably years of work there in describing that focusing exercise. That’s one of the things we see as the most difficult challenges of leaders in the sector. The hard thing isn’t always saying, “We’ll do that too,” or “We’ll add that.” That is an easy muscle that we use from time to time.
Where real leaders shine and sharpen their skills is when you get to a process of saying what you will not do in order to have the energy and the resources and the focus to prioritize what you’re absolutely going to deliver on. Maybe you could tell us a story or walk an example in either of the first or the second strategic plan where you had to say, “Because of our focus, we are not going to do X or Y.” How did you approach that as a leader with a team that’s committed to delivering that broad swath of programming?
That is one of the hardest things to do. It’s almost harder to say what we won’t do than what we will do. We’re all mission-driven organizations. “That’s a great idea. It’s motherhood. How can you say no to that?” Do you know why? It’s because we need to do this focus. One way I do that is when we launch a Strategic Planning Process. A lot of staff and even senior management, they just cringe.
[bctt tweet=”You have to create a clear, rigid reporting mechanism. Otherwise, it becomes a free-for-all” username=””]
They put their head in their hands and they go, “Come on. I cannot. We are not about to go back into strategic planning. I hate strategic planning.” I find it so exciting, so invigorating and one of the things I say is we commence that process to my teams is and especially in the creative sector. Artists and arts enablers, as I call myself, tend to think that, “A strategic plan? You’re going to constrict me. You’re going to make me follow a certain path. You’re going to prescribe my creativity by giving me a strategic plan.”
I always liken it to a roadmap. I said, “Together we’re going to work on a strategic plan and that’s going to be our roadmap for the next X number of years.” The most recent plan, partly because it was created during COVID, I didn’t even put an end date on the plan. It’s not like, “This is our three-year plan. This is our five-year plan.” How can you do that in these times? Even pre-COVID, I was increasingly thinking that wasn’t realistic.
I say to my teams, “The strategic plan is a roadmap. Just like a roadmap, you can go off on a little side trip. You can see a little path and say, ‘Let’s go there and see what we discover.'” Since you have a roadmap, you can always get back to the path and you can always get back to where you and you teams and your colleagues have collectively agreed is where you need to place your focus.
I tell them not to think of it as scary and restricting their creativity. It’s amazing how often, when you tell teams that the strategic plan is there to also help them say no. The strategic plan is there as a tool where they can say, “I am so clear on the priorities my leadership have set for the organization.” Here’s the other metaphor I use for them. “If you can’t find a direct thread back from something you’re spending your time and energy on or something someone’s asking you to do and you can’t find the thread back to one of the five very clear strategic plan goals, that’s your cue to say, ‘No, that’s not a strategic priority for us right now.’” I have had middle to senior management team members come and say, “Thank you for giving me the tool to say no.”
Did they ever come and tell you that something you’re pursuing is not one of those five priorities?
I haven’t heard that yet. What I have heard and our senior leadership team, all our VP team have heard is of necessity, especially since this most recent strategic plan is quite directional. We created it in the midst of COVID. What they have asked for is, “When are you going to drill down and come back to us with helping take that visionary, directional, strategic plan, which we all loved and bought into. When are you going to help us figure out how we use that to truly create priorities?” It’s still not necessarily clear. Is that a priority for year one or can I put that off to year three, but still embrace and understand it’s a priority?
We’re working now a senior leadership and we will roll it out across the teams the way we rolled out the plan. I think I did twelve different meetings with teams, full staff, and individual teams talking them through the plan, hearing their questions, their comments, what they understood, and what they thought wasn’t clear. Now, we’re going to go back to them and say, “Green, yellow, red on each of the pathways. Where did you put your priorities in the next short-term?”
What role do you see the board playing when you’re setting out on a strategic planning process? How do you work with them in getting to that final product?
I have taken the Institute of Corporate Directors Director’s Program. I could tell you for my excellent training there, the board has two primary roles, hire and fire the CEO and oversee the strategy. This is a place where you want to plug your board in. We did that. We had a fantastic external facilitator, communications professional, a very experienced corporate guy who, with our Director of Communications and our senior team, laid out a very comprehensive plan for how the strategic plan would be created.
We broke our board into working groups on the topics we thought were the topics that needed to be dealt with. They’d dug deep on that. This is the one place where normally you say, “You don’t want your board to get into the weeds.” They’re not supposed to get too deeply into operational matters, but this is the place where you do.
I got to tell you, maybe it was because of COVID. Maybe it was because I know they are so committed and they were so available to us, but our board, we had 100% attendance at committee meetings at all the strategic planning sessions. They broke out into their working groups. They reported back to the rest of the working groups and that did help us create the plan.
It is one of the challenges of leadership in the sector, not as hard as saying no, but maybe second to that is determining the appropriate level for the board in the strategic planning process. I’ve seen organizations that stumble a bit when the board seeks to not oversee the strategy, but deliver the strategy to say, “This is what our strategy is going to be. We have new management. Go implement it.” It’s often quite difficult to operationalize those plans because they’re not founded in the core workings of the organization without a full understanding of operational reality.
That’s why my advice would be and there are templates and models, but the most obvious one to me is it’s a collective exercise right from the beginning. Really good and experienced board members recognize that their role is to stay high-level, but very engaged in the topic. That’s why we created sub-working groups. We said, “Who are the people who want to talk about revenue generation?” They self-selected as the obvious group.
“Who are the people who want to talk about our diversity commitments?” It is the group of board members. Some served on more than one. “Who are the group of people who want to talk about community engagement and artistic excellence?” We created those groups. I think they felt empowered right from the beginning to engage in the conversation. They then all brought their reports back to the fuller group and that’s when we began to bring them together as one cohesive large group, with that volume of material, musings, thoughts and questions they had all answered. They all shared each other’s materials. We were able to winnow it down.
In the end, in the last few months of finalizing the process, they were collectively engaged in seeing the text right down to reviewing and looking at the visuals we had created to help get the plan out into the larger world. As a creative organization, we have an obligation to make it look good and creative. There were a lot of conversations even about the visuals we used. It was great. It was a really good process.
I’m sure you’ve done this multiple times in your career, but you’ve got that intense engagement on setting our strategy. Now, it’s time to operationalize and the board needs to go to a different place, a little more distant from the organization that has a vigorous planning process. How, as a leader, do you manage that transition back to the more traditional governance role that the board has?
This is my view and my experience, but it’s worked for me. I’m happy to share it. You share with them very quickly after final sign-off and approval of the plan, how you, as a management team, are going to report back on the plan. You give them a document that you will consistently, every quarterly board meeting, complete and share that says, “Here’s the progress we’re making towards the realization of the plan.”
[bctt tweet=”We want to welcome people back and that’s the most important thing. And we will welcome people back as soon as it’s safe to do so.” username=””]
That keeps them informed, but it reinforces to them, “It’s in our hands as management and we will report back to you on the progress towards achieving the strategic plan.” You can then comment on that and review it, but it’s not your job to execute it. You could call us to task if you say, “I think it’s too slow the way you’re rolling out this pathway.” We have the conversation. We explain why or we adapt and adjust and say, “You might be right.” You create a very clear and rigid reporting back mechanism. Otherwise, it becomes a free-for-all.
“How is this doing? How is that doing?” or “Maybe I’ll just call that staff person and ask how the programs are.” I’m sure you don’t have that problem with your current board, but it may have happened in years past that you got boards who jump into the operations like that. As an organization, I know you’ve had a number of very significant donors over the year. Philanthropy is a significant part of how you operate. When you think about your strategic plan, at what stage do you consider or think about the role of philanthropy and helping live that plan or be successful in that plan?
The first thing we do is share it. The communications strategy to roll out the strategic plan to our key stakeholders was thicker than the plan itself. A good plan feels relatively clear and it’s simple if you do it right. It shouldn’t feel like it was as much work as it was to get there. Sharing it, getting buy-in and being able to speak to the plan, going to your most important ambassadors and supporters. Making sure they’ve seen it and that they understand it and that they can ask you questions about it.
That was a months-long process. As soon as the plan was approved by the board, we went out to our stakeholders. It’s a great door opener to speak to some folks who were like, “No, I don’t need to talk to you. You know I love you. I’ve sent you money every year.” You’re like, “We’d love to share the strategic plan with you.” It creates an engagement opportunity with that donor. It’s a good stewardship vehicle. To be honest, sometimes their feedback is, “I didn’t quite understand that,” or “I’m not so sure I agree with that versus this, but I appreciate having had a chance to hear you introduce me to the strategic plan.”
It’s hard to believe that we’ve made it this far without talking directly about the pandemic in particular because we started this conversation with the Banff Centre being so anchored in place. If people can’t come, what does that mean? I’ll ask not necessarily about the specifics, because like so many arts organizations, post-secondary organizations in Canada, you’ve had to make some very difficult choices.
I was just thinking as I was getting ready for our conversation, that maybe we should change the name to the Banff Centre for Resiliency and see how that goes. Maybe that’s scope creep. As someone who has led through this very difficult time for your organization, what is it you’re going to take forward from this process, from the pain of the pandemic into the leadership of the organization going forward?
I was asked to speak to an important industry organization on resiliency. I quoted my favorite, and I parsed a lot of them, the Miriam Webster dictionary definition of resiliency. There are two bullets, “The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused, especially by compressive stress.” Obviously the less scientific one, “An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”
I was living and working in New York City in Manhattan at Lincoln Center on 9/11. I went through that. It definitely required resilience. It was a very different leadership challenge than the pandemic because of the uncertainty that’s never-ending. We knew within about four days. Horrible and traumatic though that incident was, we were very quickly into recovery mode.
Here, we’re in this never-ending adaptation. I would say, we’ve learned a few things. One, we learned that we were slow to emotionally and psychologically accept that you could do Banff Centre programming except by being physically here on this campus. We pondered it, probably longer. I applaud and admire all my colleagues at Stratford and the National Arts Center and all the organizations across Canada who quickly adapted and provided ways for their audiences to see their work.
We got a little bit of a triple whammy. We’re in a highly resort town, a tourism-based economy here in Banff. By April of 2020, 90% of our 8,000 residents were unemployed. It was never historically a problem in Banff. You can’t find employees. The impact on the art sector, the post-secondary sector. We are officially a post-secondary institution, which means we weren’t eligible for the wage subsidy as a publicly-funded post-secondary institution.
Finally, just the cherry on top, Parks Canada closed the park. You literally have to show proof that you lived in Banff when you came off the Trans-Canada Highway to get back to your home. We were completely devastated. In the midst of that, I will say, we waited about three months. It wasn’t until September that we started moving our programming online. We were very nervous about it because of the power plays that are so much a part of what we offer to our participants.
They loved it. One participant in a dance program, at the end, asked, “How you do dance online?” They did. It was a choreography workshop. On the very last day, everyone was sharing their experiences and how much they’d loved the program. One of them said, “I’m going to miss the mountains,” because we were somehow able to evoke the place through pictures.
We have learned that we have audiences around the world who can probably be served by us remotely, and we were just ignoring them. Now we’re going to continue to do that. We want to welcome people back and that’s the most important thing. We will welcome people back as soon as it’s safe to do so. We’ve learned a lot and we’re not going to abandon some of our programs. What I worry about as a nonprofit enterprise is our funders and our audiences and our participants now see the value and are willing to participate in online programming.
Now that an expectation has been raised, that costs money. You don’t suddenly replicate a whole other digital stream of delivering your programming with no cost attached to that. This notion that miraculously we’re all going to be able to do infinite numbers of online programs while still delivering our in-person programs. We do need to do some education in the sector with our donors and our government funders about the costs involved in that.
Janice, I have so appreciated the advice and insight that you’ve shared over the course of our conversation. If people wanted to learn more about the Banff Centre and reopening to come to experience that wonderful power of place, how can they learn more about the Banff Centre?
Our website at BanffCentre.ca. We post all our programs that are available for application or for program participants. We call them participants, not students, because we’re a non-degree-granting institution. Also, for all our public performances, our gallery has reopened. Even if you just want to come and have a meal and experience a beautiful view and understand what Banff Centre’s about, you can find all of that on our website.
Banff Centre is a very special place. I had the chance to take a few courses there over my career. It is a place of inspiration and I applaud the work that you and your team have done to build it to what it is, and certainly what it will be again as we move through this pandemic. Thank you very much, Janice.
- International Society for the Performing Arts
About Janice Price
Janice Price has over 30 years of experience as a senior executive in leadership roles in the arts and entertainment sector in Canada and the United States. She was appointed President and CEO of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in March 2015.
Prior to her appointment at Banff Centre, Ms. Price served as CEO of the Luminato Festival, Toronto’s annual multi-arts festival, an organization she led since its inception in 2006. As the Festival’s Founding CEO from 2006 – 2015, Janice helped Luminato become one of the world’s largest and most respected annual multi-arts festivals. From 2002 – 2006 Ms. Price was President and CEO of The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, and prior to that position she was Vice President of Marketing and Communications and then Interim Executive Director at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Prior to her professional engagements in the United States, she held senior positions at a number of Toronto arts organizations, including the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, and The Corporation of Roy Thomson Hall and Massey Hall. From 1992–1996, she was the Director of Marketing and Special Projects for the Stratford Festival.
Ms. Price has served on numerous national and international arts sector Boards including ISPA (International Society for the Performing Arts), the National Board of Culture Days, the Toronto Arts Foundation, and the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. She served on the 2016-17 National Executive of the Governor General’s Leadership Conference and Chaired the national Festivals and Major Events board from 2013 – 2015. Ms. Price currently serves on the board of Business for the Arts, and on the Council of Post-Secondary Presidents of Alberta.
Ms. Price was a recipient of the 2018 WXN Canada’s Most Influential Women Awards in the category of Arts, Sports, and Entertainment.