Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity: An Interview with Matthew Flawn
By Liam Klenk
The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is located just above the beautiful little town of Banff, in Alberta, Canada. Nestled in a picturesque valley in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the Banff Centre was established in 1933 as the Banff School of Drama. It was granted full autonomy as a non-degree granting post-secondary educational institution in 1978. It offers arts programs in the performing and fine arts, as well as leadership training. Matthew Flawn, Head of Lighting at the Banff Centre tells us about the Centre, his life and work in Banff, and the current situation due to Covid-19.
Hello Matt and thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. What exactly is the Banff Centre, and what is your role there?
Hello Liam, it’s my pleasure. The Banff Centre is a unique organization that was founded during the depression of the 1930’s with a single course in Drama.
Since then, the Banff Centre has blossomed into an institution that encompasses art forms of all types. The Centre also provides project support for artists in residence in all disciplines.
We say, “Made in Banff, shared with the world.”
I have worked for the Banff Centre as Head of Lighting in the Performing Arts department since my partner Carolyn Walton and I moved to Banff in the beginning of September 2010.
It is a wonderful place to work, because of the incredible diversity of talent there.
On any given day, you can have conversations with artists in a multitude of disciplines, performing arts, visual arts, media and production, literary arts, and indigenous arts.
Carolyn has worked here in a variety of capacities in the Performing Arts department whilst continuing her practice as a mixed media artist.
In Performing Arts, we have worked on opera, dance, live music, and theatre.
It is incredible to have all these talented people telling important stories around you every day. It informs my own work and gives me a broader perspective.
How is the situation in Banff at this moment, in September 2020, after months of Covid-19 lockdown?
Banff has been devastated by Covid-19.
This is a tourist town that is dependent on travelers for revenue.
In the matter of just one week, 80% of the town became unemployed.
A great deal of our workers come from elsewhere. Most of them had to return to their homes with very little notice. And many businesses in town have closed permanently.
We have had some resurgence of tourism with Albertan and other Canadian visitors recently. But, it is a far cry from the bustling little tourist town it was a few short months ago.
I am very sorry to hear that. How is the Banff Centre faring in all this? It is such an important cultural institution. Not just for Canada, but internationally as well.
Covid-19 has been devastating for the Banff Centre as well since, as a post secondary educational institution we cannot hold classes remotely.
The very concept at the base of our program is the ability to bring people here to give them a place to create and to provide support for their projects.
Often, this involves working at a scale that the artists are not used to. Or creating something that spans different art forms and requires specific kinds of support.
A great deal of important art has been created here with the help of dedicated staff and facilitators.
I cannot think of another institution that works in this way. It is truly as unique as the landscape that surrounds our mountain campus.
We all look forward to a time when we can return to our work. A time, when we can resume this important mission to help in the creation of new art works and presentations.
We are still waiting for the provincial government to declare the next step in the recovery program, which will allow us to resume some of our activities.
Of course, there will be changes. The world has changed so much and so must we.
The Banff Centre is absolutely committed to ensuring that all staff and participants can work in a safe environment. Until we can accomplish that, our activities will be limited.
All fingers crossed that soon you’ll be able to resume at least some of your activities. What are your thoughts concerning the worldwide live entertainment industry in general?
I think that the live entertainment industry has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.
Our art form is inherently one that is conveyed live in front of an audience. An experience which makes every single performance different from the one before.
It is the interaction with the audience that makes a live performance special. And, unfortunately, we are going to have to wait until it is safe before we can resume.
I think, change is inevitable after this experience and none of us will ever be the same.
It is, however, important to remember that there have been pandemics and plagues before. Nevertheless, live entertainment has returned every time and remained relevant. It will return again.
I have some concern that audiences will be slow to come back because we are getting used to physical separation.
But at the end of the day, we need live performances. It is a shared experience.
I read somewhere that an audience synchronizes their heartbeats during a compelling performance. Think of that. All hearts beating as one in a shared experience.
That is amazing and shows that as humans we need to be with one another.
Our entire society is based on collaboration and community. It is part of our nature.
None of this is unique to the Banff Centre. Most of my colleagues in the business are still unemployed with no idea when they will be able to work again.
Many choose not to return to their previous occupations. And that will be a loss for the entire community.
I am going to hang on and hope for the best! Fiat Lux!