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Banff Centre president Jeff Melanson with some of the facility's new infrastructure in Banff, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012. (Jeff McIntosh)
Banff Centre president Jeff Melanson with some of the facility's new infrastructure in Banff, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012. (Jeff McIntosh)

CULTURE

Meet Jeff Melanson, the arts impresario even conservatives can love Add to ...

Back in the centre of Canada’s cultural universe, Melanson’s departure left a hole at Toronto City Hall; he was never officially replaced, although cultural co-conspirator Robert Foster, a self-described Red Tory who worked with Melanson on the creative city initiative, says he’s tried to continue that work, even without the appointment. Foster, who threw a going-away party at his Forest Hill home for Melanson last year, describes his departure in dramatic terms. “It’s a loss for Toronto, absolutely. This is war. It’s war to build the city that attracts bright young talent.”

Melanson never made it to the party – he had to cancel at the last minute due to a case of food poisoning – but the who’s who of the arts and culture community turned out, and in what could be the ultimate tribute to Melanson’s gift for bringing artists and the political right together, both Atwood and councillor Doug Ford turned up – neither aware that the other would be there. This was at the height of their very public spat over public libraries. “It was a little tense for a moment or two,” says Foster. How did things turn out? Ford “assured Margaret that no library would close and then they had their photo taken together.”

In Banff, where the political right and culture have to collide – it’s the only way – Melanson is energized by the innovation that surrounds him: the constant flow of artists coming to Banff to make art or, at the very least, talk about it.

“People keep coming out from Toronto and saying, ‘Are you bored yet? When are you coming back?’ ” says Melanson, smiling.

THE CHANGE AGENDA

At the top of Melanson’s agenda for change at the Banff Centre is a significant philosophical shift: to move the institution away from being a presenter and toward being an incubator.

“We are actively, aggressively getting out of being a presenter at all, and focusing solely on world premieres – developing content here,” Melanson says. “If artists are not developing work [here], mentoring other artists, or recording here, then we’re not going to be that interested in booking them.”

Other components of the plan include:

To dramatically increase access to the work created here, taking control of Banff’s local radio station and rebranding it as Banff Centre Radio, further developing the Web platform launched this summer as Banff Centre Live so when fully realized it will be TED-esque in terms of online content management and launching an Internet protocol television platform for the Centre (12 months away).

Installing a new managing editor for the Banff Centre Press (not yet hired), and other hires, including the crucial position of vice-president, arts.

Increasing spending on the arts disciplines by adding $5-million to $10-million annually.

Enhancing the centre’s leadership training in four areas, indigenous leadership, creativity and entrepreneurship, social enterprise and arts management.

Building a new theatre, art gallery, art incubation space, media centre, music and sound building, and artist residence and studios.

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