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The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity has temporarily laid off 400 people – about 75 per cent of its workforce. The layoffs come after all of the Centre’s conferences from March 8 to the end of June were cancelled.

“The funds we need to do all our arts and leadership activity comes from our ability to host these conferences,” Banff Centre president and CEO Janice Price said Friday, a day after issuing the temporary layoffs. All programs have been suspended until the end of May at the earliest.

“If this is all over in June, we’ll turn around and we’ll scramble and put on some programs.”

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Workers have been laid off for 60 days – the maximum allowed for a temporary layoff under current employment legislation, but Price says she hopes there will be some flexibility to allow those layoffs to remain temporary, even if the closure period extends beyond 60 days.

“We’re looking at every single way to keep our organization afloat at this point in time,” Price says.

Spring is usually a busy time at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, with artistic residencies, leadership programs and conferences. With the coronavirus pandemic, all is quiet on the mountain, with all activities cancelled for the next few weeks at least.

“It’s a ghost town, it’s apocalyptic,” Price says.

There are just over 130 staff who remain at the Centre working in reduced numbers in areas such as management, security, IT and communications.

Laid-off employees who live in staff housing are being allowed to stay, but workers have been moved into their own rooms – possible because the hotel lodgings remain unoccupied.

Sessional artistic directors in the arts stream remain on contract as the viability of their programs is assessed. They include Charlotte Gill in literary arts, Joel Ivany in opera, the Gryphon Trio in classical music and Vijay Iyer and Tyshawn Sorey in creative music and exploration. Permanent, full-time directors in visual arts, literary arts and Indigenous arts have not been laid off.

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The Banff Centre’s main source of government funding was cut in the recent provincial budget. It also relies on private and corporate donations – which has been challenging given the economic situation in Alberta’s oil industry.

“You want to talk about a triple whammy in Alberta,” Price says. She has not yet cancelled the Centre’s biggest and most lucrative fundraiser, the annual midsummer ball, which is still scheduled for mid-July.

The Banff Centre operates under Alberta’s Post-Secondary Learning Act, but is different from other post-secondary institutions in the province in that it is not a degree-granting institution. And, Price says, unlike colleges and universities, it cannot move to online instruction.

“We are about being on this campus, in this location where we also house you and feed you, which of course is something we should not be doing now, putting people into close quarters with each other,” says Price, whose husband is self-isolating after returning from a chess tournament in Prague.

Price worked at Lincoln Center during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and on Friday recounted a conversation she had with then-mayor Rudy Giuliani.

“On 9/11, when the mayor of New York called me, he said open the theatres and I said ‘Mr. Mayor, all of our artists who are scheduled to come to play are trapped in Europe or have cancelled their gig,’ ” she recalled. “He said, ‘Janice, it’s New York City, we’re the [expletive] cultural capital of the world. Don’t you have any friends?’”

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Days later, Lincoln Center staged a free concert.

“The automatic reaction is to get people back into a place where they can experience the beauty and the community and what the arts does for us, for social cohesion and we can’t do that in this case,” Price says. “That’s the biggest weird difference for me; that exactly when they need us the most, we can’t deliver to the community.”

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