Howard Jang can recount major pivot points in his career, right down to dates and often even the time of day. He added another big one last weekend, signing the contract that will see him leave Simon Fraser University in Vancouver for a dream job at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.
Beginning in early 2018, Mr. Jang, who is director of the SFU Woodward's Goldcorp Centre for the Arts and a professor of professional practice there, will become Banff's vice-president, arts and leadership. In the new position, he will be responsible for arts training and creation as well as all facets of leadership education.
Initially the posting was for the vice-president, arts position (Carolyn Warren, who formerly held that position, is joining the Canada Council for the Arts to become director-general, arts granting programs). But it became evident that Mr. Jang – one of more than 25 contenders Banff Centre president Janice Price considered and one of about a dozen she met – was not only the right choice for the job, but was offered an opportunity to expand it to include the leadership side.
"I think a big factor for us is what he's been doing at SFU over the past three years really uniquely positioned him to help us take that step of merging these two senior leadership roles," Ms. Price told The Globe and Mail.
To say it's a dream job for Mr. Jang is no stretch. When the position became vacant in 2000, he made a call to then-president Mary Hofstetter about it.
"I said this is an amazing job," Mr. Jang recalls. "I'm not ready for it. But I sure hope one day I might be."
Mr. Jang, 56, was born and raised in Vancouver and studied music and double bass at UBC. He moved to New York to pursue a career as a musician and got work as an usher at Carnegie Hall. His first real administrative gig was as production manager for the St. Luke's Ensemble, helping to produce its summer festival in upstate New York.
At St. Luke's, he met another bassist, Jack Kulowitch. "Jack could play a Bach bassline like I'd never heard before; it was so beautiful. And I kind of knew in my heart I could never be that good," Mr. Jang says. "But I could help Jack be amazing."
One New York morning, reading the newspaper over breakfast at a diner, Mr. Jang read an article about the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra's severe financial woes. Mr. Jang called one of his former teachers back home who was involved with the VSO and offered to help any way he could. Two years later, he was asked to come home and manage the orchestra.
On Sept. 27, 1989, the man who had never wanted to leave New York was back in British Columbia, on a bus to Port Hardy with the orchestra, which was touring.
"There I was, sitting in this really weird motel room, thinking 'what the hell am I doing here?' I was just in Manhattan, we were winning Grammy awards and touring the world. This is stupid. What am I doing here in this goofy little town?
"And then I went to the concert."
It was in a high school gymnasium. They were playing Mozart's Symphony No. 40. In the quiet moment between the first and second movement, a fisherman sitting at the back of the bleachers yelped "Yee-haw!" into the silence.
"You know there are moments in your life when you say: 'This is it?'" says Mr. Jang. "That was it. I knew at that very moment that that orchestra connected with that fisherman. I knew at that moment that the orchestra had an impact with that man and that community."
After the VSO, Mr. Jang joined Ballet BC and in 1997 moved east to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, where he worked with Bramwell Tovey (now music director at the VSO). That led to an ah-ha moment for Mr. Jang.
The city was still smarting from the departure of the Winnipeg Jets; not a day went by when it didn't come up. "They took it as a confirmation that they were a small-market city. So what they did was they said, what makes us a great city? And they embraced the arts even deeper, much more tightly. And what that resulted in was an amazing opportunity for me to be in an environment where the arts were treated with an amazing amount of respect."
On Jan. 20, 2000, Mr. Jang received a call about a job from Bill Millerd, who is now about to retire as artistic managing director of Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre Company. It was 6 p.m. Mr. Jang looked at the thermometer outside his kitchen window. "It was minus-26 and I said 'Sure, I'll come back to Vancouver.' And the rest is history."
On his first day at the Arts Club, Aug. 28, 2000, Mr. Jang arrived at 8 a.m. The building on Granville Island wasn't open yet, so he walked over to the public market. "And I cried," he says. "Because I had been in Winnipeg so long I had forgotten what it was like to be around so many fresh vegetables."
Mr. Jang spent 14 years as executive director at the Arts Club, during which time the company completed the renovation of the Granville Island Stage and reopened the Revue Stage. He left for SFU in 2014, where he developed the creative entrepreneurship program.
He joins the Banff Centre in the first year of its cultural leadership program; the first cohort begins meeting in November. Mr. Jang starts his new job in January. His wife, Alexandra Montgomery, director and CEO of the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver, will remain at the gallery for now.
"I think what success looks like for Janice [Price, the Banff Centre president], and I absolutely endorse this, is that we are looked at as a place in which the artists are fully supported," says Mr. Jang. "Can we create that absolute perfect environment so that the artists, all they have to worry about, is getting to the vision that they want. And I want artists to look at Banff as that's where I've got to be to get my work where I need it to go."