Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver this morning.
Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is one of Canada’s premier arts institutions, a place that has gathered the likes of Salman Rushdie, Oscar Peterson and Sarah McLachlan. But it’s also been beset by infighting and an existential crisis of how to ensure an artist-centred institution functions in an environment where bringing in revenue is a necessary function.
An independent investigation by a conflict-resolution specialist outlines just how internecine and tangled the competing visions for the revered institution had become. A copy of Jay Spark’s report was obtained by the Globe and Mail.
The report recounts a text sent by the centre’s general counsel, which reads in part: “the board might implode.” Instead, the Alberta government blew up the board last week, dismissing the entire board of governors after a series of formal harassment complaints over the process to find a new chief executive officer, which began late last year.
Arts reporter Josh O’Kane and Alberta reporter Alanna Smith have been covering the story. Today, they report Spark’s report shows there was board division in the past two years over not just how Banff Centre’s future should be decided, but whether that future would be led by someone with deep ties to the arts.
The report lays out that board members were willing to look beyond arts expertise in hiring a new CEO, widening their search in July, 2022, to include candidates from the hospitality and tourism sector. This shift drew concern from some unidentified board members, the report said, who implored the soon-to-retire CEO, Janice Price, to raise the issue with Adam Waterous, chair of the centre’s board since 2019.
That prompted a struggle between Price and Waterous, culminating in her filing a workplace-harassment complaint against him a year ago alleging “bullying and harassment” during communications about succession plans last November. Waterous took the position that Price should not play a role in choosing her successor, arguing she was contravening board process.
Spark concluded Waterous engaged in “personal harassment” toward Price and he also found Price had had communications with board members that she should have “avoided,” though he deemed that this did not amount to interference. Spark wrote that he found no evidence that Price influenced the board’s decision to hire Chris Lorway, the former head of Stanford University’s performing-arts organization, even though Price had worked with and was a reference for Lorway.
The investigator said what he found “reflected a pattern of willful disregard by Waterous for established governance processes and a concerted effort to impose his will on Price and others” and that those actions “undermined the effective functioning of the board.”
“In hindsight, Price should have avoided acting as an intermediary between Waterous and other members of the search committee,” the investigator wrote, noting that this did not appear to reach the bar of actual interference.
Waterous, in a lengthy statement to The Globe, dismissed the investigator’s report, which he said was “biased, lacked independence and was conducted by an unqualified investigator” and “provided no evidence of harassment.” He maintained that Price filed a “baseless claim” against him in an attempt to distract from “her own bad behaviour.”
Waterous shared an e-mail with The Globe that he sent Alberta’s Advanced Education Minister Rajan Sawhney on Oct. 22 with recommendations from the Banff Centre board’s provincially appointed governors.
The provincially appointed governors – Bob Dhillon, Mike Mendelman, Greg Oberti and Waterous – recommended two options. The first was to beef up corporate governance with a senior legal adviser and a new, separate investigation.
The second was to replace the entire board.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief Mark Iype. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.