The Banff Centre this past Easter weekend. The whole thing had to be named and it came to this: Boarding: Stories & Snow Summit. If you knew what you are offering with the location and the attendees you'd call it what it is as well. There was snow, lots of it. When most snow around you is going to be man-made or at least enhanced at this time of the year Banff and the surrounding areas had tons of it. As wondrous as that was there was something else that captivated me. The Banff Centre itself.
“Banff has offered artists the opportunity to pursue their work in an environment of inspiring physical grandeur, in company with fellow artists engaged in the act of creative exploration, in an institutional culture shaped by profound respect for the creative process. The gifts that Banff has offered to the creative spirit: the power of place, the luxury of time, the synergy of community, the opportunity to pursue hard creative work both in isolation yet in a community of like-minded people, remain important and relevant.”
Is this place real?
After a two hour and some flight over western Canada, an hour and forty-five airporter ride through flat Calgary in the dying light of Good Friday, surrounded by ominous mountain ranges still radiating faint illumination of their own I was now removed from any expectation of the familiar. Then further to drive past lodgings and shops of downtown Banff and after a quick steep incline I am deposited in front of a building in what seemed like your standard mountain installation that surely should reveal itself to be a façade for the world domination factory underground. After the van leaves there is only the whisper of snow flurries and lone light at the door.
The front desk was very quiet and deserted: now I'm sure that wherever they might be expecting me I am nowhere near it. But there was movement. A person! I mention that I am here for the conference and the girl readily asked for my information and set to giving me information of where to go and what to do. I'm at the right place after all.
The days that followed is now a memory of a whirlwind of activities that proved to be, well, quite a revelation and rather transformative. My part of this conference was a delight to me but it was because of all the great people I met there. My talk about story and storyboarding went rather well--I'm told by everyone in glowing terms how the talk and the Sunday workshops were inspiring and that's how I come to know this. Always a good idea to cross check when it comes to impressions.
As I understand it, the Banff Centre is fully funded by the government and "residents" get to live here and left alone to do their work. Scientists, business leaders, artists, writers, filmmakers…what have you. Craft a business plan, create an opera, prepare for a one-man exhibit, write the novel…or not. No pressure to even succeed at it. You are left alone. There are even cabins in the artists colony set off from the main campus, each designed by an architect, likely to their own satisfaction, what they think a retreat cabin for artists/writers could be (one was designed with the nautilus/golden mean layout and another is an actual boat lifted from a harbor and set in the middle of the woods). There are also more austere boxes that only leaves you room for a bed and a table which is fine by me if I were possessed by the muse and need no more distractions.
So, there you are, you have done the time and created your opus (or not) and then you leave. You take it with you and do what you will of it. The center has no stake in it. Huh? No cut? No expectation of any trade for this oasis of clarity and actual space and nourishing to do it in? Nope. Nada. Nada thing at all.
Oh, I love this so much.
The story workshop exercises. What a great group this was. Notice how animated everyone is. The stories we heard from everyone was just pure gold!
At a mixer after my talk in the convenient bar right next door—you probably thought this was going to be a stuffy place, didn't you?—I was further talked through by Sherry Moir about how many who start their residency here walk around rather lost and still not believing that this exchange is that one-sided. After a while they relax and get to the business of working. I tell Sherry that the obvious comparison is Shangri-la, of course. It has been called that. I tell her about my one escapist daydream of a place in my troubled adolescence and how strikingly close that mind picture resembles the centre. She shared how others seem to have similar stories of how they come to be at the Banff Centre, including herself. I like the mystical call and response that somehow happens in our lives and careful of what to characterize it as. So, we leave it as that and just maybe a faint hope that it is as magical as that.
I hope to return to this environment again someday and bring along my wife and kids. It is meant to be shared. And if you have the means and opportunity to go to the Banff Centre for any of their programs do try to make it happen, you won't be sorry.
My thanks to the organizers, Ken Bautista (Hot Rocket) for contacting me; Peter Hansen and his lovely family, Ruby and Donna Leny for the wondrous tour of Banff and Lake Louise; Lindsey Aufricht for welcoming me and giving me the campus tour, Sherry Moir for the inspiring dialogue; Terry Willox for the sage conversation; The speakers of the weekend, talent and grace all: Kris Pearn, Woody Woodman, Chris Tougas, and Jordan Oliwa. There are hordes of people I am forgetting—please forgive me. Everyone at the Banff Centre and the Banff New Media Accelerator Program.
Chad Kerychuk (digitaldreammachine) started this whole thing rolling to include me by mentioning my name as a possible speaker, my thanks to him for touching this off. Read his very thorough recounting of all that went on (I was only there for two days of the thing, see)in his blog here.
Special mention: Joel Ben Izzy. I used two of his workshop exercises that weekend. He had generously given his blessing for me to take them on the road.
My thanks to Tess and the kids for maintaining me through all. I am nowhere near as clear of anything without their guidance.
The Banff Centre
Banff New Media Accelerator Program
Northern Alberta Institute of Technology
Digital dream machine blog
Joel Ben Izzy