The Banff Experience in Fine Arts Education
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 8 Dec 1983, p. 151-161
Fleck, Paul D., Speaker
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1982—the 50th anniversary of the School of Fine Arts at the Banff Centre. "Artists, Builders, and Dreamers: Fifty Years at The Banff School" by David and Peggy Leighton. "From Bears to Bartok", a film by the National Film Board of Canada. A description of other celebratory events. The Banff Centre's role as one of Canada's major cultural and educational institutions. A history of the Banff Centre. Problems of support. Future mandate as a national resource.
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8 Dec 1983
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Full Text
DECEMBER 8, 1983
The Banff Experience in Fine Arts Education
CHAIRMAN The President, Douglas L. Derry, F.C.A.


Ladies and gentlemen: When one talks of the arts and their relationship to society, it is all too easy to be caught up in such cliches as the arts "mirroring society" and their being the "cornerstone of what our culture is about." Though cliches, they are true, and as Canadians we tend to struggle further with the questions, "What is our culture?" and "How is it different from others?" - particularly from that of our neighbour to the south. Northrop Frye, who will address us next month, has contended that the most pertinent question facing Canadians is not "Who are we?" but "Where is here?" Not a question of identity, but of perspective. The challenge is to see clearly Canada's past, present, and future.

Last October, we had one viewpoint in "What Is Wrong with Loving Canada?" from Roloff Beny, himself a graduate of The Banff Centre. Our guest of honour today is also well-qualified to address us on this theme. He is President of the internationally renowned Banff Centre, which attracts artists from around the world and is this year celebrating its fiftieth anniversary.

Paul Fleck was born in Montreal in 1934 and attended the University of Western Ontario, where he obtained his masters degree in 1958, and the University of Edinburgh, where he obtained a diploma in English Studies the following year. In 1961, he completed his doctorate at Queen's University of Belfast and his thesis was entitled "Patterns of Imagery in the Poetry of Shelley." He returned to the University of Western Ontario that year to join the English faculty, where he remained in increasingly senior positions, including Chairman of the Department of English, until 1975. During that period he delivered numerous papers, and wrote reviews and articles, largely on topics related to Shelley and Byron.

You might well wonder how this relates to The Banff Centre and arts in Canada! However, Dr. Fleck's singular lack of background or professional skill as an artist was influential in making him attractive as the person to run the Ontario College of Art in 1975. The College was, at that time, going through one of its periods of turmoil and the person needed was someone who was not associated with any of the factions and who could bring upon a group of very independent and anti-institutional people some semblance of order, consensus, and direction. Paul Fleck had those important qualifications and became president that year. His success as president was demonstrated in his reappointment for a second term, five years later. However, the lure of new challenges became too great for him and Dr. Fleck accepted the position of president of The Banff Centre a year ago.

While Dr. Fleck's lack of professional qualifications as an artist was of some importance in 1975, he certainly has long-standing interest in the arts. He has theatrical experience in amateur and semi-professional productions ranging from Trinculo in The Tempest to Clov in Endgame to Alfie Doolittle in My Fair Lady. He has also been Vice-President of The Arts and Letters Club of Toronto. Another area of creation is his gourmet cooking. Dr. Fleck has studied at the Cordon Bleu School in London, England, as well as at George Brown and Fanshawe colleges.

I am pleased to welcome Dr. Paul Fleck to address us today on the topic, "The Banff Experience in Fine Arts Education."


Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: I have twice had the good fortune to arrive at an institution just as a gala celebration was getting under way. I became President of the Ontario College of Art in 1975 as plans were being shaped for its centennial and in particular for an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario of one hundred years of art and design from OCA grads and faculty and for a birthday party of the beaux arts proportions one would expect from that venerable and lively institution. In 1982, I arrived at The Banff Centre as the finishing touches were being put on plans for the fiftieth anniversary of the School of Fine Arts. Something like an anniversary should be mandatory for any new president, for it is an instructive and pleasurable way of giving him a keen sense of the beginnings and the evolution of the institution, a sense which is crucial to an understanding of its future.

What an anniversary Banff's has been! It began with the publication by McClelland and Stewart of a colourful and comprehensive history of those fifty years by my predecessor, David Leighton, and his wife, Peggy, and Banff's latest event was the premiere showing at Canada House in London of a new film about The Banff Centre made by the National Film Board. The Leightons' book is called Artists, Builders, and Dreamers: Fifty Years at The Banff School; and it warmly tells the story of the school's history by recounting the roles played by so many people over the half century which has stretched from the first three-week summer drama class for approximately two hundred participants in a somewhat ramshackle hall at the end of Banff Avenue in August of 1933 to the establishment of the winter cycle of courses in the late seventies. Such beginnings have led to a year-round program in fifty million dollars' worth of buildings on a forty-five-acre campus, involving a thousand fine arts students in more than thirty fine arts disciplines. A considerable journey! The film, entitled From Bears to Bartok, tells a little of that story, much of it derived from the Leightons' research, but its main theme is the story of some of the participants in the programs of the summer of 1982 and of some of the international faculty on campus at that time. It focuses on what they are doing at the Banff School, and why they have come.

In between the publication of the book and the release of the film, a whole series of celebratory events took place, including an international string quartet competition which has been broadcast twice across Canada and is being broadcast in the United States and Europe; a new ballet choreographed by Brian MacDonald, head of Banff's dance program; a new symphonic work by a promising young Alberta composer, Robert Rosen; a gala homecoming; a number of exhibitions in the Walter Philips Gallery, including Video-Link, a show of video art which is travelling to Los Angeles and London, England; a series of major conferences organized by the School of Management, exploring issues related to the most effective use of our natural resources; and a host of special performances in Banff's summer-long Festival of the Arts. It has been a rich year, and it has given me an insight into The Banff Centre's role as one of Canada's major cultural and educational institutions. I'd like to share this aspect with you today by telling you something of Banff's story, something of what it is doing right now, and something of its aspirations for the future.

It is a remarkable story - one of vision and shrewd entrepreneurial know-how, one of determination and faith. And though the story is of a school nestled in a mountain village nearly three thousand kilometres from here, it is a story which has touched and continues to touch the cultural life of every province in this country and of many countries abroad.

Its beginning, though humble and though responding to a provincial need, was none the less national and international in scope, even in those dust-bowl, depression-ridden days of 1933, for among the nearly two hundred who enrolled in the first dance class were students from eastern Canada, from the United States, and from Australia. Most, however, were from Alberta. One of the effects of the Depression, according to Ned Corbett, who was Director of Extension at the University of Alberta and responsible for starting the school, was the closing of "small-town moving picture houses" so that "people outside the larger cities were more and more thrown back on their own resources." Consequently, there grew up "hundreds of small dramatic or little theatre groups. A great many of these, particularly in villages and in rural communities, knew very little about choosing a play or how to stage it. Plays were often performed from such inane and worthless scripts as Deacon Stubbs of Perkins Corner or similar drivel. It had been obvious that to give adequate direction to this movement a qualified director was needed."

What Corbett did was to provide just such a director in Elizabeth Sterling Haynes, and it was she who gave that first drama class. Incidentally, when there was some doubt in the minds of Banff's local lights as to whether the course should be offered there, Corbett said that they had been thinking of going to Jasper, and that cinched the deal. Similar forms of human psychology have shaped the events of Banff's history ever since. More importantly, however, virtually every course offered since has been generated by the same assessment of real need. Banff's mission has changed in many ways over the years but never in its insistence upon identifying needs which are not being otherwise fulfilled. The drama classes continued successfully for several years. In 1935, classes in the visual arts, which had been conducted in nearby Seebe, moved to Banff, and in 1936, classes in drama, music, and art were offered in a Banff School of Fine Arts. It was at this time that the school began its remarkable development under Donald Cameron.

Cameron's two mottoes were "dream no small dreams" and "go for the best," and these propelled a pioneer spirit and a determination which were unshakable. When Cameron made up his mind to leave the old buildings in Banff and build a campus, he had a job persuading Parks Canada authorities, who pointed out that the land he was eyeing was the best in the area. "That's why I want it," was Cameron's simple reply. Under him, the school grew in physical size and in reputation. Cameron persuaded the best artists in all fields to come to

Banff for the summer. Once he had built what he called the "campus in the clouds," he added a School of Management and a Conference Division so that the campus could be used year-round, and though he did so in order to earn revenue for the school (a practice which every university in the country now emulates to one degree or another), he did so, too, because he once again identified needs that no one else was fulfilling. Also he shrewdly saw that connections between business and the arts were important. By the time he retired from the Centre in 1969, the Schools of Fine Arts and of Management had grown substantially, and the Conference Division had housed tens of thousands of people from all over the country, people who not only benefited from the ideal and non-urban setting for their own educational conference, but who had also been able to see something of Banff's fine arts activity while they were there.

The David Leighton years, which began in 1970, saw the firm establishment of the school as an advanced conservatory of the arts. What that means is that those who come have already had their basic training, have made a commitment to an artistic career, and have the motivation and the stamina to benefit fully from the intensity of the Banff experience. Under David's leadership, a real sense of experiment flowered in the soil Senator Cameron had prepared. He, too, identified need. It was clear, for example, when he arrived, that the visual arts program was flagging, and so he invited the leading artists of Canada to Banff and asked their advice. Throughout the last twelve years, a series of advisory groups of leading practitioners in the arts and business have been a major means of determining what needs Banff could fulfill. (I'm delighted to see Lotfi Mansouri and Nikki Goldschmidt, two of our best advisers, here today.) Those needs have been wide-ranging and have included both the content of program and the method of instruction.

Instruction is a complex process and assumes many forms. You may know the story of a man who wanted to learn all about jade and was advised by a friend to take lessons from a world expert in identifying real jade. The cost of each lesson was to be fifty dollars, and the man took ten of them, but at the end of it all, he was furious. "I haven't been given any instruction," he said to his friend. "At each lesson, I came into the room, and the expert, without saying a word, placed a piece of jade in my hand and left me. He came back in an hour, again said not a word, and took the jade away. He did this for ten lessons: it cost me five hundred dollars, and all he did was put this piece of jade in my hand - and the last piece was a fake."

We don't give many jade lessons, but we're not committed to only one way of doing things. We're committed to what works and to trying out new things to see if they'll work. Today, there are more than two dozen programs all fulfilling a need, all exploring the best way of coming to grips with the discipline or subject matter at hand. The processes followed in creative writing by W.O. Mitchell and in the master cello class by Janos Starker are different. The process is an arts journalism class under Martin Knelman or Harold Schonberg or in the publishing workshop under Michael de Pencier or Robert Fulford is quite different from that in visual arts under Dennis Oppenheim or John Massey. There are two points here: one is that the people who come to teach are the best - they are, all of them, doing what they teach, and doing it successfully. The second point is that they are left to work out how best they can teach the students in their programs. Indeed, in a sense, student is a misnomer, for these young professionals are participants in a shared process of learning and developing, a mutual exploration of the art at hand. The faculty come from their own busy careers because they feel a commitment to young artists following in their footsteps, and they know that because of the rigorous audition process and the competition to get in they're going to get to work with the best young talent. The participants know that the Banff experience is an intensive working experience, that they will be learning from accomplished artists and practitioners, and that they are making important career contacts both among the faculty and their peers.

If all this sounds as though I am blowing Banff's horn, I certainly am. We Canadians do, alas, have a grey tendency to respond to the question of "How are you?" with "Not too bad," when other nationalities respond with a "terrific." Not too bad. You can't be too careful - the gods have a dark habit of dumping profusely upon those who go further than "not too bad." Well, let me tempt them by saying that Banff is a national resource of which we can be justly proud. Brian MacDonald, who is the head of dance at Banff, as well as an Associate Director at Stratford and a winner three weeks ago of the Molson prize, was recently cited in Performing Arts Magazine as saying that participants need only one summer in the Banff hothouse to know if being a professional artist is their ultimate goal in life. One of the young musicians whose story is told in the NFB film I mentioned earlier put it more simply, "Boy, if you want to work, this is the place." My friends in other places repeatedly nudge me, of course - there must be something wrong, the mountain air has giddified your brain and addlepated your analytic powers. Banff must have difficulties. Indeed, this was a question constantly put to me by the stream of journalists and media people who came to Banff over this past celebratory fiftieth summer. One, in particular, introduced herself to me and said, "Before we sit down, Dr. Fleck, let me tell you one thing. I am not here to write a Little Miss Mary Sunshine piece on the bounties of Banff's beauty and brilliance. There have to be problems here - there has to be some trouble - and I mean to find it."

Well, there are problems, of course. At the moment, there are four problems in particular: one is the problem every educational institution has to face, and it is the problem of maintaining quality in an environment of shrinking resources. An advanced conservatory of the arts of Banff's quality is costly. The second is rebuilding the facility which housed a photography program for which Banff had become wellknown in the visual arts. The third is sustaining the scholarships needed to support the young professionals who come to Banff. A good deal of this support comes from what we earn as a conference centre; much also comes from corporations and individuals who believe in the Centre's mandate. And I may say that it comes from all across Canada. But we are certainly going to have to increase it dramatically over the next few years. The fourth problem is not so much a problem as it is the ongoing question we continually live with and from which we derive our strength. Is what we're doing what is needed in each of the areas in which we are doing it? That ongoing evaluation comes from outside Banff as well as from inside; it comes from participants, faculty, and from the professional community we serve; it is the air we breathe, and what charges our blood.

And what of the future? Well, it will not in the short term involve the kind of expansion experienced in the last ten years. It will be a time of change as needs change. Our music and theatre design programs are undergoing radical change. The nature of our residences and residence life in general are undergoing a major review. Our newest venture is the creation of the Leighton Artists' Colony, a colony of eight separate studios designed specially by eight distinguished Canadian architects as work-spaces for composers, writers, and visual artists. These studios are for established artists who need a place to work removed from urban and domestic intrusions and distractions, an environment in which nothing is more important than the art these artists have to make. "Boy, if you want to work, this is the place" is as true for the established artist as it is for the beginning one. The colony is under construction now and will open in the new year. In the School of Management, we expect to focus more and more upon conferences addressing major national issues, like our recent Water Resources Policy Conference, the proceedings of which were published last year, and last week's Agriculture Conference. In 1985, we will host a national conference to celebrate the centennial of Parks Canada, and we will host an International Symposium on the Arts, attended by artists from all of the hemispheres to explore the ways in which artists can work toward more effective communication between peoples and cultures.

But these are some of the particulars. In general, our mandate will continue to be national, to serve national needs through programs in opera, theatre, dance, the visual arts, and writing, with artists of accomplishment and stature. I have pledged myself to make Canadians more aware of this great national resource, and I am grateful for this opportunity to do so in Toronto. I speak in Toronto of Banff because a large proportion of our participants come from Ontario: of the total number for summer and winter last year, 20 per cent came from Alberta, 20 per cent from abroad, 20 per cent from Ontario, and 20 per cent from the other eight provinces. Incidentally, the distribution among the other provinces is almost exactly proportionate to the distribution of the total population. Banff is a national institution, statistically and spiritually. So the Banff commitment is made not only in Alberta but in every province and indeed in many parts of the world. Banff's participants go out to all those provinces and places. We are just beginning to gather information on Banff's alumni, and their peregrinations are wide and their contribution wherever they go is deep. We want to keep in touch with them, with you, and with advisers all over the world because the development of that single three-week drama class with a one-thousand-dollar budget in a ramshackle building in Banff in August of 1933 to the more than twenty-four programs with an eighteen-million-dollar budget in up-to-date fine arts facilities in August of 1983 has depended upon a combination of visionary doers like Cameron and Leighton working with artists and advisers seeking out what is needed. Once we know what is needed, we need, of course, to assess whether Banff can best satisfy that need. There is an instructive story of John Barrymore and his troupe who experienced a devastating freeze as the curtain went up on their play. No one spoke a line, and after the mandatory wait of ten seconds - an eternity on the stage - the prompter whispered the line. No response. Another few seconds and a slightly louder prompt. Still nothing. The prompter was getting frantic and whispered the line so loudly that it could be heard in the back row. Barrymore sidled over and whispered back at the prompter, "We know what the line is; what we don't know is who says it."

Well, we know the play, and it is not Deacon Stubbs of Perkins Corner. We know the lines, and when occasions arise when we're not sure who speaks them, like the great Barrymore, we ask. I hope that we never need three prompts to get to the question, and that we may continue to rely upon leaders in the arts and business to help us shape the answers.

The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Sir Arthur Chetwynd, a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada.

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The Banff Experience in Fine Arts Education

1982—the 50th anniversary of the School of Fine Arts at the Banff Centre. "Artists, Builders, and Dreamers: Fifty Years at The Banff School" by David and Peggy Leighton. "From Bears to Bartok", a film by the National Film Board of Canada. A description of other celebratory events. The Banff Centre's role as one of Canada's major cultural and educational institutions. A history of the Banff Centre. Problems of support. Future mandate as a national resource.