End of an era for Banff Centre
After more than 30 years of filling stages with award-winning content, The Banff Centre’s manager of presentations, Kurt Bagnell, is retiring.
Bagnell first came to the Centre in 1981 from Halifax, for “love and new adventures,” he said.
“I was working at the Dalhousie Arts Centre, programming films and performances, and I had just finished studying history and international relationships, and it was time for a break,” he explained.
His partner was given a chance to go west, and so Bagnell went with her.
“Heather was offered an opportunity to come out and continue her artwork and to teach, so I decided to go,” he said. “When I arrived, I felt like I had come to Eldorado, because the Banff Centre was unlike any institution I had ever encountered, and in those days it was a very affluent institution, with provincial support and the backing of people like Peter Lougheed.”
At the time, The Banff Centre was in the midst of a transition.
“A couple of people I knew in the business were working here, and they said, ‘we have a new general manager coming in from the U.S., who knows a lot about opera, dance, theatre, not a lot about programming – especially programming Canadian artists – and we’d like to take the presenting component to another level, would you be interested in working in that capacity?’ so I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it for six months,’ and then another six months went by and then another.”
Suddenly it was five years, then 10, 20 and now 31.
“And then I think I fell in love with the Bow Valley,” said Bagnell. “As much as I’m a product of the East Coast, I really really came to love life in this area and the opportunities it offered both Heather and I.”
After such a long haul, with the presentation of thousands of artists, the time has finally come for a rest, he said.
“It’s a recognition that I need home for a rest, as Spirit of the West would say,” he said. “It’s been a long haul, it’s been a wonderful haul, and while the spirit’s still willing, the body isn’t quite up to it anymore.
“I love being around artists, I love doing what we do for the communities in the Bow Valley – the ability to present new artforms and new artists in what is relatively a small community base has been incredible for me – but at the same time has taken a toll.”
Having brought so many artists to The Banff Centre over the course of his tenure, deciding on favourites is a difficult thing to do, he said.
“It’s hard to quantify, but the other night somebody was saying thousands of gigs, and that’s what it’s been – and it actually precedes the Banff Centre,” said Bagnell. “I did my first gig with Chuck Berry at a high school dance in 1967, and then all through university and then my stint with the commercial world, working with bands like Kiss and Marshall Tucker.
“I think what I’ve loved about The Banff Centre has been the opportunity to present artists of every walk of life, from around the world, who somehow exemplify the real progression of the beauty of art.”
Of recent note was seeing the emergence of Matt Andersen, said Bagnell.
“I can think of the first time in recent years that I heard Matt Andersen, and any sense of cynicism or complacency as a presenter goes out the window, because you just heard one of the great new voices that this country has to offer,” he said. “It reminded me of the times that I worked with Stan Rogers, and to compare Matt Andersen to Stan Rogers is probably the highest accolade that I can give to an artist.”
Another memorable experience was of getting to know Marcel Marceau, about 25 years ago.
“In the late ‘80s, I had the chance to spend four days with Marcel Marceau,” he said. “It was, to this day, one of the most humbling and inspirational experiences I ever had in my life; to be able to talk and hang out with a man who changed the nature of art, who spoke to us in a way that reminded us of the possibilities of art.”
While the big names have been memorable experiences, so too have been all the lesser known artists he’s presented over the years.
“There are the big name artists, but equally so it’s been the incredible opportunity to bring in artists who are virtually unknown in this country,” he said. “To have a chance for people here to experience them for the first time, and then to see that develop to the point where they are sought after in this country, and having that crusading element to it has been very exciting as well.”
While Bagnell’s tenure officially comes to an end in June, accumulated vacation time means he’s able to stop working now. Rather than fill the role he’s leaving, The Banff Centre is restructuring.
Retirement doesn’t mean an end to the arts for Bagnell, however, as he plans to keep busy with other endeavours.
“It doesn’t mean I’m going to retire from working in the arts – I have projects I’m going to continue working on – and then there’s a few other things on the horizon, so it’s not disappearing, so to speak,” he said. “It was time to move on with life and have new adventures.
“It’s like Q said in the James Bond movies, ‘Always have an escape route and know when it’s time to leave.’ It was just that time.”
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