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Banff Centre announces 400 employees temporarily laid off due to COVID-19

“It’s not feasible for us to do our programming in any way that makes sense for our students.”
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President and CEO of Banff Centre, Janice Price announced Thursday that 400 employees have been temporarily laid off. BANFF CENTRE PHOTO

BANFF – A group of 400 employees at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity has been temporarily laid off due to the economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

President and CEO of the Banff Centre Janice Price announced the centre was forced to lay off 75 per cent of its staff Thursday (March 19). This "difficult decision" was made because the centre will be moving to “essential services” only, she said, adding the layoffs are effective for 60 days.

“This is really unparalleled,” Price said. “We can’t keep paying when we don’t have revenue and there’s no work and activity for them to do.”

All programs offered at the Banff Centre have been suspended until at least the end of May. At that time a reevaluation will take place and the centre will potentially reopen depending on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s highly likely it will be longer than that,” Price said. “It’s not feasible for us to do our programming in any way that makes sense for our students.”

The team at the Banff Centre and the Bow Valley has weathered and rebounded from 9/11, SARS, H1N1 and the 2013 floods, she said, and the ability of community members to rally makes her confident the Banff Centre will survive the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.

“I’m just hoping that it’s [over] sooner rather than later and many of our wonderful teams really will still be able to come back and work with us in the future,” Price said.

A major factor in the decision to move to essential services is the fact that the facility can no longer host conferences, which are the Banff Centre’s second-largest revenue generator.

During this time The Hub, the staff cafeteria, will remain open and those in staff housing will be able to stay for the foreseeable future based on existing residency terms.

The Banff Centre has also committed to when possible ensuring that no rooms are shared.

Price met with presidents from the other 26 post-secondary institutions in the province and Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides Friday in an effort to discuss how campuses should move forward during the pandemic.

She said all were united in the goal of managing the “terrible crisis” created by the COVID-19 pandemic, but that the Banff Centre creates a unique challenge because it’s a one-of-a-kind campus. Price explained the organization does not grant degrees and recruits students to enrol in programs all year long.

“We’re in a constant mode of recruitment and when you combine that with the response of most schools ... they're migrating their course delivery online,” Price said. “Our programs are hands-on programs. You can’t deliver an artist in a studio with clay, or a paintbrush in their hand, or doing music, online.”

Another challenge faced by the Banff Centre, Price said, was the unique geographic location of the facility that allows it to house and feed all participants on campus, and she said it is not the time to be putting people into close quarters.

This was further precipitated by the number of participants who travel from across Canada and the globe to attend programs, Price said.

The ban on international travel and the cancellation of all services by the airporter further contributed to the decision to move into “essential services” only.