Jeff Melanson, to quote from the old TV series The A Team, apparently loves it when a plan comes together.
Melanson took over as president of The Banff Centre on Jan. 1 and has spent the subsequent months looking at his new charge both from within and without – and he likes what he sees.
Melanson has taken over from outgoing Mary Hofstetter, and he boasts a beefy resumé that ranges from being a trained singer and arts manager, to executive director and co-CEO of Canada’s National Ballet School, dean of The Royal Conservatory of Music School and special advisor on Arts and Culture for Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford.
He has an undergraduate degree in music from the University of Manitoba (BMus’98) and master’s degree in business administration (MBA’99) from Wilfrid Laurier University. He was the first arts leader to be appointed one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 (2009) and in 2010 was named Wilfrid Laurier University’s MBA Alumnus of the Year.
And now, after comparing positives and negatives of employment and life in the Rockies and the Big Apple, he’s moved from The Big Smoke to a corner office with a view at The Banff Centre.
“I moved here with great expectations,” he said, “and the staff and local community have exceeded my expectations at every turn. I’m very impressed with the town and community.”
In embracing Banff, Melanson took up downhill skiing over the past winter, has turned his boots to hiking trails and said there are those who have aspirations of getting him out on a mountain bike.
Since taking over the reins of The Banff Centre and its 530 staffers, Melanson has not only sought their input during a series of 29 meetings, he’s been putting in some coffee shop time, “to get the town’s perspective of where we fit in.”
The Banff Centre, he said, is an institution which is well run, compared to others he’s worked with which were in severe trouble.
Since January, he’s also been to Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto and New York, meeting with government officials and donors. Provincial and federal leaders, he said, view The Banff Centre as a leading asset, which fits nicely with his view of his new charge.
Thus far, he said, his only surprise has been a positive one. “This is a very large, old institution, and I’ve been surprised at how passionate and energetic everyone is. Sometimes when you come in with new ideas, there’s some pushback, but I’m seeing there are very passionate people in the Bow Valley who are happy working at one of the great creative centres on the planet.”
Currently, said Melanson, The Banff Centre, which was established in 1933, has about 4,000 artists, business people, mathematicians, idea makers and others attending the centre.
“The question for 2012 is how do we share that as widely as possible?”
Not surprisingly, Melanson has a few ideas, as well as a grand plan.
Park Radio, which ceased to function when Friends of Banff disbanded, is to be resurrected and tweaked to include more music, Canadian content (CanCon) and art created at The Banff Centre. Currently, said Melanson, the Centre is working through a CRTC process.
As well, Melanson said, plans are in the works to create a larger internet presence, with webcasts of performances, guest speakers and other events. “There are opportunities to create a media strategy which includes print, online, radio, TV, etc. It’s pretty exciting.”
Melanson, as a promoter and support of the Canadian arts scene, is a strong believer in CanCon, citing bands like Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene as examples where a Canadian product is as good as any other. “I think we’ve spent decades punching above our weight.”
Finally, Melanson sees The Banff Centre as the world’s largest ideas incubator and one which can play a larger role in the tourism market as a destination – one which would only be improved upon after embarking on a proposed $500 million capital and endowment campaign.
With the new campaign, Melanson, who is on board for a five-year contract, envisions a new theatre, music and sound building, broadcast centre, arts incubator and art gallery.
“That would be on the capital side,” said Melanson. “And it’s one thing to build new facilities, you have to have the programs to keep them running.”
With a new funding campaign, Melanson said $300 million would be put toward capital projects and $100 to $200 million in endowments.
Economic diversity is often in discussed in Canada, he said, “and if we’re going to get serious, arts and culture have to step up and The Banff Centre is ideally situated.
“We want to get people in the Bow Valley, Alberta and Canada excited about The Banff Centre. We have more than 400 productions a year and I don’t think there’s another arts centre that does that.
“In Canada, and this is a pet peeve, we use the term ‘world class’ lightly; as if it’s always assumed we’re trying to catch up. I think we’re (Canada) ready to step into a leadership role and I think we need to be more aspirational. We need the spirit we saw during the Olympic Games.
“There are tourism cultural strategies and I think The Banff Centre should play a significant role in that. I think as we do better, the whole community will do better.”