Calgary

Banff Centre lays off 400 staff to weather 'extreme' COVID-19 financial blow

The COVID-19 outbreak has nearly shut down the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, forcing it to lay off 75 per cent of its staff members, effective immediately.

Employees told in email school 'has never faced a crisis of this magnitude'

The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity campus overlooks the Bow Valley. On Thursday, the centre announced temporary staff layoffs. (The Banff Centre/Facebook)

The COVID-19 outbreak has nearly shut down the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, forcing it to lay off 75 per cent of its staff members, effective immediately.

The educational institution in the Alberta mountain park town was ordered by the provincial health authority to cancel all in-person classes to stop the spread the novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease.

The school, one of the largest employers in Banff, also closed all its public facilities, cancelled all programming and brought its event team back from the United States.

Janice Price, president and CEO, said 400 of roughly 550 employees have been laid off with two-weeks' pay and records of employment to help them file for employment insurance.

Every department is affected, she said, but most cuts are in areas involved in the centre's "significant conference business," which has seen all of its events cancelled.

"Our priority obviously is to make sure we're sustaining the organization in a manner in which we can come back and come back fully," Price said. "We're doing everything we can, as is every single post-secondary institution in Alberta."

Janice Price is president and CEO of the Banff Centre. (The Banff Centre)

The centre has been a major employer in the town, and tourist draw through its public events. The Banff Centre also runs intensive workshops and training programs that often see students, from across Canada and around the world, staying in residence.

Banff has been clobbered by the economic hit from the isolation directives that closed ski hills, concert halls, theatre companies and bars, which, Price noted, resulted in thousands of job losses locally.

COVID-19 threatens 'financial viability'

Banff Centre staff were notified of their layoffs in an email from Price, a copy of which was obtained by CBC.

"Banff Centre has been in existence for 87 years, and has never faced a crisis of this magnitude," the president wrote to staff. "The financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis is extreme and has threatened the short and medium term financial viability of Banff Centre."

In the letter, Price said she had to contact people in writing, saying social distancing prevented in-person meetings.

Laid-off employees will be allowed to stay in staff housing and access meals at a reduced price, Price said. Centre staff will try to move those in shared rooms to single units. Their health benefits will continue for the next 30 days, she said.

Price, who just marked her fifth anniversary as president, said she hopes the Banff Centre will be able to reopen fully and hire staff back.

"It's never easy to take these kinds of actions," she said. 

The Banff Centre was established in 1933. It became a non-degree granting educational institution in 1978 and a federally recognized national training institute in 1999.

About the Author

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with CBC Calgary. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.

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