Calgary

Banff Centre permanently lays off 284 staff, cancels in-person classes

Only a quarter of the usual staff at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity remain on the job as the centre struggles to manage finances during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Institution says pandemic has caused financial strain

The Banff Centre campus, overlooking the Bow Valley, in Banff, Alta. (The Banff Centre/Facebook)

Only a quarter of the usual staff at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity remain on the job as the school cancels its in-person classes for the pandemic.

On Thursday, management laid off 284 staff members, some of whom had worked there for decades and lived in campus housing.

An additional 100 people remain on temporary layoff, leaving 123 fully employed.

"A core team will remain in place, as well as a group on temporary layoff who may return if work becomes available," communications director Erin Brandt–Filliter said in an emailed statement.

"Banff Centre is very sorry to be saying farewell to so many dedicated staff who have built this organization over decades."

The school also cancelled in-person events for the summer and fall. Some have been moved online — 17 virtual courses are to start in September.

Centre president and CEO Janice Price declined an interview request.

The education institution in the Alberta mountain park town has struggled financially during the pandemic. Its conferences and hospitality service business dried up — 40 per cent of the centre's revenue — as the provincial government rolled out physical distancing restrictions to limited the spread of COVID-19.

The centre also cancelled performances and in-person classes, per provincial guidelines. In March, the centre temporarily laid off 75 per cent of its staff.

Those low activity levels and the subsequent tenuous financial position led to the layoffs, the spokesperson said.

The centre may bring back those on temporary lay off should work become available, she said.

Laid-off workers will receive pay in lieu of notice and paid-out benefits, she said. The centre is also creating a career transition team to help with resume writing and interview preparation.

Until June 30, staff can still eat three meals a day for free on campus, the centre said. They also won't be required to leave campus housing immediately.

According to a notice posted online, the centre hopes to offer some artists residences and in-person classes starting in January 2021.

The Banff Centre was first established as the Banff School of Drama in 1933 and became a non-degree-granting post-secondary educational institution in 1978. 

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Rachel Ward

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

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