The UCP government has removed the entire board of the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, replacing the directors with a single administrator tasked with reviewing the institution’s inner workings.
It’s a move similar to Premier Danielle Smith’s sacking all directors of Alberta Health Services last year and installing Dr. John Cowell to temporarily oversee the massive hospital agency — and he still serves as a one-person-board nearly a full year later.
While Smith had offered several criticisms on AHS management during the COVID-19 pandemic and afterward, her government offered no rationale in Thursday’s late-afternoon news release announcing the Banff Centre directors’ dismissal.
“This change offers an opportunity to focus on a refreshed future for the Banff Centre,” Advanced Education Minister Rajan Sawhney was quoted as saying in the ministry news release. She’s the minister responsible for the 90-year-old facility, which operates under the province’s Post-Secondary Learning Act, though the centre grants no degrees.
The facility has become internationally renowned and nationally cherished for its array of arts festivals and training programs, spanning from film and theatre to classical music and literature. But it has also been beset in recent years by leadership churn and budget issues, especially as the pandemic walloped the centre’s lucrative convention business.
When Chris Lorway replaced Janice Price as CEO earlier this year, he became the fourth chief executive in 12 years.
Two years ago, the provincial government removed former MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans as the institution’s vice-chair and director, which she said followed her public remarks about then-premier Jason Kenney and the United Conservative government.
Banff Centre’s total revenue in the last fiscal year was $47.5 million, a slight recovery from pre-pandemic levels but still far from the $70 million the institution made in pre-pandemic years. Its provincial grants dwindled to $15.7 million, compared to $21.8 million four years earlier.
Last week, the chair of the centre’s literary journalism program announced on social media that it was ending “in its storied, much-celebrated form.”
While budget and programming have been in flux, the centre’s CEO said in an emailed statement the administrator’s role will focus on improving the centre’s governance processes and policies.
“We want to reinforce that Banff Centre will continue its work to offer exceptional arts and leadership programs and events,” Lorway stated. “This announcement is strictly linked to governance improvement, not financial, management or programmatic matters.”
Oil executive Paul Baay will serve as Banff Centre’s administrator. He has been assigned to “review internal processes and policies at the Banff Centre and take on the responsibilities of the board of governors until a new chair and board can be appointed,” the provincial government announced.
Baay is currently board chair of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and he has previously held director posts at the National Gallery of Canada and the Alberta College of Art and Design.
In May, Baay paid the Alberta Securities Commission a $40,000 settlement after admitting to breaching securities law by improperly sharing with another person non-public information about Touchstone Exploration Inc., the oil and gas company he leads.
As part of his settlement for the breach known as “tipping,” Baay agreed to “pursue and complete training in best practices for public company governance.”