Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

Through its residencies Banff Centre is helping artists find the future of performing arts. Newly installed managing director Nathan Medd tells Andrew Anderson how.

The performing arts are a place of trends, and right now it is the turn of multidisciplinary forms to be fashionable. But this is no lightweight garment which will seem silly come next season – multidisciplinary art is a mode with substance that is here to stay.

There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, multidisciplinary art forms reflect the way we consume media; in short bursts, on different devices, and with technology ever more embedded in the creative process. Secondly, artists have realised they do not need to be curtained off into a single genre – that creativity and imagination do not respect artificial boundaries and borders.

No arts organisation could be better set up to serve this multidisciplinary movement than Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Situated on the banks of the Bow River in Alberta, it is a campus for artists looking to explore new ideas, techniques and styles. Rather like the lush countryside that surrounds it, Banff is a place of cross-pollination, where a costume maker can pair up with a dancer or an opera singer can think up a new show with a theatre dramaturg.

Of course, to stay current the centre itself has to be constantly evolving. Enter Nathan Medd, Banff ’s new managing director of performing arts. Described as “one of Canada’s brightest young arts leaders”, Medd’s résumé reads like a roll call of Canada’s most exciting institutions: Metro Studio Victoria, Progress Lab 1422 and The Electric Company Theatre (ECT).

But it is his most recent stint at the National Arts Centre (NAC) that got him the gig at Banff. There, Medd was managing director of English Theatre, his tenure coinciding with NAC’s recent renovation.

“There’s nothing quite like the NAC,” says Medd. “It is a bilingual, multidisciplinary, one million square foot performing arts centre that sits side by side with the national Parliament. It’s also an arts organisation driven by a number of artistic directors, and Banff Centre is the same – that made it a natural fit for the experience I have. Both centres also have a national focus, and many works created at Banff end up getting their premieres at NAC.

“But Banff Centre has the added attraction of being global,” continues the managing director. “In the past week alone I’ve reviewed residency applications from Poland, Israel, Cuba, the Netherlands and India. I’m excited to be involved with the development of works that will get Banff Centre’s name appearing on the walls of venues around the world.”

Electric Company Theatre's Full Light of Day, developed at Banff Centre
Electric Company Theatre’s Full Light of Day, developed at Banff Centre

Further, while in some ways NAC is at the end of a journey, having renovated its home and created a new Indigenous company, Banff Centre is just at the beginning. In essence, that is what drew Medd to move 3,000km across the country from Ottawa.

“We’re going through a profound change in the ethics of artistic creation in Canada with regards to cultural representation.” he says. “At NAC for example, we realised it was no longer acceptable to have culturally specific casts being led by white directors and white writers. That helped lead to the creation of the Indigenous company, so that those stories can be told.”

“At the same time, Banff is also on a journey to expand its Indigenous-led programming. That isn’t an easy thing to make space for in an organisation that is already at capacity in terms of space, expertise and funding. So I think that is why I am useful here, because I’ve gone through that process at another major arts organisation. Working alongside Reneltta Arluk, director of Indigenous arts my goal is to help permanently disrupt another Canadian institution.”

The promotion of more Indigenous art is just one of the items on Medd’s very full to do list. For a start, the new managing director wants to bring artists from different fields together.

“We want to give artists space and time away from audiences to generate and develop new ideas but we also want to network the artists who are on campus,” says Medd.

This article is an extract from IAM volume 14 issue 11. Click here to subscribe to the magazine and read the full feature