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Community organizations rally to keep art alive in the Bow Valley

“The health and safety of the community is of paramount importance but I think whether it's here or in your personal life I think the arts are even more important in times of heightened circumstances.
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The theatre at artsPlace will sit empty for at least the next two weeks as all shows and performances were cancelled in light of the novel coronavirus on Thursday (March 12). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO⁠

BOW VALLEY – Despite dealing with historic shutdowns in the face of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, local organizations in the Bow Valley are working to help community members continue to access the arts.

The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity marketing and development vice-president Rosemary Thompson said the priority at that facility right now is getting people home to their communities safely, but they are exploring opportunities to host events online.

“This is a developing situation and so decisions will be made as the days go by,” Thompson said.

“We feel a lot of sympathy for the whole Bow Valley and for the arts community across the country. This pandemic is affecting every human aspect of our lives.”

The provincial government announced on Friday (March 13) that groups of no more than 250 people should be in one place at the same time and recommended all extracurricular activities involving physical contact be cancelled to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

It was also recommended that events with more than 50 people that include international participants, seniors or high-risk populations be cancelled as well.

“The whole Bow Valley has been deeply impacted by what’s going on and we have a number of programs on campus,” Thompson said. “Today we started the first steps to help people go home – the students and the faculty.”

It is an unprecedented event for the centre, she said, explaining that COVID-19 is affecting every facet of the organization.

Thompson said the Banff Centre is looking at offering some classes online citing an upcoming Playwrights Lab set to take place in April that is considering using online work. The online programming would allow master playwrights to serve as mentors to those who are up and coming. She added there have also been talks of hosting a reading of plays online as a form of teaching.

“There are things we can do and we’re going to,” Thompson said.

“The bottom line is the arts are very human. When you’re playing an instrument you’re playing with somebody in a room, you’re playing for an audience.”

While certain aspects of curriculums can be livestreamed, she said teaching skills is better if it is one-on-one or as part of a group. Thompson explained this can make it difficult to transition to an online setting. The Banff Centre will be able to adapt to the safety measures required by the COVID-19 pandemic, but cannot replace everything they are able to offer on-site.

As of now, steps are being taken day-to-day based on the latest recommendations released by the government.

In Canmore, all events and programs at artsPlace have been put on hiatus according to executive director Jeremy Elbourne.

The organization is currently exploring hosting online programming and planning on live streaming some concerts starting Monday (March 16). This will be done in tandem with free online content that will include creative resources for the entire community.

The first event to be cancelled was the PechaKucha night set to take place on Thursday (March 12) evening. Elbourne said when this event was postponed everything else soon followed.

“That kind of accelerated our thinking," he said. "We decided it was the prudent thing to do to cancel the theatre-based programming. 

“Things seem to change quite rapidly at the moment.”

All programs and events at artsPlace have been paused until April 19. The facility will assess how to move forward on a day-to-day basis.

“Hopefully this is just being prudent,” Elbourne said. 

“We all have to do our part in terms of making sure we keep the community safe and do what we can to stop the spread of the virus.”

He said the pandemic is an unprecedented situation for artsPlace since it opened in 2015.

“This is the first time we faced anything of this nature,” Elbourne said.

“Like all the public institutions in town, we’re doing whatever we can and being really diligent to keep this place as safe as we can.”

ArtsPlace currently has limited hours. The building will be open in person Monday to Friday from noon-5 p.m. and by phone from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Those who visit the centre are asked to practice social distancing and proper hygiene. Anyone displaying symptoms of the virus is asked not to enter the building.

“I am a firm believer in the arts being essential to our society and to our community,” Elbourne said.

“The health and safety of the community is of paramount importance, but I think whether it's here or in your personal life, I think the arts are even more important in times of heightened circumstances.”

Canmore Art Guild director Sue Hayduk said the group's gallery at Elevation Place has closed indefinitely on the cusp of its 40th anniversary.

It is unclear if it will be able to host a planned gallery exhibit and celebration. The group will move forward in May to decide if an anniversary celebration will be held in the fall.

“It all came to a head last week,” Hayduk said. “With the closure of schools and the Alberta government responding with the conditions of getting together for gatherings it made us start thinking about our anniversary.”

The 40 Years in 40 Days CAG 40th Anniversary shows were scheduled to take place from April 24 to June 2.

The planned March 21 Visions Quilt show was cancelled as well because of concerns with the health implications of staying open as a public space.

The closure of the gallery creates added challenges for the Canmore Art Guild Hayduck said because it affects their ability to accept grants for the anniversary celebration and other related expenses. She added that it is unclear if they will be able to receive the grants for the event or move forward with them.

“It’s really been a psychological switch point – it’s not like there’s been a fire or something that’s normal,” Hayduk said. “It’s just unreal. It’s better to air on the side of caution.”



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Chelsea Kemp

About the Author: Chelsea Kemp

Chelsea Kemp joined the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2019 as a reporter and photojournalist. She writes provincial politics, health care, arts and entertainment and Indigenous stories. She also contributes photo stand-ups, multi-pics and essays.
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