BANFF – There’s a new stage in town for local artists to show off their skills.
Lee O’Donnell, owner of the Banff Boutique Inn, has created a stage at the front of his property called the Banff Art Stage.
Fifteen years ago when O’Donnell started the hotel, his father suggested building a stage on the front of the property to do woodturning. That idea stuck in O’Donnell’s mind over the years, but it wasn’t until this summer that he started to make his vision a reality.
He said because of COVID-19 he was given time to put all the pieces together such as building the stage, finding the perfect table, lathe and umbrella. Initially, the idea was to have the stage be exclusively for woodturning artists, but O’Donnell quickly quashed that “one-dimensional idea.”
"Naturally, the calling is open to all artists,” said O’Donnell.
“Anything could go on up here. It could be somebody dancing a gig, somebody singing lounge music, somebody painting, somebody basket weaving or me just standing up here staring at the mountains sometimes,” said O’Donnell with a laugh.
Over the last few weeks, O’Donnell has had three woodturning artists from around Alberta come to his Banff hotel as an artist-in-residence program. He said over the years he has hosted numerous artists-in-residency, mostly painters and photographers.
With the completion of the stage, he was finally able to invite woodturners, the most recent being Kai Muenzer, an artist based in Calgary.
"Coming here for the scenery is good enough and the free stay is great too, but the ability to turn outdoors is why I am really here. It’s nice to be outside, there’s no dust – I had to wear a mask even before COVID,” said Muenzer. “The light outside is much better, too, compared to fluorescent lights inside.”
In the case of Muenzer and the other woodturners, they spent their days on the stage working on one-of-a-kind hand-crafted wooden artwork and providing demonstrations for pedestrians walking by the stage.
“It’s really great – not everyone has seen woodturning in action so they stop by and are free to ask questions and watch the artists at work,” said O’Donnell. “It’s all very informal, very relaxed, it's more about the creative energy that develops between people.”
Typically, the artists-in-residence stay three to four nights. As the stage becomes more popular, O’Donnell plans to create an event calendar so people can plan what kind of performance or demonstration they want to see.
Work is also underway on creating a camera obscura out of the cab of a 1951 International truck, which will eventually sit below the stage.
O’Donnell’s plan is for the camera obscura to double as a speakers’ corner recording booth. The idea for the speakers’ corner came from the 1990s CityTV show of the same name.
“People would be free to say their piece, be that a rant, jokes, a shoutout or a musical performance,” he said.
“Combining that new tech and old tech is really exciting. Sure there are lots of camera obscura out there, but how many are combining it with a speakers’ corner. It’s about creating an attraction and an experience.”
O’Donnell admits the camera obscure speakers’ corner truck is still very much in the works. There are many intricacies regarding the electronics and broadcasting aspects of it all.
He is putting out the call to all artists to perform on stage or anyone with technical know-how to apply for a residency. His guiding principle behind offering the artist-in-residence program is to develop creative relationships.
“Let's have some fun. Developing that creativity is what is so exciting about all of this. It’s the magic of not knowing what’s going to happen next. The business that develops in the background is great, but the relationships that develop are most exciting.”
Contact O’Donnell at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.