Creativity, the Raven and Balanced Cables
Story and Photos by Gary Singh
The Banff Centre inspires creativity. Yes. It
anff Avenue in the roaring heat of summer, in the town of the same name,
in Alberta, the province. Vacationers parade up and down the finely-swept
sidewalks, clad in shorts, pushing double-strollers, eating ice cream,
snapping photos of the cranky mountain peaks, scrambling to replace
camera batteries, shepherding their teenagers, looking for a bison burger
or killing time until a $75-dollar fondue extravaganza of snake and
The side streets of Banff
A seemingly endless traffic jam of outdoorsy-looking
car-jeep-crossovers-green, maroon, black, red or blue, but nothing interesting-many
with canoes or kayaks strapped to their tops, honking, trying to turn
left where you're not supposed to, or looking for parking where there
But the beautifully cranky mountain peaks oversee everything,
even in the back streets, where I sneak a glimpse. There is no place
Oh, and the cyclists. They're everywhere too. Either
in packs or just resting in the public spaces. I think: spandex-clad
athletes either just back from a strenuous ride or about to embark on
one. One gray-haired cyclist, a guy about 50, covered in multicolored
spandex, from Calgary, asks the Filipina woman at the information booth
if there's a Quizno's sandwich place anywhere near here. She says no,
only Subway, and he settles for instructions on how to find one. Harumph,
he thinks out loud.
I wind up a block down the street, to the sound of a
steel drummer doing Brahms and the earthy aroma of burning hickory in
a sidewalk display-fireplace. One of Banff's public art scenarios beckons
me: A large cement area, circular and open, surrounded by three raven
sculptures, each on a thin 30-foot cement pedestal. You know the Maltese
Falcon, the jade bird Bogey was gunning for in that flick? That's what
these ravens look like. That kind of hardened detail, that kind of austere,
subtly menacing profile, simultaneously ominous and delicate. One raven
stares downward from his post, one gazes forward, and the third one
looks upward, although slightly hidden by a few tree branches.
Three ravens in Banff's Heritage Square
In that case, I didn't just 'find' the ravens. On one
hand, yes, I queried the Filipina woman as to their whereabouts upon
reading about them in her brochure but I don't feel like I discovered
them; rather, they found me. It wasn't easy. The third raven, for example,
discovered me as I was looking for the other two. The brochure hadn't
described the ravens, just that three of them stared down on Banff's
Heritage Square, which, turns out, sits right behind the steel drummer
and the smell of burning hickory. So there I went.
Among a slew of significant other things, the raven
represents the Jungian aspect of the Shadow, the darker side of the
psyche, and this is not the first Canadian moment at which ravens have
discovered me. In particular, both Edmonton
Rupert, British Columbia, presented raven archetypes to make any
Jungian analyst proud. This is why writers travel: to weave previously
separated contexts together; to experience a heightened sense of awareness;
to discover their multidimensional selves. And the raven is a symbol
of creativity, magic and finding balance-perfect for an esoteric traveler.
I have returned to the Banff
in order to find balance.
|So, in Banff, creativity
shifted into high gear and dominated the scene, beginning with the
Three Ravens Restaurant, just one component of the Banff Centre,
a world-renowned collaborative arts incubator and conference facility
luring creative types from all over the world. Steeped in First
Nations iconography, the landscape of this place inspires and inspires
and inspires. It is a multidimensional, experiential vortex, a synesthetic
interaction of different creative disciplines. Dancers collaborate
with sound artists. Composers pool resources with Processing programmers.
Painters, sculptors and ceramicists set up shop and reap influence
from the staggering scenery that envelops the entire campus.
The unequaled scenery of the Banff Centre
For example, music students come here for work-study
programs and can even utilize "practice huts," integrated
into the wilderness across the parking lot from the music building.
As I skulk about the area, I hear students practicing trombone, piano
and cello. A deer walks by for half a second. What looks like a raven
The music practice huts at the Banff Centre, near
the music and sound building
Of course, the Banff Centre hosts numerous artist residencies
all year long. Creators make their way here and thrive in a visionary
environment that places them in constant contact with other artists,
writers, researchers and folks passionate about whatever their focus
happens to be. Categories don't matter. Creativity does. Everyone seems
to play off each other's presence.
The Banff Centre has electric kilns (left) and outdoor,
wood-fired kilns (right)
The aptly titled Kinnear Centre for Creativity &
Innovation opened two years ago. Inside, the Maclab Bistro says, "May
creativity, collaboration and friendship flourish in this place."
Even the employee vans all come crafted with the tagline: Inspiring
Even the employee vans inspire creativity
The Three Ravens restaurant, I'm told, opened in 2008.
The name was chosen from a staff contest. Probably not someone constantly
surrounded by ravens, as I am on this trip.
But even so, I say the raven looks over the Banff Centre,
as the shamans would probably insist. It is a magical, inspiring place.
While at this campus, you are destined to create. The muse will emerge
for anyone who participates here, allowing one to resolve inner conflicts
through creativity-precisely the mechanisms ravens tend to catalyze,
or so the archetype goes.
Speaking of archetypes, I randomly ascend the staircase
in the Paul D. Fleck Library & Archives, only to see a complete
set of Carl Gustav Jung's works, right there, at the top of the staircase.
My gaze goes straight to it. No. I did not plan this. Couldn't have.
The complete works of Jung at the Paul D. Fleck
Library & Archives
The Banff Centre has integrated me into its interdisciplinary
arts and innovation vortex for what seems like only a few moments, but
during my short experience, so much is transpiring behind every door,
I can't keep track of it all: A group bus tour of probably 50 seniors
is stopping by to eat and explore. The legendary audio designer Shawn
Murphy is lecturing in the Film & Media department. I infiltrate
opera rehearsals for both Don Giovanni and the Secret Garden. In another
building, a weeklong leadership development program is unfolding.
The Rolson Recital Hall at the Banff Centre
One of the film scoring studios at the Banff Centre
A satellite of Documenta (13) is taking place
All around me, there exist master classes, workshops,
gatherings, research and collective theorizing. At nighttime, over in
the theater building, The Club, a 180-capacity Cabaret-style venue,
is rocking, jammed to the gills.
All the while, a special Banff Centre extension of dOCUMENTA
(13), the provocative contemporary art exhibition in Kassel, Germany,
is taking place, as part of the Banff Research in Culture (BRiC) residency
program. Scholars, radicals and cultural theorists are presenting their
ideas in all formats.
Even after I conclude my experience of the Banff Centre,
the raven follows me. Even after I finish my journey at the nearby Canmore
Folk Festival, the bird accompanies me. At the festival, the legendary
Ian Tyson is talking about his new album, The Raven Singer.
Ian Tyson, Raven Singer
I did not know this in advance, nor did I plan to visit
Second Story Books and randomly pluck a Mordecai Richler book off the
shelf, only to see a raven on the cover. As I depart, I notice the building
next door is called Ravens Court. The bird is with me everywhere.
What began in Edmonton and Prince Rupert, has continued
here in Banff. It will go on.
Ravan in Edmonton; Prince
Rupert/Digby Island Airport; Calgary
Folk Fest; Canadian
Charlotte Islands; Toronto;
Brunswick Autumn; My