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Gary: Banff
Banff: Creativity, the Raven and Balanced Cables
Story and Photos by Gary Singh

sign at the Banff Center, Alberta
The Banff Centre inspires creativity. Yes. It does.

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 alligator.

tree-lined road inside Banff with mountain peak in the background
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 is none.

But the beautifully cranky mountain peaks oversee everything, even in the back streets, where I sneak a glimpse. There is no place like Banff.

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.

two raven sculptures on concrete pedestals at Banff's Heritage Square

another raven sculpture at at Banff's Heritage Square
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 and Prince 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.

cables the Banff Centre
I have returned to the Banff Centre
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.

walkway inside the Banff Centre with mountain peak in the background
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 flies overhead.

music practice huts at the Banff Centre
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.

electric kilns and outdoor, wood-fired kilns at the Banff Centre
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 Creativity.

employee van at the Kinnear Centre for Creativity and Innovation
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. No way.

the complete works of Carl Jung at the Paul D. Fleck Library & Archives
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.

Rolson Recital Hall at the Banff Centre
The Rolson Recital Hall at the Banff Centre

a film scoring studio 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 with other performers at the Canmore Folk Festival
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.

a Mordecai Richler book with the Ravens Court building in the background

What began in Edmonton and Prince Rupert, has continued here in Banff. It will go on.

Related articles:
The Ravan in Edmonton; Prince Rupert/Digby Island Airport; Calgary Folk Fest; Canadian Rockies; Queen Charlotte Islands; Toronto; New Brunswick Autumn; My Private Montreal

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Let Gary know what you think about his traveling adventure.

* * * * *

Your tea adventures are especially interesting because I've always associated tea with British etiquette or a bevy of women wearing dainty victorian costumes and sipping tea with their little pinky sticking out. To see Tea from a man's perspective brings new light in a man's psyche. I've been among the many silent admirers of your writings for a long time here at Traveling Boy. Thanks for your very interesting perspectives about your travels. Keep it up! --- Rodger, B. of Whittier, CA, USA

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