September 2012 has the CCA shining the spotlight on Jeff Melanson, current president of the Banff Centre
Turn the topic to Jeff Melanson and most people are full of praise for his accomplishments. However, he would be the first to tell you that none of it would have been possible without the collaboration of others. Not only that, he insists that he has gotten more out of his professional experiences than he has put into them. “The transformative change that arises from art can happen to us everyday.”
Collaboration and, to some extent, transformation wove their way through our conversation with Jeff Melanson last week. Whether the topic was his own adaptation to life at Banff, creating a globally competitive creative culture for Canada, forming a Federal Culture Action Plan, advice for the CCA’s renewal, or extra-curricular pursuits, somehow the common thread was collaboration and transformation.
Personally, Melanson has embraced the challenge of immersing himself in the local culture. He skied downhill for the first time at the beginning of the year, is acquainting himself with local indigenous arts leaders and is trying to “walk the walk”. In other words, he believes it is important for an arts director to be involved in the creative process.
CANADA – A GLOBALLY COMPETITIVE CULTURE?
Melanson believes that Canada can create a “globally competitive creative culture with the incredible range and diversity of artistic talent in this country.” This can be fostered by what he sees as a robust economic engine behind arts and culture, multi-generational Canadian families supporting the arts and a rich multi-cultural society. He states that there is a pretty interesting mix of government and private sector support. The private sector has stepped up over the years and as public sector arts funding is cut, public private-partnerships become that much more important.
Potential limitations to fostering Canada’s globally competitive creative culture stem from the great distances between Canada’s major cultural centres that contribute to a regional or silo thinking and keeps the arts and culture sector from acting as a group. Further, Melanson adds that the Massey-Lévesque Commission’s report (1951) outlining the national cultural policies is old and needs to be updated.
A NATIONAL CULTURAL ACTION PLAN FOR CANADA?
Before assuming responsibilities at the Banff Centre at the beginning of this year, Melanson participated in the development of Creative Capital Gains, the cultural action plan endorsed by Toronto’s City Council. When asked if he can imagine a Federal Cultural Action Plan, Melanson speculates that this might come to pass. The arts and culture sector is ready to look at more collaboration and provincial barriers are breaking down. He adds that it would be nice if the Minister of Heritage would convene a summit for the arts, much in the same way that other ministers host summits for industries in their portfolios. And while facilitation of a national cultural action plan could come from outside the government (remember, a businessman and an academic led the Massey-Lévesque Commission), the government needs to be at the table.
The CCA is happy to count this prestigious Canadian Institution amongst its members.
No one single organization in the country can put forward a national cultural action plan. For such a plan to be realized, Melanson says, the arts and culture sector would have to collaborate. The sector needs to be less competitive and more impassioned for the overall goal. Collaboration within the sector makes even more sense in tough economic times, in terms of making the most of the available resources.
Asked about the role of an organization like the CCA in the current environment, Melanson says that there is a need for an organization to have a sector-wide or balanced view. The arts, culture and heritage sector cannot afford to be partisan or overly oriented to one part of the whole.
ADVICE FOR RENEWAL
Melanson is no stranger to the renewal process. He has directly participated in the transformation of institutions such as the Royal Conservatory of Music and the National Ballet School, and is now at the helm of the Banff Centre as it enters the second phase of its revitalization program. Given his credentials in the area, the CCA did not hesitate to ask for advice to inspire its own renewal. Melanson’s response, generalized to the whole arts sector: Have a Big Vision; be relentless; be open-minded to ideas; and, compromise only when appropriate.
Jeff Melanson has been president of The Banff Centre for nearly nine months and reports on all sides are glowing. We at the CCA look forward to seeing progress at the centre under Melanson’s direction as it moves forward, embracing digital media and pushing creative boundaries into the 21st century.
Jeff Melanson was appointed president of The Banff Centre on January 1, 2012. Jeff Melanson holds a bachelor of music from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, where he studied opera, Russian art song, and choral conducting. Melanson also pursued vocal studies at the Oberlin Conservatory. He holds an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo.
From 1998 to 2000, Melanson was the director of development for Opera Ontario. In March 2000, he was appointed assistant dean of the Community School at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, and at the end of 2001, he was promoted to dean. In his role as dean of RCM’s Community School, Melanson was essential in building the program into the largest community arts school in North America.
In 2006, Melanson was appointed executive director and co-chief executive officer of Canada’s National Ballet School. In his time at NBS, he was instrumental in eliminating a significant annual operating deficit, increasing annual revenues by over 50 per cent, overseeing the completion of NBS’s residence renovations, and creating new strategic partnerships with many non-profit and for-profit arts and entertainment corporations.
Melanson is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization and a trustee with the National Guild for Community Arts Education (US). He is a frequent guest lecturer on arts management to arts students and MBA classes from universities across North America and around the world, and was the first arts leader to be appointed one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40™ for 2009. In 2010, Melanson was named Wilfrid Laurier University’s MBA Alumnus of the Year. In November 2010, Melanson was appointed special advisor on arts and culture to Toronto mayor Rob Ford.