Twelve Transformative Years: The Mary Hofstetter Legacy

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Mary Hofstetter, October 2011.  Photo: Donald Lee.

Mary Hofstetter, October 2011. Photo: Donald Lee.

For 12 years, she has been the face – and for many, the heart – of The Banff Centre. Mary Hofstetter, who retired as the Centre’s president and CEO on December 31, has led this institution through 12 remarkable years. Under her leadership, The Banff Centre has broadened its reach as an international centre for creativity, and deepened its support for artists from across Alberta, Canada, and beyond.

The most visible evidence of Mary Hofstetter’s leadership is the physical transformation of The Banff Centre campus—the new Dining Centre, the Kinnear Centre for Creativity & Innovation, the Shaw Amphitheatre, and the greening of the Centre’s 44 acres. But it is Hofstetter’s ability to forge partnerships, and to build understanding and support for the Centre’s mission, that will have the most lasting impact. Among her many accomplishments: a robust program plan bolstered by increased endowment support, a renewed commitment to the creation and showcasing of new creative works, the establishment of the Banff International Research Station for Mathematical Innovation and Discovery (BIRS), and – not least – the Campaign for The Banff Centre, which raised over $128 million – the most successful fundraising effort in the Centre’s history.

On the eve of her departure, Mary Hofstetter sat down to talk with Inspired.

What drew you to The Banff Centre in the first place?
The Banff Centre has been in my heart for a very long time. I first came here to take arts courses in the summers during high school, and over the years came back from time to time, never thinking one day I’d end up staying for over 12 years!

When you were appointed President & CEO, did you know immediately what you wanted to accomplish — or did it take some time for that vision to develop?
Yes and yes!

I knew some things needed to be addressed right away — getting our finances in order and rejuvenating some of the programming, for example.

Other things, such as the development of a new Campus Master Plan, the vision for our campus revitalization project, and our major capital campaign evolved over time.

When you and the Board of Governors decided to move forward with the Banff Centre Revitalization Plan in 2005, you were taking a giant leap of faith. Can you talk about the magnitude of that challenge?
It was certainly a challenge! Especially when the consultant we engaged to do a fundraising feasibility study said we’d be lucky to raise $5 million. So we did the only sensible thing under the circumstances, and disregarded the study and forged ahead!

We knew that so many people had strong emotional links to The Banff Centre, and we also knew the pride of many Albertans in “Alberta’s Jewel”, as The Banff Centre is frequently referred to, and we knew that there is no other institution on the planet like The Banff Centre, so we took a deep breath and plunged in.

One of the hallmarks of your years at the Centre has been the strong partnerships you have forged with governments and donors.
Those relationships really were in need of nurturing. Fortunately our Board of Governors, throughout my tenure, has been most adroit at fostering relationships, and that has been a tremendous support to my team and me. We have collectively worked very hard on this, and we are tremendously grateful for the strong support we have received — particularly from the Province of Alberta and the Government of Canada.

One real highlight for me has been working over the years with The Kahanoff Foundation. Their $10 million Campaign gift was extraordinary in several ways. Apart from the sheer magnitude, the most significant element was that while $2 million went to capital, the balance was specifically to be dedicated to ‘transforming’ our programming – and the impact of this gift on programming vision and quality has been enormous.

We’ve also focused on creating strong relationships right here in Banff and the Bow Valley. Having an institution like The Banff Centre located in a small town like Banff is a huge cultural advantage to the Town, but we also need to be careful to not be ‘the elephant in the room’!

When you look around the campus today — what are you personally most proud of?
It is always going to be the programming. That’s why I mentioned the Kahanoff gift. While our campus was in dire need of redevelopment, we always knew that if we weren’t also paying close attention to the calibre of the programming — the content, the leadership, the participants, the faculty — there was no point in having wonderful new amenities. I think we’ve been able to achieve an elegant balance. The complementarity between the performance programming and the Shaw Amphitheatre is a great example. We are just beginning to explore the myriad ways we are going to use that amphitheatre – the potential is limited only by our creativity – and as you know, that’s a resource we have in abundant supply here!

You’ve successfully advocated for the arts in Alberta for over a decade — what role do you see for the arts in Alberta’s future?
I think the arts, writ large, are integral to the DNA of Alberta – much more so than is commonly acknowledged. And I think that there are some new young leaders in Alberta, beginning with our new Premier, who really get the value – competitive and social – created by the arts. My gut tells me that the next few years will see a real flourishing of the arts in Alberta.

Looking back over the past 12 years, is there a particular creative project that holds a special place in your heart?
Oh dear, that’s a loaded question! There have been so many wonderful artists and projects over the years.

I’ll select just two. Years ago, our Aboriginal Arts department did a new dance piece called Miniigooweziwin…the Gift. It was one of the most beautiful and emotional performances I’ve ever seen.

The other one I’ll mention, because unlike The Gift, which was so ephemeral, this one will endure for the ages, is The ghosts on top of my head – our wonderful trio of sculptures by the brilliant Canadian artist, Brian Jungen. These pieces, a visionary gift of the Black Family, already feature in photos beamed from Banff around the world. When we completed the Kinnear Centre, I had wanted one iconic, signature sculpture as the ‘exclamation point’, and it was our great good fortune that we got three!

Your husband David has played an important, though rarely acknowledged, role throughout your time in Banff…
David and I are a team. When we made the decision to come here, it had to work for us both. Given that his consulting work takes him all over North America, he’s been flying to work every week for over 12 years. He has been a real trooper, and he is absolutely my rock! He shares my passion for the arts, and we share a passion for fine audio, so it was such fun for us together to work with our Audio department in planning the Isobel and Tom Rolston Audio Listening Room, which is part of our shared legacy here.

What’s next for Mary Hofstetter?
A long nap?

Well, first we have to move to Stratford and settle in there, and then I expect to do some Board work and some consulting, and of course some volunteer work. And if they’ll have me, I’ll always be a passionate Banff Centre ambassador!

One thing that people don’t know about you?
To lull myself to sleep, I read murder mysteries. David says it’s positively scary how many ways I know to kill someone!

25 years from now, what would you like people to remember about Mary Hofstetter?
I would like it to be said that I made a difference; that my years of championing the arts and culture, creativity and education, have borne fruit – and David and I hope there will be amazing new generations of artists making extraordinary art and music as they benefit from our two legacy projects.

How has The Banff Centre changed you?
It has inspired me to dream a bigger dream than I ever thought realizable, and it has taught me that with passion, strong vision, and a tremendous team of colleagues, we could make that dream come true.

In addition to Mary Hofstetter’s many achievements as President and CEO, she and husband R. David Riggs have funded the creation of the Isobel and Tom Rolston Audio Listening Room, a state-of-the art facility that allows Centre musicians and audio engineers to experience the best possible audiophile listening experience. They have also made a bequest to The Banff Centre through the Centre’s Planned Giving program, and David, not surprisingly, is supporting the Mary E. Hofstetter Legacy Fund for the Visual Arts.

In October, Mary Hofstetter was awarded an honourary Doctor of Laws from the University of Western Ontario in recognition of her contribution to Canadian arts. In the award citation, Hofstetter was recognized as a “stellar advocate of education, training, and creativity in the arts, sciences, and business leadership in Canada.”

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About Author

Debra Hornsby is the Director of Communications for The Banff Centre. She has worked in journalism and communications for over 35 years (rumour is she began work at the tender age of three…). Deb’s favourite part of her job is talking with artists about their experiences at the Centre, and then turning their words in stories for this blog or for the Centre’s magazine, Inspired. When not at work or attending a Centre concert, you can find her on cross country skis or in running shoes making tracks in the mountains.

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