About Debra Hornsby

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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Cracking the autism code

Dr. Stephen Scherer, in his lab. Photo courtesy of the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto.

Dr. Stephen Scherer, in his lab. Photo courtesy of the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto.

In February, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and The Banff Centre announced they were entering into a new partnership aimed at strengthening Canada’s capacity in creativity and innovation and establishing a productive relationship between scientists and artists. For this Inspired we wanted to hear about creativity at work in the research CIFAR is actively pursuing.

In the world of medicine, the causes of autism have long been one of the great mysteries, and without knowing cause, doctors are hampered in their ability to treat this devastating condition. But a Canadian team of researchers, led by Dr. Stephen Scherer, a renowned geneticist, has made significant progress in cracking open the mystery.

Scherer, who participated recently at a CIFAR gathering at The Banff Centre, is director of the University of Toronto McLaughlin Centre and the Centre for Applied Genomics at the Hospital for Sick Children, as well as a member of CIFAR’s Genetic Networks program. His team was among the first to discover that people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) don’t typically have identical gene mutations, but that they almost always have individual genomic anomalies, leading to individual forms of ASD. Scherer’s most recent research proposed that there could be between 200 and 300 genes involved. The team is now analyzing the genomes of more than 10,000 families affected by autism. Continue Reading →

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The quotable Oliver Stone

Academy Award winning director Oliver Stone deep in conversation with Banff Centre Globe Canada correspondent Ian Brown from the recent Satire and Controversy event at The Banff Centre. Photo: Kim Williams.

Academy Award winning director Oliver Stone deep in conversation with Banff Centre Globe Canada correspondent Ian Brown during the recent Satire and Controversy event at The Banff Centre. Photo: Kim Williams.

It’s remarkable how quiet 950 people can be. Ian Brown’s introduction of Oliver Stone on Saturday night —“easily the most controversial filmmaker of our time,” “a recklessly outspoken left-wing provocateur” — was greeted with loud applause and wolf-whistles; but once his interview with Stone began, the sold-out Eric Harvie Theatre hushed.

It was so quiet, I found myself worrying that the scratching of my pen, as I took notes in the dark, was disturbing my seat mates. Herewith, my favourite Oliver Stone moments:

On his early life:“I was born Republican, raised conservatively in New York City. My father was an Eisenhower Republican. He was a soldier in World War Two. He despised Franklin Roosevelt, despised labour unions. That was the orthodoxy of my time.”

“I ended up in Vietnam, among other reasons, for patriotic reasons because I wanted to fight, like Tom Cruise said [in Born of the Fourth of July] ‘I want to do the right thing. I want to fight for my county.’”

On how Vietnam changed him:

“I went through the looking glass, so to speak, in Vietnam. And I think, ‘black is white and white is black.’ I was in shock. I was trashed out, burned. I’d seen so much — disgusting things. And beautiful things, by the way. However, the break point … [came in 1985]. We were in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Salvador and those places woke me up, because all of a sudden I said ‘come on’, you’re almost forty years old and you are seeing the same thing you saw in Vietnam. You are seeing the same soldiers walking around. These pink baby faces in tropical countries … and I said ‘you know, this is a repeat of Vietnam.’” Continue Reading →

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“We are all Treaty people”

Making Treaty 7 artists Cowboy Smithx and Blake Brooker at The Banff Centre. Photo: Narcisse Blood

Making Treaty 7 artists Cowboy Smithx (left) and Blake Brooker (right) at The Banff Centre. Photo: Narcisse Blood.

“We ask for your grace and courage to tell our story in the most honest way possible.”

It is a golden winter afternoon at The Banff Centre. I am sitting in the Kinnear Centre dance studio listening to the words of a prayer, spoken first in Blackfoot and then in English. The prayer marks the opening of a workshop presentation of Making Treaty 7, a new theatrical work that examines the legacy of the 1877 treaty between the Crown and the Blackfoot First Nations.

As the setting sun paints the faces of those performing, I am by turns moved, shocked, informed, and, ultimately, inspired.

I am moved by the hardships faced by Alberta’s Indigenous people in the 1870s, and their hope that this Treaty would bring a brighter future for their children. I am shocked by the devastating impact smallpox had on Canada’s Indigenous people in the years before the Treaty signing. I am informed about the historical context of Treaty 7 — the promises made, and the promises broken. And I am inspired by the goal of this ambitious project — to create a renewed understanding of southern Alberta’s collective history and a shared vision for the future, because, in the words of Making Treaty 7,“we are all Treaty people.” Continue Reading →

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Eight things I learned about art + science collaboration while eating a sandwich

Banff  Centre president Jeff Melanson (left) and CIFAR president and CEO Alan Bernstein take part in a panel discussion following an announcement of a partnership between the two organizations. Photo: Kim Williams, The Banff Centre

Banff Centre president Jeff Melanson (left) and CIFAR president and CEO Alan Bernstein take part in a panel discussion following an announcement of a partnership between the two organizations. Photo: Kim Williams, The Banff Centre

Yesterday the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and The Banff Centre announced a new partnership aimed at strengthening Canada’s capacity in creativity and innovation.

In his opening remarks Banff Centre president Jeff Melanson, tongue planted firmly in cheek, suggested that he and CIFAR CEO Alan Bernstein were announcing their engagement. But behind the smiles lay the essence of this partnership – which is aimed at establishing productive relationships between scientists and artists. CIFAR and The Banff Centre together represent many of the world’s best minds engaged in the arts, and in research in the natural and social sciences. The aim is to get those minds talking – together in Banff, adding to the rich conversation already established through the Banff International Research Station (BIRS).

The partnership was kicked off with a luncheon and panel discussion about colloboration in the arts and science. Herein, eight things I learned while munching my egg salad sandwich:

  1. Quantum physicists can be awesome dancers – and they can even use dance to illustrate the principles behind quantum computers: meet our panel moderator Krister Shalm and his Quantum Dance project. Krister has promised to bring his dance to Banff in the future!
  2. From Alan Bernstein: Nobel Laureates in the sciences are 14 times more likely to be artists and ten times more likely to be engaged in creative writing than other scientists. Continue Reading →
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Dragonfly Orchestra: practice, practice, practice makes perfect

Throughout December and early January you could hear their music and the sound of their dancing as you passed the Centre’s Theatre complex. “They” were the cast of Dragonfly Orchestra, an ensemble of eight talented musicians from China, here to create a new theatrical show that will tour China, the Netherlands, the U.S., and Canada. Working with Calgary’s Barrage artistic team (Dean Marshall, Brian Hansen, John Crozman, and Anthony Moore), Jing He (violin), Yinyin Xia (violin), Yu Lu (violin), Hui Wu (violin), Jingxian Cai (viola), Rui Yang (viola), and Lin Xu (piano) spent endless hours — seemingly from dawn ‘til dusk —in the studio perfecting this high-energy mix of Eastern and Western sounds and movements.

On January 16, staff at The Banff Centre were invited to attend a Dragonfly Orchestra workshop performance in the Margaret Greenham Theatre. “The Banff Centre saved our lives – again!” exclaimed Brian Hansen during the pre-show talk. As they had done previously during creation production residencies for their Barrage touring shows, the Dragonfly team were able to spend seven weeks of focused time in Banff, with support from the Centre’s Theatre department.

I think it is fair to say none of us were entirely sure what we were about to experience during that afternoon performance. What Dragonfly Orchestra delivered was a highly entertaining show blending familiar pop and classical tunes with imaginative and energetic choreography.

The next day Dragonfly Orchestra left for China, where they will mix additional theatrical elements — including jugglers, dancers, and painters — into the show before it premieres March 23 in Liuzhou, China. Watch for it next year on the Canadian performance circuit.

All images in this story are by Donald Lee, The Banff Centre.

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banffcentre.ca/LIVE: click • stream • listen

Afiara String Quartet's June 2012 performance in the Rolston Recital Hall is featured on Banff Centre LIVE. Photo: Frank Wang

Afiara String Quartet’s June 2012 performance in the Rolston Recital Hall is featured on Banff Centre LIVE along with a growing list of other high quality recordings produced at the Centre. Photo: Frank Wang

What if you were able to instantly access the art and ideas created at The Banff Centre anytime, anywhere on your computer, phone, or mobile device? That’s the concept fuelling Banff Centre LIVE, a long term project aimed at broadening the reach of the content created at the Centre.

“The idea behind LIVE is a simple one,” says Banff Centre president Jeff Melanson. “We believe that great music deserves to be heard, great art deserves to be seen, and great ideas deserve to be listened to. Through LIVE, the art and ideas born at the Centre every day will be accessible by anyone, anywhere, on any device. It means artists will gain new audiences, and new solutions in leadership will be considered not just in Banff, but around the world.” Continue Reading →

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