Researcher Blog by Michelle Atherton: Banff Artists in Residence in the Canadian Rockies

Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity

About the author

Michelle Atherton is Senior Lecturer in Sheffield Institute of Arts (SIA) and a member of the Art & Design Research Centre (ADRC) within C3RI. Michelle’s research explores the resistance of space through the encounter with the image, often using cultural phenomena as a starting point to discuss structures and systems. Michelle’s work has been widely exhibited in a range of galleries and art museums across Europe.

Earlier this year Michelle Atherton was awarded a residency at BANFF Centre for Arts and Creativity in Alberta, Canada. The centre is famous for offering a prestigious studio-based residency programmes across a wide range of artistic disciplines including fine arts, music, writing and theatre. In this post Michelle shares her experiences of a month of creativity and self-directed research hidden away in the Canadian Rockies.


The BANFF complex is spectacularly situated five minutes outside of Banff town, on land belonging to First Nation Blackfoot, North Dakota and Stoney Nakoda people and is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site. The buildings are surrounded on all sides by mountains, monuments of geological time that advance a thumbnail every ten thousand years. It is impossible not to be awed by the deep time that manifests around you as you pass in and out of your studio space.

My residency was part of the month-long Banff Artists in Residence (BAiR) Spring Intensive offering artists a sustained period of studio practice and self-directed research. It is supported by workshops in a wealth of visual art techniques, introducing practitioners to the possibilities of the excellent workshop facilities including print, ceramics, digital editing suites, sculpture and textiles/paper making. All of these are supported by technicians who are experts and artists in their own right.

Banff Residency. Michelle Atherton.

Banff Residency. Michelle Atherton.

The programme has an intentionally open structure, where you have immediate access to your studio, workshops and, over the period of the residency, two studio visits from international curators. As well as having the space to create, research and experiment, participants are part of a tightly-bound community of other artists and curators on the programme.

We held daily discussions across international and cultural boarders between visual artists from across Canada (including Calgary, Edmonton Toronto and Vancouver), USA, Columbia, Scotland, New Zealand and South Korea, amongst others. All twenty-four resident artists work professionally and are recognised by their peers.

Alongside the stimulation of the evolving series of studio discussions there was the anticipation of the natural setting too: you could find yourself walking past an elk on your way to dinner and, if you were lucky sighting a black bear (though you had to walk a little further into the forest if you wanted a chance of encountering the magnificence of a grizzly bear). On sitting down to a meal you could find yourself in conversation with a composer, a writer for children’s theatre or a strategist for urban housing policy. This mix of people, interests, experiences, ideas, perspectives in additional to the presence of the mountains and fascinating flora and fauna made this residency so rich.  For me, and I think for others, the openness with which people discussed your work and their own was very valuable and has led to some strong friendships and potential professional collaborations.  Equally valuable were those unexpected and not unchallenging conversations that raised points that have stayed long after people’s faces have begun to slightly shift into soft focus.

Banff Residency. Michelle Atherton.

Banff Residency. Michelle Atherton.

BANFF is the first residency I have undertaken and the opportunity to take a month away and commit to travelling to a spot where I could stand still for a while for an intense period to focus on my work has been very timely. Not surprisingly, what felt like a freedom away from the daily routine did allow for reflection on studio practice, in a way that I could not have done at home. What was interesting for me was how it changed my use of time, opening up a new experimental space within my practice, which was manifest in the final curated exhibition at the centre Mountain Dew. During my time there I finished editing my latest video and began work on the next, the last in a trilogy of works.

From my perspective, whilst the residency felt luxurious in the time and space it offered my work, it also added an impetus for the importance of exchange. It easy to romanticise travel and artistic dialogue and whilst we have a stronger focus on the importance of the local it is of course now impossible to spilt the local from the global and vice versa. Air miles not withstanding, the importance of cultural exchange where people meet and are challenged by the differences between them and surrounding them seems to be something that is ever more vital in our current times.


Further information on the BANFF Centre for Arts and Creativity is available on their website.


Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of SHU, C3RI or the C3RI Impact Blog.