It is countdown time for the much-anticipated opening of Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre in Calgary. NMC President and CEO Andrew Mosker (right) won’t give a more specific opening date than “early summer,” but in an interview with FYI he stressed that “construction is now over 85% complete.”
This will be at 95% by the time the JUNO Awards roll into Calgary in early April. The NMC at Studio Bell will be given a soft (unofficial) launch then, hosting events designed to showcase the facility for the movers and shakers of the Canadian music industry. “We’re hosting the Chairman’s Welcome reception, and that’ll be a great opportunity for those attending to see the building and get a better understanding of what it is we do,” says Mosker.
Mosker acknowledges that getting the Canadian music industry on board the NMC “has been a sales job. There’s a reason for that. We didn’t call it the Canadian Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame or the National Music Museum of Canada. We chose something a little more obtuse. People would naturally ask ‘what is it going to do? What programming will it have? Who does it celebrate?’ There was also the question of ‘why Calgary?’ We went through eight or nine years of answering those questions.”
He is now very pleased at the support the NMC is receiving from the Canadian music industry. “This really is a national project, one unlike any cultural project for music that’s occurring in Canada right now. We have many partnerships with music organisations and the music industry across Canada that we’ve been developing over the years, whether that is CARAS and the Hall of Fame, SOCAN and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Music Canada, and many other organisations from all over Canada."
It has been a long time coming to fruition, as Mosker explains. “We launched the idea of the National Music Centre in spring 2006, and we knew it’d be a 10 year commitment to get it funded and built. It has been exactly that long.”
He jokes that “I’ve been working on this project for 18 years,” a reference to his earlier role at The Cantos Music Museum, something of a forerunner to NMC.
The mission statement of the National Music Centre reads that “it is a place that amplifies the love, sharing and understanding music…It is a national catalyst for discovery, innovation and renewal through music."
Mosker expands on this by stressing that the NMC is a multi-faceted project. “It is much more than a centre for live music performance. It is much more than a museum where you see costumes, guitars and personal effects of Canadian musical icons. It is more than a purveyor of music education programs. It is all of those things, and more. The pillars of programming we are committed to are exhibitions, education and performance.”
He explains that the creation of new music at NMC will be just as important as the celebration of past music (Studio Bell will host both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame). “One thing we’ve done that is very different than any other organisation in the cultural sector is to have this notion of being a place where new Canadian music can be composed, recorded and showcased. The west block of our building is a recording facility, but not a normal one. It is one that, within it, has over 500 years of functioning music technologies. That is very unusual.
The collection we have been gathering for over 20 years becomes a new tool for making music in the hands of really creative artists, from Canada and beyond, from all walks of musical life. We want to help Canadian artists build their sound by using this one of a kind collection that nobody around the world has.”
That treasure trove of instruments and equipment, inherited from Cantos, has already impressed some high-profile visitors to the NMC’s current building, says Mosker. “Gotye came over from Australia to use our collection, Brian Eno visited, and Daniel Lanois used our collection for two days. He said to me he’d never seen anything like it, and that he’d be very open to making the NMC a regular stop. Kid Koala was here for a couple of days and he performed two sold-out shows using our old instruments. We want to bring a level of inspiration to the creative process that is hard to find to the NMC.”
Plans call for eight artists, in a wide variety of genres, to be selected for an incubation or recording program at NMC. “This will be funded by Bell Media, to help develop Canadian content,” says Mosker. “We will have a Master in Residence, a master producer who can share their knowledge with artists and recording engineers.”
Constructing such a facility as Studio Bell certainly doesn’t come cheap. Mosker places the current cost of the project at $191 million. “We have raised $130 million to date and we’re confident we’ll raise the money to fund the project. There are more supporters coming on board all the time, and I’m going to another fundraising announcement tonight.”
The $191 million figure is significantly more than the original estimate, though such over-runs seem standard for such ventures. Mosker attributes this to “a very difficult and challenging site. We also had to incorporate an old falling-down building [famed live music venue The King Edward Hotel].
"When you are building something so innovative, it is very difficult to predict construction costs accurately. These aren’t square boxes, like office towers or condos. We believe a home that celebrates Canada’s music 365 days per year needs to be commensurate to the quality of music coming from it.”
He defines the cost as “on the low end of the high end for cultural buildings that are international in their reach and objectives. Our costs will be around $850 per square foot. If you look at Toronto buildings like the Art Gallery of Ontario, Royal Ontario Museum, and The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, they’re all over $1000 per sq. ft.”
Mosker is acutely aware of the need for revenue generation by the NMC. “We are a non-profit organisation that runs a lot like a business,” he notes. “There are earned revenues from your activities and of course fundraising and grants. I think there’s a great opportunity for revenue generation in everything we do, in all our programming and in how we use our space, for corporate and private events. We get calls every day from people wanting to book the space for events. We have a small retail development we are excited about growing long-term.
Over time we see ourselves as a content generator and I foresee tremendous opportunities for us to stream that content, working with Bell and potentially others. We are going to be creating some incredible content here.
The stage is set and now it is our time to deliver.”