Listen to Connor Curran, Local Laundry's chief laundry folder, Phil Cimolai, general manager of the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts, and Brad Mahon, dean of the faculty of Continuing Education and Conservatory talk about the process to create the Centre the Arts campaign, why a local collaboration was important and why it is so meaningful to both groups.
Cimolai and Mahon also share their passion for the arts, the purpose of the Taylor Centre and the history behind the Bella Concert Hall. Later in the episode, they discuss the significance of the sweater and toque design, what it means to Centre the Arts as an organization, as well the impact the Taylor Centre hopes to have by offering Centre the Arts apparel.
Proceeds from Centre the Arts sweater and toque sales will be donated to the Academy Endowment Fund, which provides financial support to Mount Royal University Conservatory students. Local Laundry is also committed to matching every Taylor Centre Giving Toque purchase with a toque donation to a local shelter for people experiencing homelessness. Click the link below to tune in or find the episode by searching Proudly Made in Canada Podcast wherever you get your podcasts.
Connor Curran (00:13):
Live from Studio B, this is Proudly Made in Canada by Local Laundry. We are your co-hosts and co-owners of Local Laundry, Connor Curran and Dustin Paisley.
Connor Curran (00:22):
And today, very special episode. We're here down at Mount Royal University in the Bella Taylor Centre for music and arts. And we are gathered here today with two very esteemed people who work with the Bella. I'll let you introduce yourselves.
I'm Phil. And we're at the Bella Concert Hall in the Taylor Center for the Performing Arts at Mount Royal University.
There you go.
It's a pretty long title, but we call it the TCPA a lot of the time.
Yeah, we got a lot of acronyms.
Connor Curran (00:50):
And who are you?
I'm Brad. Phil and Brad.
Connor Curran (00:54):
Phil and Brad. Well, let's start, go back to you, Phil. What do you do?
I'm the general manager of operation for the Bella Concert Hall and other theaters on Mount Royal's campus. And I've got a team of people that work for me to do everything that the Taylor Centre does outside of our roommate/best friends, which is of course our Conservatory of Music, music education program.
So my role at Mount Royal, I'm the Dean of Continuing Education. And under that umbrella is the Conservatory of Music. So to Phil's point, we are roommates in the Taylor Centre. Phil and his team are custodians of the Bella, all the bookings, external community groups and internal users such as my team with the Conservatory.
Connor Curran (01:37):
Great. Yeah, we really appreciate you guys taking the time. And the reason we're here today is because we've made these awesome Canadian made sweaters. So you guys called us up, it was either you or someone from your team. And Dustin, my business partner, he's like the poster boy for Mount Royal. I don't know if you know him, but like he was one of the very first students in the entrepreneurship program.
Connor Curran (01:55):
And third, he's literally the poster boy because they love him. They don't love me. They love Dustin. So it was a natural fit when you guys were looking. I mean, what made you guys want to... Because, Phil, you were the one we were talking to. What made you guys want to get sweaters or garments done in the first place? What were you thinking?
Well, I can tell you that what I wanted to do was have a line of merchandise that people could wear that were engaged in what we were doing to just represent the fact that they're part of our community. And it was very important to me that we would have Canadian made high quality garments so that people would want to wear it, no matter what it said. Because to me, your favorite sweater is associated with a feeling that it is the type of feeling that we want when people think about the Bella and the Conservatory and Taylor Centre.
Connor Curran (02:45):
And I'll be honest when, when you first approached me with that, I didn't have much experience with the Bella or the Taylor Centre. I think the last time I was here, I used to be in the Bow Valley Fiddlers. We used to practice out of here.
[crosstalk 00:02:57]. That's cool. I remember the Bow Valley Fiddlers.
Connor Curran (02:58):
Yeah, totally. Yeah.
Connor Curran (03:01):
So I used to come here every Wednesday. We'd practice, we'd have all our shows. This wasn't built, but the other one-
Connor Curran (03:07):
Was that [Nola 00:03:08] or Donna?
Connor Curran (03:08):
It was Donna.
Connor Curran (03:10):
Yeah, she was the best. I never quite made it to the Calgary Fiddlers, which was the next step, much to my parents' chagrin, because they're from Ireland, if you couldn't tell from my ginger beard. But I remember when you told me about it and I didn't know much about the Bella. When someone wants to create a garment that represents a concert hall, it's a little difficult thing to do. We just did a thing with the Hitmen or different influencers or organizations, but the specifically concert hall. And I was like, "Oh, okay, well let's see what we can do." And then I met Phil and as you know, Brad, Phil, he's pretty passionate about this place.
Connor Curran (03:42):
And after kind of meeting him, I got an idea of what the Bella's all about. And I left that meeting feeling pretty inspired, like, okay, we can do something pretty cool here. So I wanted you guys to talk a little bit about the Bella and what makes it so special and why it's just so magnetic and people are drawn to this place.
You want to go first, Brad?
Connor Curran (04:00):
There's a lot in there.
I think for me, there's a few things that get me excited about the Bella and the Taylor Centre. For one thing, just being aware of the Conservatory sister. I was a student here about 30 years ago in the Conservatory. And so I've been a student and I've been an instructor and an administrator, and I know the history of the Conservatory. And it was here when Mount Royal opened its doors in 1911 and it really does have an international reputation. It's a world-class conservatory. But it never had a world class facility. It didn't have the building to go with the reputation.
And that's, I think, one of the cool things about the Taylor Centre is we now have a proper facility. And I remember being that student 30 years ago and some of the senior faculty said to me... A couple of times we were over in the Leacock, which is a fine recital hall. There's nothing wrong with the Leacock. It served us well at that time. But he said to me, "Brad, one day we're going to have a proper concert hall." And this is, I think, even beyond his wildest dreams.
But for me, there's something... just to speak about music education. Whenever I'm giving a tour, I always tell people this, is that something that people don't realize is that we use that Bella stage in so many different ways, and one of the ways we use it is as a classroom. So if you come here on Mondays, come on Monday afternoon, you'll see the chairs set up in a semicircle on the stage with the pianos out. And that's where we hold our piano classes for our Academy for Young Artists on Monday.
Connor Curran (05:23):
And so you come in here and this is one of those differences. And what the students have said to me, is they've said, "Brad, when I play in the Bella, I hear myself differently. There's things I hear in my playing that I don't hear in the practice room or at home." So they're really listening. And for me, that's special because that's the connection between... I mean, it's beautiful looking hall, but it's how it sounds.
Connor Curran (05:44):
Yeah. Yeah, that's so important. I mean, speaking from a very amateur musician back in the day, when you're playing at home in your parents' basement or even in the practice room, and you have to go to performance and all of a sudden you're on a big stage, a lot of kids get stage fright. So I think it's really important what you said.
They get comfortable up there.
Connor Curran (06:00):
They get really comfortable.
Yeah. They get really comfortable, not only on the stage, but in the hall, it's like the hockey player in the rink, that's where they live. It becomes their home. And I think with the artists and a lot of the artists that Phil has brought in, the really exciting part is that those artists come here and they have a great experience playing here. They want to come back. And for me, again, the attraction is, is that when those artists come here, we often will then see if there's a way we connect that performing artist to some kind of an educational component. So you're coming here to play a show, maybe would you spend some time with our students? How does that look? Maybe a few classes. Maybe some of them who don't teach, maybe they give a lecture on something they're passionate about, but we always can kind of find a way, especially with us being a university, to tie it to education in some way, too.
Connor Curran (06:43):
Yeah, that's incredible. And who is or was Bella? There's a lovely portrait out in the foyer there. Who is a named after?
That's a good question. So it's named for Bella Taylor of the Taylor family, who were the primary contributors to the construction of this place, obviously named for the Taylor family. Don Taylor, former CEO of Engineered Air, which is a big corporation with a big philanthropic arm. And he's contributed so much to the city, to Mount Royal specifically, but also to U of C and to other organizations. And the work that Don and the Taylor family have done has really influenced so many people. I don't know exactly what generation, but Bella was... Do you know, Brad?
That photo in the lobby... I mean, we can run out and look, but I think it's 1910, 1911. The photo is on our wedding day when she was getting married. I think Mary Belle is her name.
And then to Phil's point, is Don Taylor's mother. And so the Bella, the heart of the Taylor Centre, this Bella Concert Hall, is in her memory. And Don and his wife, Ruth, they're regular patrons here at the Taylor Centre, so it's always really satisfying to have them come here. They come to all the shows, whether it's Yo-Yo Ma or whether it's Paul Brandt. They're here watching, watching the different concerts. I think they're quite pleased with how everything has worked out.
I think so, too. I hope so. I mean, to me, I've worked in music and show business for my whole life and I was a student of the Conservatory as well, and Conservatory Strings, which is now called Conservatory Symphonia, so I didn't make the CYO.
What did you play?
Yeah. I studied at the Conservatory for a long time. In fact, just over a decade from three to 14.
So I just said this the other day, I spent a lot of different phases of my life as part of Mount Royal's community and on our campus. So to me it was really natural to come and take a job here and to try to work with the university for the many communities that we serve. And I was formerly working for a long time downtown at the Grand Theatre, which I dearly love. For me, I agree with everything Brad said, and my perspective is that facilities, particularly arts facilities, are alive. They're living entities. The structures, the buildings have their own story and their own life, and there's a beginning and end to it.
And especially since we're on a post-secondary campus here, a public service institution, it's really a forum for many different types of people, many diverse cultures, many different communities to come and gather and exchange ideas, use it to celebrate, use it to mourn. It's really a service that Mount Royal University is providing, not just to Calgary, but obviously Calgary first, but now nationally and internationally.
The reason why I'm so passionate about the arts in general and why our campaign is to center the arts and our garments are centering the arts is that it allows a discourse between humans that's on a human level. And I really think that it's difficult to maintain some of those connections in our modern times where everything's digital and everything's fleeting and people aren't making those connections as much anymore, to be able to come and make friends, make enemies, discuss difficult subjects, look at beautiful pieces of artwork. We need that ability for humans to connect and to analyze how they're affected that way. I think it can be so powerful in a way that nothing else can but the arts, to connect different people across different mediums for different reasons. And I think that's such an important part of it.
And of course the Bella itself, without a doubt, it is the most pristine example of a concert facility of its size. We're at about 650 seats regularly that we sell. And there's no other place like it, it is really special. Having seen everywhere in Calgary, worked everywhere in Calgary and across Canada for many, many years touring, this is not just another place to play. And it's the people that make it that way. It's the experience you have when you come, whether you're a patron or an artist or a staff member or a collaborator such as yourself. I think we bring a unique experience. I think it is not typical.
And that's the value proposition, Phil. 100% agree, the whole idea about people connecting. And I think there's an intimacy to this hall that's part of the experience. Yeah, you're going to come, you're going to hear a great show. We put great artists on the stage. But you know what, there's something about that experience. You're in this hall, there's a warmth to it. There's a connection with the other people that are here. There's an intimacy with the artists. I mean, yeah, we've got them miked up there, but the place is so acoustically strong that it's just there for a little bit of support. It really is a big living room.
Yeah. And we have house parties in here.
Connor Curran (11:42):
Yeah, sometimes. The concerts can go that way.
But I think it speaks to what Phil said about the connection. I think when people come to the Bella for an evening for a show, it's an experience. More and more, and I credit Phil and his team for this, building that experience. And so that experience is part of the pre-show. There's something at intermission, there's something post show. So the idea that you're coming here for an evening and a full experience and getting to know some of the people that you're watching the show with.
Connor Curran (12:11):
Yeah, yeah. It's always incredible. I mean, my few times, I've seen a couple of shows here and just being in my time, exploring. And we were here yesterday with another artist and we took some photos inside. And yeah, I really like that word intimate because it really feels that way.
Connor Curran (12:25):
And there hasn't been a person that I've brought in here yet that hasn't just gone, "Wow." So after I had a couple of meetings with Phil and your team, I was like, "Okay, I get it now. I think this is something that we could create a really cool piece around." So tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind... You talked a little bit about center of the arts, but we have this nice circular design on there. Tell us what that's all about.
Gladly. So, we know the kind of general concept or Local Laundry's mandate of faceless marketing. We know that we're not going to put the logo or the name of the place on there. And we really believe in the whole science behind that, that everyone who wears one of our garments becomes our own ambassador, our own center of the arts ambassador or champion, whatever you want to call it, however you feel.
But for me, the garment, of course, the sweater features our own Bella rose, which is the canopy above the stage. And that's based of course, on the Alberta wild Rose. And that's just such a nice kind of homely and important familiar image that is totally associated visually with the concert hall, because it's such a mainstay piece. And of course, behind that, we decided to go with the color fade, which is our brand colors. That was a nice unique feature, too, that we really wanted to show color and vibrancy in life, not just the beautiful architecture.
And then of course the center of the arts text is about that idea that I was just talking about, which is how can we make the arts the center of our lives? Or maybe not just the center, maybe the center of your life is too much. Maybe it's the center of your life for an hour. Maybe it's the center of your Friday afternoon or maybe every Monday morning when you come to rehearse and practicing in the concert hall. But the idea is that we really want to keep that centered and that rose is so beautiful and that circle really lends itself to that kind of heart and center.
And of course, we've run a line of toques, which features the exterior architecture of the building. And that's another thing that we feel is kind of important, that the physical structure in this case is inspirational. This building, if you come and see the Taylor Centre or look it up online or whatever, you're not going to see too many examples of a building like that anywhere in Calgary on this scale. You're really not. The architecture is by no mistake. Inside the concert hall, you're going to see it's inspired by Alberta, where we have the blue seats. Those are represent the glacial lakes. We're going to have the beehive light. Of course, you're going to see all the woodwork representing the prairies, the colors of wheat. It's really intentional what they did with the architecture, so it was natural to feature of the architecture.
Connor Curran (15:02):
And you wanted the toques to pop. I mean, they certainly do. If you haven't seen them, they're bright, bright pink.
Connor Curran (15:09):
Connor Curran (15:10):
Totally. You said that's what you wanted.
You nailed it.
Connor Curran (15:14):
Right? He said, "We want highlighter... the brightest pink possible." Why did you want such bright pink hats?
Well, for us, this is about those ambassadors out there telling our story and we don't want to fade away. We really want to stand out because right now it's really important for the Taylor Centre, and for universities in general, to tell their story to as many people as possible. We need help. We need allies in doing what we're doing and they're out there. So we chose a vibrant color so you wouldn't mistake us. And we want to look like an army of Smurfs, pink Smurfs, and we want to be known for being different and comfortable and just accessible and available. So we definitely chose something that would stand out as opposed to fit in.
Connor Curran (15:56):
Yeah. I don't mean to brag, but I think they turned out really well.
I do, too. I think they turned out just the way we wanted them. It's perfect.
Connor Curran (16:04):
It was interesting to work with you guys because I think you guys pushed us a little. Because on the sweater itself, it's got the gradient sweater. We've never really come out with something, a lot of our stuff doesn't have color. We'd never really done a gradient before. I'll be honest, we were a little nervous doing it. And I think it came out really, really nice. And then same with the toques. We've never done a custom toque for an organization before. And we did it in a style that was completely new. Like most of our toques are kind of knitted toques. You said you wanted more of a [Carhartt 00:16:31] style. And we really pushed our manufacturing processes to the limit. Which is great, because when you're Canadian manufactured, when you're making stuff here, you can have that much more control. You can have that much more faith because you visit the facilities, you know the people making your stuff. It's not in some foreign land and who knows where.
Connor Curran (16:47):
So we were pretty confident in our capabilities, but it was really interesting to work with you guys because you guys really pushed us to the edge. And yeah, I don't know. I just had a ton of fun making these and we've got some pretty crazy ideas to make this relationship go even further. Another nice thing about the toque is they are part of our Giving Toque collection as well. So for every toque that you guys bought, we're going to donate one to the drop-in center. Today we've donated over 2000 toques to shelters in Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton, and Ottawa. So next December, January, we're going to tally up all the toques that you guys bought, we're going to invite you guys down and we're all going to donate them together.
Yeah, that's good.
Connor Curran (17:24):
So not only are you supporting local business, you're supporting Canadian manufacturing, a diverse Canadian economy, but you're also helping give back, which you guys do so much already.
We really appreciate it.
Connor Curran (17:35):
And Brad, are you a musician as well?
I am, yes.
Connor Curran (17:38):
What do you play?
Connor Curran (17:38):
Connor Curran (17:39):
What kind of guitar?
Connor Curran (17:41):
He's a doctor of guitar, in fact.
Connor Curran (17:43):
Connor Curran (17:45):
Good for you. Do you guys ever jam?
I have fantasized often about during a stressful time, I play drums as well, meeting Brad onstage for a late night jam session to unwind myself.
Yeah, I like that idea.
Connor Curran (18:00):
Well, let's make that happen.
Connor Curran (18:01):
Do you ever play the violin any more?
I do, once in a while.
Connor Curran (18:04):
Once in a while.
Connor Curran (18:05):
My mom asks me like every three months, because she spent so much money, so much time fighting me. And I more play the guitar now. But she goes, "Man, I wish you'd pick up that fiddle." And it kills me. I got to get back into it. [crosstalk 00:18:18]. I'd love to.
You should tell her that your musical training is in everything you do every day. Honestly, there's nothing that can affect a brain or a way of thinking like music education. It's not just about the theory. It's about the experience. And it's just such a nice way to meet people that's in almost a mentorship level thing. Especially if you're training at a professional level, your instructors. Obviously playing in large ensembles is such a valuable skill. It's like sports. Like how to work with a big team, how to admit when you were the one who played the wrong note and move on. There's so much that people learn from their educators that they use every day, every day.
Connor Curran (18:55):
Well, I think the most important that the thing that music has taught me is that I know now how to learn something new. And I know that it's going to take time. I've got to be patient. Like I'm big into languages. I love learning new languages. And most people, because we live in a generation of now, now, now, everyone wants to be successful yesterday. And so when they pick up something, they get frustrated and they throw it out. I think learning an instrument from a young age, it's really taught you patience and incremental improvement. So I really like that. I'm going to tell Mom that and see what she says.
You should tell her.
Connor Curran (19:24):
I think it definitely has had an impact.
For our Conservatory, even though we're at a university, I mean, our program is really a pre-university program. We have over 4,000 students, and a lot of those students don't go onto a music career. But what they've learned, like to both of your points, that working independently, working in a group, the whole idea of self-discipline and they build self-confidence. Those are transferable skills, right?
Connor Curran (19:47):
So whatever they do in life, they're taking that with them. My mom's still hoping I'll be a veterinarian.
Connor Curran (19:53):
I think the ship has sailed.
Connor Curran (19:57):
Yeah. That's great. Well, listen, fellas, I don't want to take up too much of your time. I really appreciate you guys bringing us in today. Brad, good luck on your veterinarian [crosstalk 00:20:05] dreams and journey.
Hey, thank you.
Connor Curran (20:07):
We're all rooting for you. But in the meantime, you're doing great things here at the Bella Concert Hall in the Taylor Centre at Mount Royal University.
Connor Curran (20:15):
Did I get it right?
That was a fist bump.
Yeah, [inaudible 00:20:20].
Connor Curran (20:20):
Well, I really appreciate you guys having us in today. Where can people get the toques or the sweaters?
Best place to get them is either at the box office at the Taylor Centre-
Trunk of my car.
Trunk of Brad's car. You never know where that'll be. We're working on an app for that.
Yeah. Follow my car.
Yeah, follow Brad's car to buy the stuff. But you actually can buy them online. If you go to taylorcentre.ca, click on the Support Us button on the top right. You can't miss it. It's in that beautiful pink color. And then you'll see where to purchase our swag, and you can order it online through our very own Cougars Campus Store. So distribution is done from the university's campus store.
Connor Curran (20:55):
Amazing. Well, we'll include all that stuff in show notes. We've got a guest blog from you, Brad, coming out on the website. We're going to have all the links in there.
Connor Curran (21:03):
Just want to say a big thank you. It means a lot that you guys not only want to support local, but you guys wanted to support Canadian made. We need more organizations that understand the importance of supporting Canadian made, whether it's with us or anyone else. It goes a long way. So really big heartfelt thank you to you guys. And I appreciate all you guys do for the community.
Big thanks to you guys, too, because guess what? There's nobody else doing what you do and it's good.
Connor Curran (21:22):
Ah, well, thank you.
And when you're talking about the whole pushing of your boundaries, I'm glad. Because that's really what a collaboration is, isn't it?
Connor Curran (21:30):
I think it should be.
Connor Curran (21:30):
Because it's hard. It makes you think. It makes you grow. And now look at us. Now when someone's like, "Can you guys do toques?" Heck yeah, we can do toques.
Yeah, you can copy what the Taylor Centre did.
Connor Curran (21:39):
Well, thank you. I appreciate it. Well, this has been Proudly Made in Canada by Local Laundry. We are joined by our guests, Brad and Phil. Big thank you. And until next time, guys. Talk soon.
Thank you so much for tuning into Proudly Made in Canada by Local Laundry. We are your co-hosts and co-owners Connor Curran and Dustin Paisley. You can find us anywhere, anytime at www.locallaundry.ca for all of our Canadian made garments. You can find out what we're up to in the community @locallaundry on all social channels. Sign up for our newsletter, sign up for our e-blast. And you can find all previous episodes of the podcast wherever you stream your podcasts from. Until next time.