Beyond the Hill

MacEwan University in Canada is investing in the arts

Courtesy of Paul Johnston

Paul Johnston is leading the charge on Bent River Records, the university-run label of MacEwan University.

At a time when the president of the United States is proposing to cut funding for the arts, a university in Canada is making arts and music a priority.

This upcoming fall, students attending MacEwan University in Canada will see two new additions to their school— a new, five-story Centre for Arts and Culture and a school-run record label.

In the U.S., Trump’s proposed 2018 fiscal year budget cuts both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, among other programs. In 2016, the budget of the NEA was $147.9 million, 80 percent of which was distributed as grants and awards.

For a cost of $181 million — more than the budget of the NEA in the U.S. — the Centre for Arts and Culture will replace the current arts center at the university, according to the CBC. It will be located in downtown Edmonton, Canada next to “one of the most dynamic urban arts districts in the country,” according to the university’s website.

Bent River Record, the record label, will be run by Paul Johnston, head of recording in MacEwan’s Department of Music, as well as Rose Ginther, the university’s chair of arts and culture management. A team of six research assistants made up of students and alumni will aid Johnston and Ginther.

“Because MacEwan University, particularly the faculty of fine arts, includes most of the programs of study required to run a record label I thought it was a great idea,” Johnston said in an email. “This brings departments together for a common goal.”

Johnston said he first had the idea of working with faculty from the university’s Fine Arts and Communications department about three years ago to turn the development and management of a label into valuable learning opportunities for students. He shared it with Ginther, who was then hooked onto the idea.

“Independent record labels are becoming the norm in the industry,” Johnston said. “This will eventually be quite similar to an independent label in many ways.”

He added that having this kind of “untraditional” label will also help with funding, including grants, as well as potential booking.

Johnston said Bent River Records is different from a traditional record label in that the artists that choose the label contribute by offering learning opportunities to students in exchange for services that would otherwise be expensive and out of reach.

“Part of our vision is to leave all publishing and intellectual property with the artist,” he said.

Johnston said he believes Bent River Records will be a sustainable label.

“It is a fantastic publicity tool for the university. It will attract students. It provides unique learning experiences that are practical and hands on,” he said.

He added that Bent River Records is evolving, and will be able to shift as the industry continues to change rapidly. The artists are not locked into any arrangement and have the opportunity to work on a per-project basis.

Johnston also said artists could help fund their projects by visiting the university as guest artists. This would enable them to get into contact with new audiences, he said.

“By involving several departments we can generate interest, and the students get experiential learning,” he said.


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