The gorgeous and stately Studio Bell, a music museum and experience space with a small performance hall, is one part of Canada's new National Music Centre (NMC) (designed by Allied Works Architecture) that opened to the city of Calgary amidst much fanfare on Canada Day 2016. At the same time, a new addition to local favorite Rosso Coffee Roasters’ lineup opened as the centre’s cafe and in-house gift shop. Cafes are, no doubt, an integral part of the experience of many museums—but especially so when there's such a connection between the cafe’s culture, the culture of the museum, and the culture of the city as a whole.
The Rosso cafe in Studio Bell acts as an anchor both to Calgary’s local cafe community and as a connection to the city’s music scene. Cafes, with their flexible hours and loci of culture, provide obvious part-time jobs for many musicians, but they also serve as their own public spaces for experiencing and discovering music. Cafes, both specialty and otherwise, often serve as a relaxed stage for up-and-coming musicians and open-mic nights and are key parts of a thriving music scene. In Calgary, Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters has been the official coffee sponsor for the Calgary Folk Music Festival for several years and sell a special roast every year that is a collaboration with Sled Island Music & Arts Festival. Other spaces like Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar have become regular spots for intimate shows with local musicians.
But the connection between coffee and music goes beyond just the obvious public cultural space niche. Music, while being a sensory and immersive experience, doesn’t have flavor—but it can influence flavor or enhance an atmosphere which influences how we taste, and how we experience pleasure. As part of the space in Studio Bell, Rosso’s cafe should not be thought of as an afterthought to the experience, but a critical mode of experiencing music, community, and culture.
Standing in the center of Studio Bell’s foyer looking up, you can see all five storeys of the space, patterned with overlapping grey tiles sloping up in a cone-like swirl. The entire entrance area is designed to be a public space where anyone can enter and be part of the music experience. The studio and performance area on the first floor is itself small, but open, so that whoever wants to come in and hear music can sit in the lobby and listen for free. Drawing inspiration from the nearby Rocky Mountains, the sloping ceilings act as an amphitheater, allowing the sounds of live performance from the studio to be heard throughout the structure, effectively turning the whole building into the concert hall.
When looking for someone to fill their cafe space at Studio Bell, it was important to the NMC to keep it local. Having been neighbours in their previous location, Cafe Rosso was an obvious choice. In turn, Rosso sells mainly local products in the space featuring local artisans and crafters. The interior of the cafe echoes the open-air concept in the museum’s design with the cafe’s interiors featuring open high ceilings, extensive natural light, and soft curved wooden features. The cafe also functions to serve as the Studio Bell gift shop, selling Canadian-content music merchandise like vinyl from Calgary's Beatnik Records. Much like the museum itself hopes to become a center for music in Canada, Rosso’s presence anchors the overall experience to something very local—when someone comes to visit the new museum, they can get a sense of the city of Calgary’s music scene through Rosso.
Studio Bell was, in fact, designed to mimic the feeling of an indoor music festival, with the potential for several stages to all be live at once in various locales throughout the museum. As the museum and cafe spaces each grow in function, the idea of getting a lovingly-made coffee and sitting in one of Calgary’s most beautiful spaces listening to live music will have me going back frequently.
Elyse Bouvier is a Sprudge.com contributor based in Toronto. Read more Elyse Bouvier on Sprudge.