Transforming the Former Royal Alberta Museum Building Into a #YEG Festival Headquarters

By Emil Tiedemann

OVER the last few years, since construction commenced on the new and improved $375 million Royal Alberta Museum building just across the street from City Hall in downtown Edmonton, officials and citizens alike have been wondering what to do with the old building, a landmark of the Glenora neighbourhood, which lies just west of the downtown. The new facility opened to much fanfare in October 2018, while the former home will remain occupied until 2020, as staff continues to transfer artifacts.

The grounds of the former Royal Alberta Museum (in the Glenora neighbourhood) also includes the Government House building and plenty of green space. Photo by 'Edmonton Journal.'

The original marble and granite building first opened its doors in December 1967 and has accumulated some 50 years of history for Edmontonians and visitors to our humble hometown. It's in sorta decent shape (minus some leaks, mould, and asbestos) and is in a prime location near the edge of downtown, with its own parking lot, a 417-seat theatre, a commercial catering kitchen, offices, classrooms, a board room, and plenty of wide open space ready to be used for something new. It would be such a waste to allow the former home to our provincial museum sit without a purpose. 

That's not to say that plenty of ideas for a new use haven't been tossed out there. In fact, there was even an online survey set up by the provincial government to take in our feedback and opinions for what should be and could be done with the RAM's previous homebase. Locals have suggested everything from a municipal or Indigenous peoples museum to a space for conferences, galleries, or theatre productions. 

These are all great ideas that should seriously be considered, but there's one more that I think could have a substantial impact on the area - in a good way - and that could greatly benefit one of the important aspects of Edmonton that makes us Edmonton. The festivals! 

The main entrance of the original RAM.

What if we transformed the old RAM building into an all-encompassing headquarters for the ever-growing festival community of Edmonton?! Hmmm?! Think about it: a place where Edmonton's numerous festivals could set up their offices (there's currently room for 100 office workers), store their equipment (there's a double basement), and even host their actual festivals (there's something like 200,000 square feet of space)!

In addition to these tangible benefits, the festivals could work together and support each other by sharing ideas and concepts, lending experience and equipment, giving advice and direction, and providing a helping hand to up-and-coming festivals that might need a few pointers. It could make the perfect spot for festival performers to train and practice as well. All under the same roof. 

In addition to the indoor space, smaller festivals could spill out into the outdoors as well. Perhaps there could even be an access point to the adjoining river valley, which could possibly tie-in to the Dragon Boat Festival, Symphony Under the Sky, or the Freewill Shakespeare Festival

The brand new RAM building in downtown Edmonton.

To help fund this concept, the festivals could work together to encourage people to visit the grounds year-round by hosting fundraisers, offering classes and workshops, and charging admission to access the building for alternating events and showcases as well.

The Fringe could feature live performances that were held-over; the Folk Fest could host mini outdoor concerts with the What the Truck? food truck festival supplying the grub; Beerfest and Winefest could throw casual and sporadic tastings, set to the music of the Blues or Jazz or Rock Festivals; Art Walk could set up rotating gallery showcases, while EIFF, or any of the film festivals for that matter, might screen films that were fan favourites throughout the year; there could be stand-up specials or burlesque previews from the Edmonton Comedy and Edmonton Burlesque Festivals, respectively...or not respectively, whatever! 

They could even rent out space to non-festival events, such as conferences, stage shows, or roving exhibits. The options are endless and exciting, AM I RIGHT?! Maybe just a little? 

Inside the main lobby of the former RAM building.

Also, there are entire festivals that could possibly host their entire festival at the former RAM building all year long...festivals that perhaps aren't reliant on specific venues or regions of the city, such as Nextfest, Litfest, Baconfest, and the Edmonton International Cat Festival! The building could also serve as the nerve center for Edmonton's loyal and essential festival volunteer clique, where they could meet up, get trained and organized, and sign up for other festivals looking for help. All the resources are right there! 

Imagine the organizers of a brand new local festival having an office space down the hall from the board of directors of the Edmonton Pride Festival or Taste of Edmonton or the Heritage Fest, who have decades of experience and insight to offer. Imagine roaming the halls with other festival organizers and perhaps running some new ideas by each other that leads to the formation of yet another amazing event in our own "Festival City." Imagine the ability for all of these organizations to thrive under a central hub where they can focus on improving upon last year's festivities with other like-minded folks, rather than stressing over paying the bills or finding a space to host their respective events. 

This could happen, Edmonton! What do you think?! #yeg #yeglove #yegfestivals 

That's the old RAM building at the top center of the photo, located just off the North Saskatchewan River.

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