What happens to classrooms once the last class winds down for the day? What becomes of the Triffo Theatre when theatre season is over? Do they just sit empty, waiting for the next group of students?
During down times, MacEwan’s Conference and Event Services (CAES) flips lecture halls into conference rooms, atriums into beautiful gala spaces, and parkades into car shows — providing a revenue stream that supports university operations and student services, and giving community members a chance to see what MacEwan is all about.
Erin Walton, manager of CAES, and Kristine Monteiro, an event consultant, give us a behind-the-scenes look at their work, and some of the most memorable events of 2018.
Never a dull moment
When you’re in the event-planning profession, almost nothing is surprising. Though MacEwan hosts its fair share of learning conferences, donor receptions and other events you might expect at a university, some events are a little less conventional.
“We had the Edmonton International Cat Festival here this spring,” says Kristine. “Part of our role was to make sure the cats were handled according to health and safety standards — so that was a new one for us. But it was a really fun event, and it’s coming back next year.”
Over the course of 2018, the university also hosted a town hall with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, coaching conferences for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the Driven Car Show (which took place in an underground parkade). “Not too many people want to just rent a parkade,” says Erin. “But we’re flexible, so if you want the parkade, and it’s a weekend where not too many students or staff need it, it’s yours!”
Behind the scenes
According to Kristine, you can sum up an average day in the life of an event coordinator by the variety in their footwear collection. “If you look under our desks, you’ll see a bunch of shoes. We all have our five- and 10-minute shoes that maybe aren’t the most practical, but look great when you’re meeting a client. And then we have two-hour shoes, five-hour shoes and full-day shoes for when we’re running around, getting things set up or working the event. We’re prepared for anything!”
“We’re a university first. We want to ensure that students still have a good experience here, so we always work around them.” —Kristine Monteiro
And the challenges of putting together a memorable event start long before comfortable footwear ever becomes a factor — especially at a university where the logistics can be complex. “When we’re booking an event, we’re not just checking to see if a certain room or space is available. We’re also looking to minimize impact on students,” says Erin. “Is there a classroom nearby? Are those students writing an exam? If so, then we’re not booking a gala in that area.”
“We’re a university first,” adds Kristine. “We want to ensure that students still have a good experience here, so we always work around them.”
Despite some of the logistical challenges, Erin says that booking an event at MacEwan has more advantages than drawbacks. Those advantages include lower overhead costs (since the spaces are always maintained and operational, regardless of events), regular maintenance and upgrades, a wide variety of venue and parking options, onsite year-round accommodations and print and payment-processing services. “We’re basically a one-stop shop,” says Erin. “We can handle every detail because of the services that already exist on campus.”
Part of something bigger
Erin sees her team as ambassadors for the university, and because of that, considers it their responsibility to be as welcoming and accommodating as possible. “We make sure there's access to our spaces for any member of our community,” she says. “We have a range of pricing options, and that makes us accessible to start-ups, non-profits and other clients who may be on a tighter budget. We also have a program where faculty and staff can bring the associations and professional organizations they're involved with to campus.”
That approach has benefits that reach the entire university. According to Erin, the conferences, performances, galas and other events coordinated by CAES bring around 50,000 people to campus each year. “Those guests can be potential students, staff, board members, donors, Sport and Wellness members or childcare centre clients who might have otherwise never set foot on campus. So we do our best to make them feel welcome and showcase our campus.”
“Every event is like an open house,” says Kristine. “It feels good to know you’re not only helping your client, but also creating revenue that ultimately supports students, and bringing new people into the university who might end up having a future here.”
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