Arts Umbrella will be moving into the South Building of the former Emily Carr University of Art + Design campus on Granville Island, B.C.'s Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture announced today.
The not-for-profit arts-education organization will take over the four-storey, 50,000-square-foot space in 2018. Emily Carr University, meanwhile, has moved to a brand new facility on Great Northern Way.
For president and chief executive officer Paul Larocque, the availability of the nearby building at a time when Arts Umbrella is amid such a period of growth is a case of the stars aligning. "It will be a game changer for us," he told the Straight today. "To be able to imagine a building that we can repurpose like this--a building that is ideal for us: I like to think it's meant to be."
The new space in the South Building will allow Arts Umbrella to more than double its net square footage from approximately 14,000 square feet. The program, which teaches children and youth everything from advanced dance to theatre, music, and visual and media arts, has operated out of a former 1930s nail factory on Granville Island since 1980. Aside from facing a severe space crunch, it also has a great deal of wear and tear. Today's announcement will allow the facility to move away from that facility, increasing programming and staying based on the island where it has been since the beginning.
"Arts Umbrella has been at a critical juncture where it's literally bursting at the seams and not able to grow the programs and really meet the needs of the community," Larocque said. "At this point we're just so grateful to the province of B.C. for providing us with this opportunity that looks to the next generation."
Arts Umbrella hopes to move into the South Building sometime in 2019. It will also maintain satellite facilities in Vancouver and Surrey. Larocque said announcements around fundraising and support via private partnerships for the move will come in coming weeks.
Larocque said the building will be able to accommodate seven dance studios, five music and theatre studios, and eight visual and media arts studios. It will also feature a 160-seat theatre for performances, new workshop spaces, and a public gallery. "It will really provide inspiration through the space," he added, "opening our doors to promoting collaborations that have been an important part of our story from the beginning, with partnerships with artists of all levels."
"This is a sustainable choice at a time when these kinds of projects are so important, particularly in Vancouver where land is at such a premium," Laroque said. "And it's a building I can literally look out the window at and know we'll be in there in a little less that two years."
Arts Umbrella's growth has been across all its programs. "When you think of Arts Umbrella's role in thecommunity, since 1979 we've served more than half a million kids in Metro Vancouver and we've developed a reputation for really the highest quality programs," Larocque said, pointing to the dance professional-training program that now draws students from around the globe and sends its graduates to top-flight companies like Nederlands Dans Theater.
Arts Umbrella employs 270 British Columbians, many of them professional artists, he added.
"This coming year we'll reach about 21,000 children across Metro Vancouver," he said, pointing out many of those programs will be free of charge.
The South Building space had been operated by the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education on land leased from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
The transfer process has been complex. A commitment to give Arts Umbrella tenancy of the building had been made in March 2017, but an October 2017 review by government found the decision-making process was rushed and wasn't open enough to other organizations.
In a press statement today, the ministry explained its final decision this way: "Because the review also determined Arts Umbrella has moved forward in good faith with its fundraising and planning, the B.C. government decided to support the transfer."
Langara College had also expressed interest in the South Building for its own urgent space needs.
A 2014 consultants report for CMHC called the Repurposing Strategy had earmarked a major arts-oriented education institution or museum to occupy the South Building because its physical characteristics meant it could not be easily converted to a multitenanted space.
The proposal for the former ECUAD's North Building is as a multiuse destination for arts, entertainment, and food, with artisans and studio spaces, restaurants, micro-breweries, and an urban winery, all "aimed at attracting a young, nighttime clientele". "The second floor would provide a large, live music venue, to also help draw evening visitors," the report said.
A draft proposal released in May called “Granville Island 2014: Bridging Past and Future”, asserts the former ECUAD site as a “dynamic, risk-enabling and resilient arts and innovation destination" and outlines many more proposed major renovations in the works for Granville Island. Those could include an elevator up to the Granville Street Bridge, an expanded public market, and a pedestrian bridge over Alder Bay.