Arts Umbrella, Canada’s largest culture educator, opens new $27m home in Vancouver

The new education centre on Granville Island with arts, music, film and dance studios, will serve 24,000 student annually

Arts Umbrella moved into the building that previously housed the Emily Carr University of Art and Design on Granville Island, a former industrial area along the waterfront redeveloped in the 1970s Photo: Kevin Clark Studios

The official opening this month of Arts Umbrella’s new $27m 50,000 sq. ft home marks a milestone for arts education in Vancouver. It also cements Granville Island, a former industrial area along the waterfront redeveloped in the 1970s, as one of Canada’s most successful public spaces and cultural hubs.

Founded in 1979 by Carol Henriquez and Gloria Schwartz with a view to accommodating youth from all economic backgrounds, Arts Umbrella is now Canada’s largest visual and performing arts institute for young people serving 24,000 students annually. The organisation, which provides inter-disciplinary courses aimed at ages 2-22, moved from their original Granville Island headquarters into the much larger building that once housed the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, originally designed by Patkau Architects in 1995. Its conversion by Henriquez Partners Architects from a public post-secondary school for older students into a private all-ages arts facility posed both major structural challenges as well as detailed adjustments—such as lowering sinks in bathrooms for younger children.

Today, the Arts Umbrella centre boasts ten art and design studios, including cutting-edge media labs, six dance rehearsal spaces, spaces for theatre, music and film studies as well as a 132-seat theatre and a public exhibition gallery. The renovation costs have been covered by a $37m capital fundraising and endowment campaign which the museum is close to completing, including $7m from the Department of Canadian Heritage’s Canadian Cultural Spaces Fund, $9.6m from the federal government, $1.4m from the province of British Colombia, $300,000 from the city of Vancouver, with the rest coming from private donors.

“As Canada’s leading non-profit arts education organisation for young people, we are inspired to build on the legacy that Arts Umbrella has earned over the last four decades,” says Paul Larocque, the president and CEO of Arts Umbrella. “Over the past few years, our staff’s hard work, innovations, and programming leadership have steadily pushed against the boundaries of our current space. Now, we have room to support and inspire more young people to seek wonder through the arts.”