Arts Umbrella’s massive Granville Island expansion nears fundraising goal

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Now is a tenuous moment to undertake a huge business expansion, but for Arts Umbrella president and CEO Paul Larocque, it’s been a long time coming.

The nonprofit arts education centre has been a Lower Mainland fixture since it opened in 1979 to 45students in a converted nail factory on Granville Island. Besides building out its headquarters there, Arts Umbrella has since launched another location in Mount Pleasant and two in Surrey.

But the biggest move in its history is set for April, when it expands those Granville Island roots across the peninsula to Emily Carr University’s old premises. With funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage ($8.3 million), the Province of B.C. ($1.4 million) and its own donors (some $20 million), Arts Umbrella is on track to open what it calls The New Limitless.

Designed by Richard Henriquez of Henriquez Partners Architects, the digs will feature six dance studios; four theatre, music and film areas; 10 art and design studios; a 132-seat professional theatre; and an exhibition gallery.

“While the pandemic has been a shock to the arts and culture sector, we feel extremely fortunate that the community has come together to show its support for youth arts education during this time,” Larocque says.

“No doubt, there will be a challenging recovery in the months and years ahead, but Arts Umbrella has also added to its tool belt throughout the pandemic,” he explains. “We now feel more confident in our ability to deliver programs and performances online…and our staff has demonstrated the flexibility and innovation that is so emblematic of what it means to be an artist.”

The new 50,000-square-foot building will “give us more room to breathe,” Larocque adds, “not just for physical space for our programming, but for the health and safety of our staff and students.”

Although the company is still about $4 million short of its $37-million goal ($10 million of which is earmarked to ensure that Arts Umbrella can make a lasting impact in the community), Larocque is confident that it will get there and serve as a memorable stop for students in the years to come. 

“By telling young people that this is their space, we hope to empower future generations to seek wonder in all that they do,” he says, “whether they go on to work as artists or choose another path.”