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Vancouver’s Arts Umbrella has been providing access to the arts for hundreds of kids and teens for years – but now, with a new building and a new year underway, there has never been a better time to dream big. Such was the case for the organization’s CEO, Paul Larocque, who recently gave us a private tour of the new facility and all its magic.
Cat: Welcome Paul. Tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved with Arts Umbrella in the beginning:
1:32 Paul: Well, that’s that’s certainly something I take great pride in talking about. I moved out from Ontario to work at Arts Umbrella back in the mid 1990s. And I had the great fortune of working with the co-founder and then longtime executive director Carol Henriquez. Arts Umbrella provided me as a newcomer to Vancouver, such an amazing entry point, the people, the artists, the incredible educators that I’ve had the chance to work with. The sponsors and volunteers, and so many amazing people that comprise the Arts Umbrella community. And, you know, I’ve been with Arts Umbrella, off and on now for more than 15 of those 25 years with a bit of a hiatus in between where I had the very good fortune of working with the Vancouver Art Gallery. But I started in Vancouver working with this amazing organization that’s making such a huge difference in the lives of young people. And today I’m I’m really privileged to be in the role of leading this this group.
Cat: Tell us how it was founded and tell us what its purpose is and how it plays into this development for children. Who is it for? What do you do?
6:59 Paul: Arts Umbrella was founded here 42 years ago. And the organization has grown so much since it began which was with a group of 45 students. Really this idea, which was brought about by a group of women artists who had this vision for providing arts education to young people in the community, across all disciplines, and to ensure that the arts could be accessible. It began with a pilot project, which was delivered here on Granville Island in the False Creek community centre. And it was so successful.
Cat: How does somebody apply to Arts Umbrella? Is it open to everyone? Because you mentioned the word ‘accessible’. Was it initially designed for those who don’t have access or don’t have funds to buy their own dance classes or music classes? How have you grown to these levels?
10:41 Paul: So for tuition based programs, here on Granville Island or in South Surrey, for example, anyone who has financial need, can come in and very easily applies for bursaries. And we have a huge bursary program. Close to 600 students receive bursaries and scholarships every year. But the great majority of our programs we deliver in communities across Metro Vancouver, where there is demonstrated need and vulnerability for young people. So we set ourselves up in community centres, neighbourhood houses, and hundreds of schools throughout the year through a wide variety of programs that really engage students in visual arts and theatre and dance and in the media arts. It’s a pretty extraordinary thing. We’re so proud to do it, but we could not do it if it wasn’t for the generosity of our community who step up year after year.
Cat: For the last year or so you’ve been running between buildings, because Arts Umbrella moved into a brand new home, which was the former Emily Carr University of Art and Design. So you’re still on Granville Island, but you didn’t just take a couple cardboard boxes and doodle down the street. You brought in cranes and bulldozers – this was a major event! Tell us about this massive project?
14:28 Paul: I returned to Arts Umbrella to take on this leadership role in the spring of 2016. So a little over five years ago. And one of the big tasks that was given to me by the Board was to really ensure that Arts Umbrella had the expansion that it has long needed. So we specifically were looking at what is referred to as the South building of Emily Carr University. And that was created and built in the early 1990s and designed by the amazing Patkau Architects, who more recently, of course, we know through theAudain Art Museum and the Polygon Art Gallery among other amazing buildings. So we saw this building, and we set our eyes on it, and to say that it would be perfect for us was an understatement. And we were so fortunate to work with an amazing team of consultants and a whole stream of engineering consultants and theater design consultants – an amazing group coming together. We have repurposed this building through a $27 million expansion project – and it now has six large dance studios, music and film studios, art and design studios, including a media hub and analog photography darkroom. There’s a 132 seat professional performance theatre that was once the lecture hall, a professional exhibition gallery and scene and design shop. It’s state of the art. And it’s entirely dedicated to young people to explore their creativity through the arts. The city stepped up in big ways. But individuals and corporations from not only here in Vancouver, but across the country saw the value in this project. And in the end, we have raised more than $37 million to realize this project.
Cat: Tell us a little bit about now you’ve got this beautiful, beautiful facility, you’ve got all these programs, you’ve got people involved. And you know, you’re investing in the future here. What is the future as you see it?
21:04 Paul: If I was to say something, the building really was built to reflect the standard of the programs that are being led at Arts Umbrella. Included in that is a one of the world’s most renowned pre-professional contemporary ballet programs that is drawing young dancers from around the world now to train at Arts Umbrella to prepare for careers in dance. And when you look, for example, in the art and design department, and you look to what might happen in this new building. And we will be launching a new interactive game design program that was inspired by the vision for this building. It’s going to be launching in January of 2022, funded by Microsoft. And it’s going to bring hundreds of high school students from communities across Metro Vancouver, at no cost to participants, with a focus on schools from areas that demonstrate high social, cultural, economic vulnerability. This program will be an educational resource to support schools that may not have the access to digital media education.