New $27 million facility ‘a coming of age’ for Arts Umbrella


Arts Umbrella’s new facility will include a professional 160-seat performance theatre | Image: Henriquez Partners Architects

Arts Umbrella’s original capital campaign raised $250 from five artists who wanted to pilot seven community arts programs for children.

It wasn’t long until the non-profit was looking to secure $2,000 to renovate an old nail factory on Granville Island, which remains the organization’s location as it readies its new space.

“It’s like building in 1979, except here we are in 2018. We’ve got a new building, and it’s sort of the same set of circumstances in a funny way,” said Carol Henriquez, co-founder of the 40-year-old non-profit and its former executive director for 25 years.

“Everything changed once we moved into the building. Everything started to grow.”

Next fall, Arts Umbrella will more than double the footprint of its flagship facility when it moves into a redesigned 50,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by the Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

According to CEO Paul Larocque, the new building will allow the organization to enrol 10,000 to 15,000 new students in its first three years and triple its in-reach programs, which welcome local schools to Arts Umbrella studios.

“Every square foot has been accounted for. We’re already compromising. It’s a pretty funny process actually,” Larocque said, laughing. “But it’s ultimately really exciting.”

After a $27 million renovation, the new facility will include a professional 160-seat performance theatre, street-level exhibition space and 18 dance, music, theatre and mixed arts studios.

“It’s almost like a coming of age for Arts Umbrella,” explained Richard Henriquez, Carol Henriquez’s husband and founding principal of Henriquez Partners Architects, which is leading the redesign.

“I’ve been around since the twinkle in the eye of the idea,” said Richard Henriquez, who designed the organization’s original Granville Island space while his wife oversaw the 15-member crew who built it. “This is just a dream come true.”

Carol Henriquez recalls walking down the street, in the organization’s infancy, to meet with David Whitelaw, a senior partner at Whitelaw Twining Law Corp., and asking him to chair Arts Umbrella’s inaugural community board.

“We had phenomenal board members join the board, and that was one of our big, big strengths,” she said.

She and her group also developed and stuck to a business plan, cold-called local philanthropists and applied for government grants.

“We had a business plan and it just kept growing, and we were always open to new opportunities,” said Carol Henriquez, who is co-chairing Arts Umbrella’s private capital campaign to raise $20 million.

“It’s going to be the golden years now.”

Arts Umbrella has barely launched its campaign and already the Vancouver-made non-profit is more than halfway to its goal.

“The really amazing thing is we haven’t had a ‘No’ yet,” said Larocque.

The Henriquezes are among a handful of corporate, non-profit and private patrons who have already donated $1 million or more to the organization’s capital campaign. Other donors include John and Nina Cassils, the Richardson Family Foundation, the Audain Foundation and Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G).

An initial $7 million contribution from the Department of Canadian Heritage’s Canada Cultural Spaces Fund and a $1.4 million gift from the B.C. government – a donation separate from the capital campaign and intended to cover land lease costs through to 2043 – both helped pave the way for additional community support, said Larocque. Another $100,000 has been secured through the City of Vancouver’s cultural infrastructure fund.

“It’s an extraordinary endorsement for an organization that started really as this very small, grassroots movement almost 40 years ago,” said Larocque.

Support from all levels of government adds up to 6% of Arts Umbrella’s $6.5 million operating budget for this year. Nearly half comes from the private sector through annual fundraising initiatives. The balance comes from tuition, which the organization keeps as affordable as possible. Last year, 20% of Arts Umbrella’s 20,000 students paid a subsidized tuition; 16,000 accessed free programs.

“As a guy who just grew up here in Vancouver as a kid, watching the growth and then being involved, I feel quite humbled by being asked to get on this campaign,” said Barry Scott, chairman of Maynards and a campaign co-chair alongside Carol Henriquez.

Scott’s own history with Arts Umbrella dates back 35 years, and he estimates he has helped with 35 of the organization’s annual Splash art auction and gala events, which now typically raise more than $500,000 in net proceeds each year.

“There was an energy that existed then, and it still exists today,” said Scott, who – along with his wife, Drinda Scott – has donated $1 million to Arts Umbrella’s campaign. “This is going to be one of the facilities of its kind in North America for sure, if not the best.”

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