Since 1979, Arts Umbrella has been offering some of the most impressive arts education programming in Vancouver, creating sophisticated art-makers of every age. “When I walk into a classroom and they tell me they’re learning about Picasso at the age of three, I know they are actually learning some things about a fabulous artist,” says Lucille Pacey, Arts Umbrella’s president and CEO who, after more than a decade, is soon exiting her role. Arts Umbrella is much more than toddlers discussing the Blue Period, though—the program offers a wide array of opportunity for expression at every stage of adolescence through young adulthood. Arts Umbrella views art as not just supplemental, but fundamental to fostering art education that reaches beyond the classroom.
In many ways Pacey’s job has been preparing students with the tools needed to cope with the day-to-day, and for several children those include paintbrushes, cameras, and ballet shoes—items not always easily sourced in the public school programs. “In many cases we have children that come to us that are struggling with self-discipline and social skills,” says Pacey. “What we are giving them is an outlet to help them manage, and become clear about who they are as individuals.”
With two-thirds of Arts Umbrella’s students on free bursary and scholarship programs, the organization is serious about providing arts education to every child. Reflecting on her time at the organization, Pacey cites an expansion to Surrey as a landmark outreach achievement. “I think it really speaks to our commitment to accessibility,” she explains. “We know that there are all kinds of barriers to access: geographic, financial barriers, and even barriers of attitude: people not feeling like they have access. To expand into Surrey with two locations was really huge for us.”
It is an impressive feat, as is the company’s ability to offer such variety of programs, with only 44 per cent of funding coming from tuition costs. Arts Umbrella’s hailed dance program, which includes a post-secondary group as well as the Arts Umbrella Dance Company, is an institution in its own right. There are claymation classes for students aged six to eight, teen musical theatre courses, and hip-hop lessons for the three-to-five crowd. “We are concerned about relevancy and currency with our programming,” says Pacey. “We look to the industry.” This kind of dedication leads Arts Umbrella to bring in acclaimed guest faculty to train post-secondary dancers, or employ practising architects for teen media courses.
To support these initiatives, Arts Umbrella is throwing its annual Splash live auction fundraiser, featuring a wide variety of mediums and artists including Gailan Ngan, Omer Arbel, Paul Wong, and Ben Skinner, on Oct. 17. Highlighting professional and accomplished artists in the auction is an excellent opportunity to purchase art for a worthy cause, and is representative of the overarching goal of Arts Umbrella: creating artists for life.