When I was still a student at Simon Fraser University the city and working at The Peak I managed to get my hands on a copy of plans for the Woodward’s development a full year before the official announcement that the SFU School for Contemporary Arts would make a home there.
I’ll admit, I snuck it from the student union offices because I’m nosey and have to know everything. But what I saw made me excited. Excited that the School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU would FINALLY have a home that wasn’t a set of trailers placed helter skelter behind campus. Excited that they’d be getting a real home after 40 years of promises. Excited even though I wasn’t a contemporary arts student.
The new building offers the students an innovative programs that integrate studies in art and culture, dance, film, music, theatre and visual art. The six-floor, 120,000 square foot facility also includes a flexible theatre, world art studio, cinema, studio theatres, gallery, teaching studios, a multimedia centre, and a sound stage. But what I found most impressive at the time I snuck the binder of drawings was that SFU was taking a leap into a seriously challenged neighbourhood, taking property the city could hardly give away.
SFU, by the sheer location of Woodward’s, has taken on an effort to renew a neighbourhood and those at its forefront openly talk of including the community – that community being the Downtown East Side. While some may say that this is simply more gentrification (and others a reclamation of Vancouver’s oldest most historic area), SFU Woodwards aspires to reach out to businesses and residents to help create a better neighbourhood.
Speaking to a donation of $10 million from Goldcorp to the school (after which the new arts complex will be named) new SFU president Andrew Petter is hopeful: “This gift will ensure that our contemporary arts program is not just located in the Downtown East Side, but also is a vital and contributing member of the neighbourhood.”
If the increasingly popular W2 is any indication of the success the new facility will have, they’re on the right track.
This weekend, from Friday through Sunday, after those 40 years of promises and three years of construction, the School for the Contemporary Arts will be showcasing its new home at an Open House. So if you’re in Vancouver, stop by, and consider how two years ago walking alone at Abbot and Hastings was fairly unthinkable, and how going forward it has potential to be a cultural hub in this city.