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Shiny new digs for SFU contemporary arts

The school’s new downtown location is a fabulous public space that aims to revitalize the community.

BY PEGGY BERKOWITZ | OCT 25 2010

The move is over, and no one could be happier with the new digs than the students. From makeshift housing on the Burnaby campus, Simon Fraser University’s school for the contemporary arts has moved to a sleek new complex in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where Woodward’s department store once stood. The difference, says theatre production student Diana Magallon, is “astronomical.”

“We used to have portables tucked away in a corner of the campus and no one knew what we were except for people in theatre arts,” she says. “It’s nice to have all the disciplines in one space – not to mention we’re downtown.”

The Goldcorp Centre for the Arts serves about 400 undergraduates in dance, theatre, film, music, visual arts and new media programs, with 1,800 more taking classes there. The facility has public performance spaces and lobbies, an art gallery, classrooms and studios for each discipline. The building’s architectural details include soaring ceilings, unusual angles and pale wood in unusual shapes. The venue is open to students and faculty 24/7.

Besides being a home for the arts, the facility is meant to strengthen SFU’s connections with the community and help revitalize “one of Canada’s poorest neighbourhoods,” says SFU President Andrew Petter.

One way is through staffing – some of the ushers hired for public productions come from the neighbourhood. The centre also gives free performances and a weekly get-together for people who like to sing. Its street-level Audain Gallery has huge windows that seem to beckon pedestrians to drop in. Some do, says gallery docent Donald Irwin, while others note their approval with “a thumbs-up” as they pass by.

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