Emily Carr University unveils new campus

President Ron Burnett suggests turning old building on Granville Island into ‘arts centre’

It’s like giant white canvass waiting for students to leave their mark.

Emily Carr University of Art and Design unveiled its pristine $122.6 million campus in Vancouver on Tuesday that leaves behind a gaping hole at one of city’s top tourist destinations, Granville Island, where it had leased space since 1980.

The white, airy building features an Aboriginal gathering place and a 3D printing studio reflects the school’s priorities, which Emily Carr president Ron Burnett said includes reconciliation with Indigenous people and providing post-secondary education that considers the innovation required for the future economy.

“Emily Carr is as focused on high tech and industry development as it is on the visual arts, the fine arts, the traditional disciplines. It’s really important to state this clearly, we would not be a culture or a society without the arts,” Burnett said.

Premier John Horgan attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and said the site, that was supported by the previous Liberal government, is a legacy that will last generations and contribute to the development of the province’s technology sector.

“This new campus is equipped to open up even more opportunities for young people right across the world so they can come here and learn to use their creative skills and drive innovation and our economy,” Horgan said.

The university owns the new site, which is also shared with the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the B.C. Institute of Technology.

Burnett said the idea to collaborate with the other institutions and share the land located near major transit hubs in the city began while he met with then-University of B.C. president Martha Piper in 2001.

“We envisioned these lands as part of an overall shared facility that would celebrate the creative and extraordinary knowledge that we share among our institutions,” he said.

The university was founded as the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts in 1925.

Burnett said the institution is proud of the achievements of thousands of its graduates over the past 92 years and it allowed students to have a say throughout the process in designing the site.

Although the school has fully moved out from Granville Island, Burnett said it isn’t cutting its ties from the location entirely.

He said they are talking with Granville Island’s operator, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, about projects that would involve the university supporting the construction of new sites and facilities.

“I’ve suggested … that the old (university) building, which is about 110 years old, should be converted to studios and non-profit offices. My hope would be it could become an arts centre for the city,” Burnett said.

CMHC released a report earlier this year with a vision to redevelop the site by 2040, which included adding better access to transit and pedestrian paths, expanding the public market and non-food vendors, and creating an arts hub that would maintain and build upon the atmosphere left by the university.

Granville Island, a former industrial area under the Granville Street Bridge, houses shops, galleries, restaurants and its famed market. It is one of the city’s top tourist destinations, but the departure of the university leaves a lot of space to fill.

CMHC spokesman at Granville Island Scott Fraser said a committee tasked with implementing its vision, that would involve determining the costs of different projects and setting goals for completing them, will be announced in the coming weeks.

The university’s lease on the space officially ends in December, and other entity has been confirmed to take over the site.

That transition will not likely begin until the new year, Fraser said, once crews can also assess what infrastructure from lighting to ventilation need to be changed to transform the space from a school to a collection of artist studios, galleries, restaurants and other office spaces.

“We’re right at the very beginning of a really exciting time for Granville Island, and people are always like, ‘what’s happening next’ and unfortunately for now all I can say is be patient,” he said, adding new changes can be expected as early as next spring.

Linda Givetash, The Canadian Press

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