Each year, the Inspiring Creativity. For Good. Award is an opportunity to honour the achievements of beloved members of the Arts Umbrella community, from corporate partners, to volunteers, to instructors. Our 2020 Awards were no different.

While celebrated under unusual circumstances, the special live-streamed iteration of the Awards was no less emotional and inspirational than in other years. Amidst the tributes and memories were tears and laughter, as friends, colleagues, and former students spoke from the heart about the immense and far-reaching impact these recipients have made through their work. It was a reminder of why we do what we do at Arts Umbrella, and of the people that make the work possible.


Inspiring Philanthropist – Corporation | Electronic Arts

“Thank you for offering a space for youth to tell their stories and create unapologetically.” —Jocelyn Sanchez, Art & Design Coordinator, Arts Umbrella

Arts Umbrella’s partnership with Electronic Arts goes back an incredible 20 years. It was the early 2000s and Paul Lee and Don Mattrick were already recognized as local pioneers in the video game industry, poised to propel EA to becoming one of the largest video game companies in the world.

But it was Wendell Harlow, Community Engagement Manager at EA, who would help usher our partnership into existence. Wendell, who will be celebrating 25 years with EA in March 2021, approached the executive team with a proposal to launch a number of education and community outreach initiatives.

Arts Umbrella was among those early initiatives, and thanks to Wendell’s ongoing care and commitment the full-scholarship program transformed our Media Arts program area and the lives of so many young people. The success and profile of this remarkable scholarship program gave Arts Umbrella a stepping stone to many other media arts programs including classical animation, computer animation, and claymation.

Over the years EA has generously given close to $300,000 to Arts Umbrella, and in total we have provided more than 200 students with full scholarships to the program.


Inspiring Volunteer | Eric Watt

“Eric has always truly believed in Arts Umbrella – its purpose and contribution to young people and to our community, especially our commitment to ensuring that families have access to our programs regardless of their financial situation.”Carol Henriquez, Arts Umbrella Co-Founder

Our volunteer Board members are absolutely fundamental to what we do. The 2020 Inspiring Creativity. For Good. Award ceremony allowed us to say thank you to a Board member who has had an extraordinary 33-year connection to Arts Umbrella.

Eric Watt joined the Arts Umbrella Association Board in 1987 – acting as Chair between 2001 and 2006 – and was a founding Trustee of the Arts Umbrella Foundation Board, on which he has sat since 1991. He has helped shepherd Arts Umbrella as it has grown in size and sophistication, championing our work as an ambassador and spokesperson, and putting systems in place to keep the organization on budget and in good fiscal health.

“Arts Umbrella has always been built on big dreams,” says Eric. “The new building is an achievement of their most recent dream, and I’m sure that everyone will immediately collect and refocus on what the next goal is.”


Inspiring Educator | Suzy Birstein

“Suzy is true to herself and owning her individuality with confidence. Her message is to be unabashedly yourself. She helps people find the art within themselves, to create from the art, to look inside themselves as they sculpt their own life stories.”Shira Gold, Arts Umbrella alumni, parent, and Splash contributing artist

Suzy Birstein is a ceramicist, sculptor, and painter. We have been honoured to have Suzy delivering Art & Design classes for Arts Umbrella students for the past 30 years. Friends and former students call Suzy a force of nature who lives for creative expression, helps students to develop confidence and joy in the individuality of their work, and inspires them to reach new creative heights on a daily basis.

“Arts Umbrella has grown a lot in 30 years,” says Suzy, reflecting on her three decades of service. “But my role in teaching clay hasn’t changed very much – and I like that. Arts Umbrella offers the instructors the opportunity to be authentically who we are – to trust who we are.

“They want you to teach what you are genuinely passionate about teaching.”


Inspiring Educator | Marta Robertson-Smyth

“Marta is a gem in our midst: as a teacher, as a friend, as an artist, as an activist, as a human being.” —Alexis Seto, artist and collaborator, Arts Umbrella instructor

Marta Robertson-Smyth has inspired thousands of children over the years in drawing, painting, and printmaking classes since she joined Arts Umbrella in 1990. For 17 years, she has taught the Van Go program, bringing joyous creative activities into local elementary schools, often in neighbourhoords that wouldn’t normally have access to arts education.

Her longtime collaborator Alexis speaks of the way Marta can hold students enraptured: “You can sense the excitement and wheels turning during Marta’s demonstrations. Bringing art into schools really is a special kind of magic, It’s beyond exciting to see a child dive into their own self-expression. We give children permission to express their ideas, who they are, and what is important to them.”

“I feel hugely fortunate to have found Arts Umbrella and to have chosen a job in this way,” says Marta. “The vision and support of Arts Umbrella has been so important. The privilege of 30 years made me into a richer person. It made it easier to move in the world without cynicism.”


Inspiring Educator | Andre Seow

“Andre, you are considered a master teacher among your peers. And among your students, a living legend. You are a role model of how to live as an artist in the world. And in return we want to stay in your orbit.” —Susan Rome, Youth and School Program Coordinator at Vancouver Art Gallery, program partner for Art Exchange

Andre Seow has been an icon of the Arts Umbrella community for 30 years. He has delivered engrossing, inspiring drawing and painting classes to multiple age groups over the years, emphasizing process and experimentation with materials. He is now a driving force behind the teaching of our Art Exchange program, giving young people the chance to explore, critique, and observe exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery before responding through their own art practice.

He speaks passionately about how children and young people engage with the art-making process: “It’s not just achieving a finished product, actually exploring and experimenting with art-making. And getting kids to bring their own creativity and imagination to that is important to me.

“I feel I’ve grown up at Arts Umbrella,” says Andre. “It’s been like a second home in terms of the people and in terms of my own education. It’s a place that nurtures creativity and imagination, whatever discipline the student decides to pursue. It’s a place I’m proud to say I’ve worked for 30 years.”


2020 marks the third annual Inspiring Creativity. For Good. Awards. Congratulations to all of our recipients and thank you for your dedication to Arts Umbrella and to the young people we serve. You truly are an inspiration to us all.